Column: Football blues, basketball news

By Ian Gold

Despite the fact that Illinois was down countless touchdowns on Saturday, the stands remained stocked. I realized that as bad as it looked Saturday at Memorial, fans would stay because of how good it looked last year at Assembly.

The crowd stayed just long enough to get a glimpse of the basketball team between the third and fourth quarters.

Illinois soaked in its last Deron, squeezed out the last drop of Luther and made sure if that was their last opportunity to see the three-headed monster they would never forget it. For those of you who have been waiting for basketball season since the confetti fell on Carolina Blue last year, I dedicate this column to you.

Very simply I went to Ubben to watch the team’s pick-up games and here is a player-by-player analysis of what to expect.

Dee Brown – Even coming off an injury, Dee was evidently in a class of his own. Every time he shoots the ball I think it is going in. His ability to see the floor and get the offense going is incredible. Without his compatriots and with a green light, I would expect Dee to score in bunches. It’s the one-man fast break, by now you know what to expect!

James Augustine – Augi didn’t scrimmage with the rest of the guys, as he is still coming off a foot injury. He is characteristically a quick healer and should be back soon. You have seen a gradual progression of confidence in Augustine’s game over the last few years. It will be interesting to see this year if without an open Deron Williams or Luther Head to pass the ball out to, if he becomes more assertive in the post.

Richard McBride – Rich looked slimmer and seemed to take the leadership role on his team. McBride’s shot looked OK, but he still didn’t look like the assassin we expect him to be. Despite his schematics, it was his aggressiveness offensively that was good to see. At times last year he looked passive; in the scrimmage, he looked like a person trying to fill the scoring void.

Warren Carter – Carter’s athletic ability, length and scoring have seemingly come together. Carter was the difference-maker in the scrimmage; he hit a shot from the Carter Corner, which garnered praises of “that’s his spot” from the on-looking reporters. But then, when he took it inside, powering his way up and scoring with a post move, it started to make sense. Illinois’ third scoring option is going to be Carter. The player you have been waiting for has arrived.

Marcus Arnold – Arnold got some rebounds and had a couple clean-up points, but it is hard for a player like Arnold to stand out in this style game. Physically, Arnold looked stronger and had better endurance then last year.

Brian Randle – Randle is the best player defensively on the team. Randle, while redshirting last year, drew the assignment of sticking with Deron Williams. Clearly his tutelage has paid off. His hard work mentality and freakish athletic ability make him a defensive lock for the Illini. Randle’s shot still looked streaky but his form is certainly coming around. Randle is the wild card this year; he is certainly going to make some SportsCenter top-10 plays with his dunks. If he can become a viable scoring option, this team jumps into the apex of teams. The Illini and Randle can both benefit from him becoming more aggressive offensively.

Shaun Pruitt – Pruitt has really worked on his body during the off-season. Last season he looked big, now he looks big and ready. Pruitt had some nice inside moves and has obviously become a more explosive athlete. He is never going to dazzle with his athleticism, but he has made enough improvements to start contributing.

Trent Meacham – Meacham is the walk-on transfer from Dayton who will help more then anyone from the outside would understand. Meacham is a dead eye shooter, but his experience gained last year will help the young Illini. Although he won’t step on the court this year, his work in practice with the experience-challenged backcourt will be invaluable.

Calvin Brock – I have been trying to come up with a good nickname for Calvin Brock for a long time. When he jumps it’s almost humorous, how can a person get that high? Haha. It’s like Spaceballs 1 – jumping straight to ludacris speed. Brock still isn’t refined, but he is on his way; anyhow, he will spend a lot of time on the court making fans’ jaws hit the floor.

Jamar Smith – The freshman from Peoria is the best pure shooter on the team. There are ridiculous stories of how many threes in a row he has hit, but without proper documentation I can only say that I saw him hit about 14 from behind the NBA line. It’s not far-fetched to say that if he picks up the defense quickly, he could be seeing 15 minutes plus a game.

Charles Jackson – Jackson will be the only player that contemplates red-shirting; though it’s not likely. He is still extremely raw and is at the same point physically that Pruitt was at last year. He is huge, but needs to improve his explosion to finish around the hoop at this level. It was hard for him to keep up with the scrimmage’s fast pace, but he still managed to get his share of rebounds.

Chester Frazier – News-Gazette basketball writer Brett Dawson joked that getting Chester Frazier was the biggest coup he has experienced in Illinois history. How did the Illini find a kid this good who by Illinois standards was recruited by nobody? Frazier is a fierce competitor – and although lacking Dee’s incredible burst of speed – is seemingly everywhere at once. Frazier has a good shot from the outside and attacks the rim without fear. If Frazier starts as the second guard, I would not be surprised.

The end-zone celebration and standing ovation that the 2004-2005 Illini received officially marked the end of that era. Illinois fans have become so accustomed to the same nucleus. It is going to be exciting just to see the direction in which the Illini move this year. Weber is stressing a new identity and a need to get to work; while each member of the team is prepping to run miles in under five minutes-and-thirty seconds, we should all start preparing for 40 minutes of highlight-reel material. Illinois will not be the predicted Big Ten favorite, but Dee isn’t one to hand the crown over just yet.