Illini focus on winning now, not next year

By Jeff LaBelle

They could just chalk it up to a “case of the Mondays” or a loss-induced haze, and the Illini men’s basketball team could just give up trying and thrust themselves completely into “next season” mode.

With Brian Randle sidelined again, likely for the rest of the season with a right shoulder sprain, and only the Big Ten Tournament left to rejuvenate the year, comments could easily jump months ahead, to happier times, possibly, or to what players want to do over the summer.

But the young guys, Mike Tisdale and Demetri McCamey, aren’t giving up on this season yet. They said Monday at practice the hope of running the table or making a long run through the Big Ten Tournament beginning March 13 is keeping this season relevant in their minds.

Four teams out of the 11 Big Ten teams are currently ranked in the top 20 nationally. Those teams – Wisconsin, Indiana, Purdue and Michigan State – have combined to beat Illinois seven times in the last two months.

“We’re still looking at this season. We’re still fighting, looking to do some things in the Big Ten Tournament,” McCamey said. “If we win the Big Ten tournament we get the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. We’re still fighting.”

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

Tisdale, likely to inherit more minutes at the center position next season after Shaun Pruitt graduates, didn’t digress about what the future holds for him. Instead, the confident freshman targeted upcoming games.

“Obviously, we need to finish out these three games on a positive note, but the Big Ten Tournament is important for us if we want to make it to the post season,” Tisdale said. “That’s kind of going to decide where we go. If we get a run going into it, it’s going to help us out a lot.”

Trent Meacham said he and his teammates, although trying to sound optimistic, are taking a realistic approach to the tournament and the team’s chances there.

“We have nothing to lose,” Meacham said. “We’re not going to expect to win there, but hopefully we can create some momentum and win a couple games to close out the year.”

Whether the players are ready to think about the future or not, many acknowledge that the compounding struggles – losing 13 of the last 16 games – has forced them to grow as a team and motivates the younger players going into future seasons.

“It’s real key to get that one year out of the way and then next year come out…bigger, stronger and just ready to play basketball,” McCamey said. “We already felt the pain. The only thing (we have to do) is win games now, get back in that habit so everybody’s used to it.

“Next year is going to be important for us,” Tisdale said. “I think the rest of this year will be good experience for the future. We got to fight.”

Guard Calvin Brock said team chemistry isn’t a concern in the remaining games and that the team has remained together despite the lack of success. Meacham echoed those sentiments but added that everybody has to stay together in the few remaining games.

“It’s definitely frustrating losing like this and playing teams tough and just not pulling out wins,” Meacham said. “We just got to stay together, stay positive, and keep improving to finish the season. We can win some of those games.”

“Losing or winning can both be contagious. We can just take this bad taste and the bad feeling to improve every day and come to the gym and get better so it doesn’t happen next year.”