Boys gettin’ their groove back

Boys gettin their groove back

Basketball practice in September is about three things: skill development, weights and running.

But in his fourth season of Bruce Weber basketball, Brian Randle knows more work now will mean an easier adjustment once practice officially starts in mid-October.

So Randle and the rest of the Illini are at The Ubben Indoor Basketball Complex daily. When they aren’t doing shooting drills, scrimmaging or lifting weights, they’re on road runs or racing around the Armory.

“Practice this time of year is a drudgery, a real pain,” Randle said. “We’re trying to get everyone in some type of shape to get ready for preseason practice.”

On the first day of practice in 2003, when Randle was a freshman, new coach Weber sent the team on a three-mile road run that left some of them exhausted. That season they ran through campus, across the Quad – anywhere to log more miles.

Today they run down Florida and Windsor Avenues or through the South Farms, knowing it is better to be prepared for Weber’s intense preseason practice regimen.

“Cars will honk trying to give us a slight adrenaline rush,” Randle said, “but when you run 3 miles it’s not a whole lot of fun.”

Becoming a ball handler

With the departure of Dee Brown to the NBA, sophomore sharp-shooter Jamar Smith knows he will be counted on to take up some of the ball-handling load. Smith said the system this season will resemble that of the 2005 Final Four team and how Brown, Deron Williams and Luther Head brought the ball up the court.

“I’m going to have to handle the ball a lot more, but it’s pretty much whoever gets it is going to run it this year,” Smith said. “If Chester (Frazier) gets it, he’ll bring it up the court, but if I get, I’ll be able to bring it up the court. That’s what I think Coach Weber wanted; that’s how the Final Four team played.”

But when it comes time for Smith to handle the ball, he said he feels much more confident because of the work he put in over the summer with Frazier and during his three-game traveling tour to China, where he got game experience playing point guard.

“I feel a lot better than last year; shooting’s still the same, probably a little better, because I shoot off the dribble a lot more now,” Smith said. “But this summer Chester had me work on my ball handling a lot; me and him would play one on one, half court for three hours at a time, and he would guard me real tight.”

Freshman Brian Carlwell said he has seen a difference in Smith from the summer and in his ability to see the floor.

“I think he’s adjusting well, because he always has the ability to create for himself so he’s a good ball handler,” Carlwell said. “And now if he has to run the point I think he will be in a good position because he’s starting to read the court a lot better.”

Making strides

The Illini know they will need to look for contributions from different players this year, and Rich McBride says fans will be impressed by the depth the team has developed in the off-season.

McBride said he’s seen each player polish his game.

“I think a lot of guys seem like they’ve made improvements, but we won’t know until the season actually starts,” McBride said. “I can name a lot of guys who worked hard this summer, and hopefully it will carry over into the season.”

Randle said he expects Calvin Brock to stand out this season. After redshirting his first year and seeing occasional action last year, Brock has the practice experience to make an immediate impact in game situations.

“We know what Calvin is capable of, he just didn’t get a lot of playing time last year,” Randle said. “Marcus Arnold, when he went on that Big Ten European trip, his scoring and rebounding have improved. He’s really come in this year and gotten stronger.”

Blending in

In high school, Carlwell never went through a strength and conditioning program like Illinois’. Now Carlwell is seeing why his high school coaches told him Illinois was one of the hardest training teams in the Big Ten. But in order to get accustomed to finding his place on the court, Carlwell is living by one rule: having patience.

“I just need to be patient, wait my turn and everything will fall in line,” Carlwell said. “Coach Weber just told me to be patient and be coachable and that’s the only two things I need to do right now.”

Smith said Carlwell has been impressive from the defensive end and one of the better freshman he has seen in that aspect. Most freshmen, Smith said, including himself, are offensive-oriented when they come to college.

Season ticket update

Season ticket orders for men’s basketball will be accepted until Sept. 29 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., at the Athletic Ticket Office, located at the Assembly Hall North Box Office. Students interested in purchasing tickets can download an order form at http:www.fightingillini.com.The forms must be returned in person to the Athletic Ticket Office, along with a 2006 I-Card and payment. Season tickets are $145, including only the 13 games that are held when classes are in session. Break game tickets are also available for purchase at $11 each with a limit of two per student.

Student seats are determined by class and years of purchase, tallied by a points system. The points system is viewable on the order form. To receive group seating for season tickets, all order forms must be submitted together.