Season opener pitts Illini against former teammates

Illinois´ Dee Brown is guarded by Quincy´s Marcus Medsker (2) and Bryan Feldner (5) in Wednesday´s game at Assembly Hall. Adam Nekola

Illinois´ Dee Brown is guarded by Quincy´s Marcus Medsker (2) and Bryan Feldner (5) in Wednesday´s game at Assembly Hall. Adam Nekola

By Courtney Linehan and Erin Foley

Steve Holdren has a lot of ties to Illinois basketball. He grew up in Champaign. He played high school ball with Illinois redshirt Trent Meacham, and played on the same AAU team as Shaun Pruitt. He even hit the game-winning shot when his high school team faced a Richwoods squad led by Illinois guard Jamar Smith.

So when the South Dakota State guard steps onto the court at Assembly Hall tonight, he’ll have every reason to miss a few shots or fall out of sync as he deals with the extra adrenaline of playing at Assembly Hall. But Meacham says he doesn’t expect anything like that from his former teammate.

“He’s a big strong guy who plays with intensity,” Meacham said. “He’ll be ready to go. We’ve got to get into him, shut him down.”

Meacham probably knows how the South Dakota State forward will feel when his team comes to Champaign for the 7 p.m. game. Meacham said his first time stepping onto the court at Assembly Hall was a surreal experience. Like Holdren, Meacham is a Champaign Centennial graduate and a big Illini fan. Holdren and Meacham were teammates going back to elementary school soccer. They played AAU basketball together before becoming high school teammates.

Holdren is a 6-foot-5, 215-pound forward who averaged 12.4 points and 6 rebounds per game during the 2004-05 season. Meacham said he wouldn’t write off his former teammate’s abilities.

“He’s got a little swagger to him on the court, which I think will help him,” Meacham said. “It’ll be a lot of fun to see him out there.”

Three games in five days

Today’s season-opener marks a string of three games in five days for the Illini. Weber said he sees the games as an opportunity for the team to learn something.

“I thought we made some improvement from the first to the second exhibition game,” Weber said. “The long days of practice, the hard days, it’s not always perfect. You have your ups and downs, maybe some games will bring out some things in some guys and make some improvements.”

Return to Champaign

South Dakota State head coach Scott Nagy, a former Illinois player, will sit on the other side of the scorer’s table today.

“It will be very, very strange for me to walk in there to be an opponent,” Nagy said.

South Dakota State (1-1), who opened its season against Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Nov. 13, should not be intimated by Assembly Hall, Weber said, after hanging tough with the Wildcats.

Growing Pains

Weber said the coaches are still deciding if redshirting C.J. Jacson is a possibility.

“He’s obviously showing signs that when he plays in Assembly Hall, he’s pretty good,” he said. “But in practice at Ubben, it’s not always the same story.”