By Erin Foley

The Illini may have been snubbed by recruit Eric Gordon, but as the Illinois basketball team opened its season Friday night with Illini Madness, it appeared his decision was the last thing on the players’ minds.

Many of the players joined ‘Renaissance’ on the court rapping and free-styling before the dunk and three-point contests. The team also held a scrimmage in front of 12,000 fans at the Assembly Hall. “Entourage” star Jeremy Piven and former Illini stars Stephen Bardo, Kenny Battle and Kendall Gill, along with former Illini manager Brian Baker, formed an “Illini Entourage” and served as judges for the dunk contest. Head coach Bruce Weber entered Assembly Hall on a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and had players calling him the “white Dennis Rodman.”

“It was real fun, just getting out, playing in front of the crowd again,” sophomore Jamar Smith said about the first event of the season.

Smith won the three-point title, defeating redshirt sophomore Trent Meacham 11-7 in the championship. Junior forward Brian Randle defeated freshman Richard Semrau for the dunk title. Randle took home the title after flying over a seated Bardo in his final attempt for a perfect score from the judges.

Following the contests, the Illini participated in a 15-minute running clock scrimmage. The blue team, made up of Smith, senior Warren Carter, sophomore Chester Frazier, senior Marcus Arnold, junior Shaun Pruitt, Steve Holdren and Jeremiah Wise, defeated the orange team, 26-23. A buzzer-beating dunk by Smith sealed the Blue team’s victory.

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Illini Madness also marked the first time fans got to see freshmen Semrau and Brian Carlwell.

Weber said Semrau has been the biggest surprise for him so far in the season, while he said Carlwell will be one of the best post players down the road that the Illini have had in uniform.

“They are not shy at all; they are real athletic, they run the floor really good,” Jamar said. “They play real hard, and that’s what you will see all season.”

Prior to Illini Madness, Illinois held its annual Media Day at the Bielfeldt Athletic Administration Building.

After seeing the strides the team made over the summer, Weber said he was pleased with the outcome.

“I challenged them to get in the gym and work on their game,” Weber said. “In the middle of June at 11:30 at night, you come over to get your stuff out of the office, and I have six or seven guys working on shooting or ball handling at that time of night.”

The question for the Illini will be if they can survive without Dee Brown and James Augustine. Weber feels the team is looking forward to show how they’ve developed.

With the Illini’s success in recent years, Weber said the team still believes they can compete for a Big Ten Championship, in part because it is all they know.

“I like their attitude,” Weber said.

“I think they’re excited; they have a little chip on their shoulder to prove that they can do it without those other guys,” he added.

Without one true leader to rely on, Weber said the leadership role has been by committee.

Now that the leadership question has been answered, Weber is turning his attention to developing the big men and teaching Frazier that the point position is meant to be played at different speeds and that basketball is a game of balance.

If Chester does not adapt to Weber’s style, he said the point guard position could be filled by committee.

He hopes that doesn’t happen because Frazier has the quickness to push the ball and get Smith, Randle and Warren Carter running the court.

“We’re going to have to battle him. I’m going to have to battle him, and I’m going to win,” Weber said.

In order to develop the big men, Weber said he will have to do a better job in practice of forming different lineups.

“I’ve threatened the big guys, if they can’t be consistent or productive, I’ll just every two minutes rotate them and just go small,” Weber said.

McBride Update

Senior guard Rich McBride attended Illini Madness, but did not participate and was not introduced at the opening of the event.

McBride is still awaiting word on his suspension after being arrested for a DUI on Sept. 29.

“He’s still in the process of the school disciplinary system; it’s been stalled a little bit because of some people not being in town, and then somebody else not being in town,” Weber said. “We’re hoping that a week from (today) we would have an answer from them, and then as an athletic department determine our sanctions.

“We’re hoping that he’ll come back to the team and can work things out for himself,” he added.