Thanks for putting us on the map Dee, James, now let the kids play

By Lucas Deal

For the first time since I was in high school, the Illinois basketball team will open its season without Dee Brown and James Augustine. After four fantastic seasons, the two winningest players in Illinois history have finally graduated, and in their place is a group of talented but inexperienced youngsters.

In the backcourt, sophomores Jamar Smith, Chester Frazier and Trent Meacham will work together to attempt to fill the void left by Brown, while freshman forwards Brian Carlwell, Richard Semrau and C.J. Jackson will try to fill Augustine’s shoes.

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So despite the obvious fear that our security blankets are now gone, I think, overall, this year will be an exciting one for the Illini and their faithful.


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    Because we’re going to get to see things we haven’t seen in a while. We’re going to play different styles – offensively and defensively – for longer stretches of time.

    Illinois head coach Bruce Weber was recently quoted as saying that he will not run designed plays when his team hits the court on Wednesday against Lewis University in their exhibition opener. Weber’s reasoning is that, if his team can’t beat Lewis straight up, then they’ve got a lot more problems than just how smoothly they run plays.

    I think that’s true, but I think beyond that, Weber is giving his team another audition for how they will play all season.

    If they look better with a three-guard offense, then he can focus his attention on that area. If the team needs two forwards and a center on the court to thrive, then he can design plays that way too.

    This type of freedom wasn’t nearly as common in year’s past, when Weber would simply plug holes around his two stars.

    Another exciting thing I expect to see this season is a much more attack-oriented offense. For the last two seasons, Illinois’ primary mode of attack on offense has been to launch, launch and launch. We’ve been a team of gunners, and we’ve been good.

    But I don’t think Weber’s team will continue to fire at will this season, especially with new point guard Chester Frazier. Unlike Brown, Frazier’s best quality is his passing, not his shooting. The more he penetrates, the more open looks he will give to Illinois’ remaining gunners like Smith and Rich McBride. Not only that, but by driving to the hoop he will force opposing teams to play help defense, which should create more lay-ups for his bigger, taller teammates.

    Defensively, we have the tools to be as good as we’ve been in quite a while. Frazier and Smith are both superb on-ball defenders that will pressure opponents all game long, while Brian Randle continues to gain recognition as a defensive stalwart. Our interior defense will also improve thanks to an improving Shaun Pruitt, the very strong Jackson and the athletic, shot-blocking Carlwell.

    While none of the three are as individually talented as Augustine, they should be fairly successful when they are on the court together.

    The biggest problem I see facing this team is a lack of a go-to scorer, a job Brown and Augustine both held at times during their career.

    I think we have several potential go-to guys – Smith and Randle come to mind – but there is no way of knowing whether or not they will be able to accept the responsibility.

    I guess that’s what these exhibition games are for. If Illinois is able to discover a go-to scorer, somebody they can go to when the game is on the line, they could become a legitimate sleeper in the Big Ten.

    It’s hard to beat those types of teams.

    Either way, I think its time we finally accept the fact that Nos. 11 and 40 are gone, and that like it or not, we must go on. We still have a very good team; it just doesn’t look like we’re used to.

    Oh well, I’m ready to move on anyway. I’m ready to watch these kids play.

    Lucas Deal is a senior in communications.

    He can be reached at [email protected]