Randle returns after missing nine games


By Erin Foley

CHICAGO – Judging from the way Brian Randle was diving for loose balls Saturday afternoon at the United Center, it appeared the groin injury that had kept him sidelined since Nov. 17 was the last thing on his mind.

The junior forward, who hasn’t played since Illinois’ season opener, missed nine games after undergoing abdominal/groin surgery in Philadelphia. But when Randle received clearance from doctors on Thursday, he knew he was ready to make up for lost time.

“When they gave me the release, that’s it for me, regardless of if you can get hurt again,” said Randle, who scored nine points and grabbed nine rebounds in 16 minutes against UIC. “I’m still going out there, and I’m going to put my body on the line for my team.”

As an off-court overseer for the past month, Randle has noticed Illinois’ lack of intensity at times. And although he committed three turnovers and dropped a ball as teammates passed it to him two or three times, it was good to get back in the “mix,” he said.

“I’m just trying to play hard; we have a chart called the MATO Chart, and we get points for diving on the floor, loose balls, blocks, deflections,” Randle said. “We’ve been down the past couple games, and that’s really kind of what gets everybody going, and I kind of put myself in harm’s way just to see if I could get people fired up.”

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    Head coach Bruce Weber said he was proud of Randle’s determination and guts to come and play.

    “Obviously, he makes a big difference; he’s a defensive stopper,” Weber said. “He gives us great athleticism; it just brought back good memories of Austin Peay in the first half.”

    Randle was originally slated to start Saturday’s contest, but had reservations about not being ready and not having the flow to do so. It was during Friday’s practice that Randle started to get involved and gain confidence, Weber said.

    Trainers asked Randle how he was feeling after the first half, and he said he felt like he was “going to die.”

    “I caught my second wind in the second half, and they let me go a little bit more and it’s just kind of game-to-game and see how it feels and see how much I can push myself through,” Randle said.

    Now able to contribute on both ends of the floor, Randle said the Illini have to start putting together full, 40-minute basketball games, a feeling Weber shares, as well.

    “What we really need to do is (play like we did in) the Arizona game in the first half, that’s where the whole 40 minutes needs to be,” Randle said.