Young Illini frontcourt goes back to square one

 

 

By Jeremy Werner

With the departures of Shaun Pruitt and Brian Randle, the Illini frontcourt is in need of two new starters. The Illinois post players have been turning up the intensity at summer pickup games, knowing minutes are up for grabs.

“The big workouts have been pretty competitive because we’re trying to all get that 4-5 spot,” sophomore Mike Davis said. “We’re all trying to work for it. We’re all going after each other.”

Sophomore center Mike Tisdale, who has gained 35 pounds this offseason, figures to be a favorite for a starting position. But Davis, sophomore Bill Cole and junior college transfer Dominique Keller will all get an opportunity to play from coach Bruce Weber, who said his lineup may change based on matchups with opponents.

Cole, who said he has fully recovered from a stress fracture in his leg last year, has also added weight since last summer. He said he weighs 215 pounds, up 20 pounds.

“It’s real competitive,” Cole said. “Just being here obviously, we’re all (Division I) athletes so we love to compete. I think we all get a kick out of it. It’s real fun to come in here and play, just play your butt off and compete with these guys.”

Davis, who has added six pounds after struggling to put on weight last season, said he has focused on one aspect of his game this summer.

“Rebounding. Just focusing on rebounding because with Mike (Tisdale) and Dominique (Keller) down low, we’re probably going to need help rebounding, so we got to be aggressive and crash the boards,” Davis said.

Cole added that this year’s frontcourt will look a lot different than last season.

“I think it’ll be a lot of young, versatile guys as opposed to last year when it was (Pruitt) in the middle doing a lot of the dirty work,” Cole said. “We’ll just have to get some tenacity because I don’t think we’ll be as big or strong, but I think we’ll be taller and quicker. We’ll just have to use that to our advantage and kind of play it by ear, see what we need to adjust.”

Weber finding motivation

The Illini had little to cheer about last year as they faltered to a school-worst 19 losses, but coach Bruce Weber has found one use of the disappointing year: motivation.

Weber has incorporated the Illini’s 16-19 record as part of one of the door codes used at Ubben Basketball Facility as a constant reminder of the team’s disappointment last season.

“Whenever you go in the (door) you’re constantly reminded of what happened last year,” sophomore Alex Legion said. “I think that’s kind of motivated the guys and emphasizes what happened last year.”

Legion ready to play

Alex Legion has an itch he’d like to scratch.

The Kentucky transfer hasn’t played a game since the Wildcats played North Carolina on Dec. 1, 2007. He played in 6 games for the Wildcats last season, starting two. He averaged 6.7 points per game before deciding to transfer.

“I haven’t played in a while as far as a regulated game, so it’ll be nice to see some referees and the uniforms and not just practice,” Legion said. “I can’t wait to get out there.”

Legion still has awhile to wait, however. He will not become eligible, per NCAA transfer rules, until December.

New role for veteran Frazier

Senior point guard Chester Frazier was on the court more than any Illini player last season, averaging 33.4 minutes per game. But with the emergence of Demetri McCamey and the additions of redshirt junior Jamar Smith and transfer Legion, Frazier knows his minutes will lessen.

“I’m sure my minutes will go down a little bit, but I’ll probably be more effective with less minutes,” Frazier said. “I won’t be tired. My defensive intensity will pick up a lot better.”

Although his minutes may dip, Frazier’s defensive tenacity and leadership will assure him a key role in his final season for the Illini.

“I’ll still have to probably have to guard the (opponent’s) toughest guy,” Frazier said.