Weber looks for defensive stopper to fill Frazier’s shoes

With the departure of Chester Frazier after last season, the Illini are searching for answers on the defensive end. Frazier, who was named to the Big Ten All-Defensive Team in his sophomore and senior seasons at Illinois, was both the vocal leader and defensive stopper for the team all of last year.

“At the end of the year, I didn’t put Chester on the ballot for all-conference,” head coach Bruce Weber said. “I got calls from two to three coaches in the league who said, ‘Why isn’t Chester on the ballot? Not only did we think of voting for him for all-conference, we might’ve thought of voting for him for MVP if you guys won the league.'”

But Frazier’s role now remains vacant.

Weber said he hopes one of his veterans from the junior class will rise to the occasion, but at this point in the preseason it seems it won’t pan out that way.

“I hope it doesn’t have to become a freshman, but D.J. (Richardson) is very good defensively,” Weber said.

“Since the first time coach (Wayne) McClain and I went over to Peoria to watch him play, I still remember an open gym and the first possession he was up picking the guy up all 84 feet on the high school court, and he did it the entire night.”

For Richardson, a defensive mind has been something he has been developing since birth.

“Throughout life, getting tougher is my main goal,” Richardson said.

“When I first came here, coach (Weber) put on the board three things: We need a defensive stopper, a leader and someone who’s going to rebound. I know I’m going to be good with at least two of those things — defensive stopper and a leader.”

Richardson’s toughness is a result from always playing against bigger and better players throughout his career.

“I used to play against my brother, and I used to play against (former Illini) Jamar Smith a lot,” he said.

“I play with Jamar Smith to this day. He’s probably one of the hardest guys I’ve ever guarded. He’s got a lot of moves and he’s real quick.”

In addition to Richardson, junior guard Alex Legion said Demetri McCamey has stepped up his defensive game lately and added that the team knows it can count on forward Mike Davis for rebounds.

With Frazier gone, McCamey said everyone on the team is trying to step it up on defense this year and that they are all acting “more aware off the ball than on the ball.”

Weber fears Richardson won’t be enough to shut down opponents and knows it will take defensive stops as a unit to keep pace in a tough Big Ten Conference.

“Who’s going to stop Robbie Hummel?” Weber asked, referring to Purdue’s versatile forward.

“That’s kind of the challenge we’re going to have to look at … That’s what was unique about Chester, he guarded the point guard, and he guarded (Ohio State’s) Evan Turner and Robbie Hummel. I’m hoping, I guess, for a little creativity by us.”