Competetive drive key for young Illini

James Augustine shoots a lay-up at the annual Orange and Blue Scrimage at Assembly Hall on Friday. The Blue team defeated the Orange, 58-55. Josh Birnbaum

James Augustine shoots a lay-up at the annual Orange and Blue Scrimage at Assembly Hall on Friday. The Blue team defeated the Orange, 58-55. Josh Birnbaum

By Erin Foley

Although there is still much to work on before Illinois basketball’s home-opener on Nov. 18 against South Dakota State, James Augustine said that competition is one of the differences between this year’s team and last season’s national runner-up squad.

“We’ve been a little more competitive than last year’s team, we’re not as talented obviously, and not as experienced, but we’re more competitive,” he said. “I think at this point in the season that’s all you can ask for, people going out there and having a lot of heart and working for their spots.”

In Friday’s annual Orange and Blue scrimmage at Assembly Hall, the competitive drive was evident.

The cornerstones of last year’s team, Augustine and Dee Brown, combined to score 27 points for the Blue team, in a 58-55 win over the Orange.

The scrimmage consisted of four-8-minute quarters and was followed by a 45-minute autograph session with Illini players and coaching staff.

Augustine scored a game-high 14 points, one of five players in double figures, and grabbed 11 rebounds for a double-double. Brown had a game-high seven assists and had four field goals from three-point land.

The test for Illinois, though, will be if it can replace the offensive firepower and 40.4 points per game that Deron Williams, Luther Head and Roger Powell, Jr. contributed last season.

In Friday’s scrimmage, Rich McBride, Calvin Brock and Jamar Smith each added nine points for the Blue team, while Trent Meacham, who will redshirt this season, scored an Orange team-high 12 points, offering glimpses of what could be possible during the season.

Head coach Bruce Weber said he saw the scrimmage as a dress rehearsal with two more to follow in the exhibition games against Illinois Wesleyan and Quincy on Nov. 3 and Nov. 9.

“The offense isn’t quite where we need it to be. It’s another chance, part of it is to go back and watch game film, and now they can see what they’re doing and not doing,” Weber said.

Both teams’ field-goal percentage was nearly identical at 44 percent, but the Orange team had a commanding 39-26 advantage on the boards. The extra effort can be attributed to sophomore Shaun Pruitt who had an Orange team-high eight rebounds and is looking forward to being a consistent presence inside while battling transfer Marcus Arnold for the starting spot.

“I just want to play as big a role as I can, whether it’s starting, sixth man, whatever it is, I just want to come in and contribute, I didn’t get to prove myself as much as I would have liked to last year, so I’m looking forward to it this year,” Pruitt said.

Weber is mindful that in three weeks his Illini team will be battle-tested for the first time this year as they play in its first game.

“The key thing is getting better, being more consistent, we’re going to have to do that very quickly,” he said. “We’re going to get a lot of game action right away, which hopefully will be helpful for a good, young team.”

Fighting for Playing Time

While Weber has made it clear in meetings that Brown and Augustine’s starting roles are secured, the same cannot be said for the rest of the team.

“Those three, four, five other, six other spots, are open…that gives six or seven more people openings, and I mean it’s a fight for it, everybody wants to play, nobody wants to sit on the bench, but everybody’s going to go out there and play for their position,” Augustine said.

The most contested battle will be between Pruitt and Illinois State transfer Marcus Arnold, who continue to push each other at practice.

Pruitt said the battles for playing time are intense and that they will only help the Illini when they go up against the Paul Davis’s of the Big Ten.

Pruitt though, has the right mindset of the battle for the frontcourt spot saying he comes to practice every day trying to get the open spot.

“I think it’s pretty wide open. I don’t know who would get it so I just come everyday to practice trying to work to get it,” Pruitt said. “Me and Marcus definitely go hard at each other, that spot gives a lot of motivation, I love it, I love the competition, I love going at Marcus, and everybody, no matter who it is.”