Illini back in orange and blue



The season hasn’t started yet, but already it’s make-or-break for a few Illini on the men’s basketball team.

Sunday’s orange and blue scrimmage, the first public pick-up game aside from Illini Madness, will go a long way in deciding what players will compete during games. If a player steps up in front of the Assembly Hall crowd Sunday, head coach Bruce Weber will pay attention.

“There’s no doubt (it’s important) for the in-between guys,” head coach Bruce Weber said. “It builds confidence in the coaches for playing time.

“It will make a major impact – how much they progress from practice to those scrimmage situations.”

It hasn’t been decided who – or how many – will redshirt this year, but at practice Thursday, Weber had sixteen guys suit up. During the season, he expects ten of them to see consistent playing time.

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    Shaun Pruitt, Brian Randle and Chester Frazier are the three players with certain futures as starters for the Illini. In the depth chart behind them are throngs of athletes with potential and a few shooters that have started to emerge during practice.

    But can they shoot the lights out in games?

    “I tell them there’s no such thing as a ‘gamer’ but certain guys play better in live situations against another team,” Weber said. “Other kids, they’re three o’clock shooters – they make every shot during practice and all of a sudden you put people in the stands … and he can’t hit the rim.”

    To simulate real game experience, the Illini brought referees into practice last week to overlook a team scrimmage, and they plan to do so again Friday. Adding officiating isn’t the only way Weber hopes to add a game-like feel to the scrimmage.

    “For the players it’s a relief from practice, three hours yesterday, three and a half, whatever,” Weber said. “And then there’s a whole different part of it when you play in front of people. It’s a different energy level. It’s a different conditioning. We had one scrimmage with officials last week after about a week. We’ll have another one here tomorrow.”

    Besides the losses of the senior class, the start of the season will feel different for other reasons.

    “This year, everybody’s healthy,” Randle said. “We have so many guys it’s hard not to be competitive. Everybody’s going hard, and even if one guy does have an off day somebody else will take his spot.”

    Randle admits he was one of the walking wounded last season, but he’s ready to begin the 2007-08 season in good shape.

    “There’s no other way to say it. I feel good,” Randle said. “Practice is going well. I’m making sure I don’t do anything dumb on the court during practice. Jumping on the ground or flopping up against the wall or something. I feel good.”

    The scrimmage will also provide the opportunity for some of the younger players to experience what college basketball is like.

    “It’s going to be fast paced, definitely. Everybody playing defense, real intense, and everybody just competing. It should be fun,” freshman Jeff Jordan said.

    The newest additions to the team have already made strides.

    “Especially in the last couple weeks I’ve been feeling comfortable playing with the guys and being a true point guard. I feel pretty comfortable,” Jordan said.

    The Illini will take the Assembly Hall court at 5 p.m.