New feel on court as Illini spend summer training

With seven new players set to join the Illinois men’s basketball team next season, it’s safe to say the Illini will have a different look.

With the exception of Ibrahima Djimde, who is still waiting to be cleared by the admissions office, the new players have arrived on campus and have started to build chemistry.

“It’s been fun playing and getting to know these guys, getting to know their game,” center Nnanna Egwu said. “Being able to play against them and see how they play and see how I fit in with them.”

Perhaps the most noticeable recruit, and not just because of his 6-foot-10 240-pound frame, is Egwu of St. Ignatius College Prep. Egwu enters as the highest-rated freshman by ESPN.com at No. 69 overall.

“The advice I got before I came here was to do two things: run the floor and rebound,” Egwu said. “That’s what I’ve been able to do, and I think I’ve adjusted well in these two weeks.”

Helping the transition to build camaraderie is the fact that four of the freshmen — Egwu, Tracy Abrams, Mike Shaw and Mycheal Henry — are all from Chicago and are already familiar with their style of game.

“Me, Mike, Tracy and Nnanna, we’re really close,” Henry said. “And Devin (Langford), we’re just trying to get him in, so he can open up with us, so we can all be a family.”

Langford, a Huntsville, Ala., native, is one of two new players not from Illinois.

But the small forward said he is already starting to fit in with his new teammates, especially on the court.

“It’s a different style of ball, but I feel like I’m just getting used to it,” Langford said. “It’s more physical, but I’ll be good; it’s real fun.”

One of the larger voids for the Illini to fill will be the point guard position with the departure of senior Demetri McCamey.

To help fix that, the coaches brought in senior Sam Maniscalco, a transfer from Bradley, and Abrams of Mount Carmel High School.

One of the major concerns for Maniscalco, who averaged 3.2 assists per game in his career with the Braves, is his health. He missed most of last season due to an ankle injury, but he said he feels completely healthy.

“I should be playing pickup (games) in two weeks, I’ve been cleared by the doctor to play,” Maniscalco said. “As far as my rehab goes, we set up my rehab schedule to be able to go the first week of July so I’m following protocol there.”

When Maniscalco is not on the floor the team will likely look to Abrams to run the offense, and Abrams said he feels confident to do so.

“I feel like I can handle it,” Abrams said. “I don’t have any pressure, I don’t feel like it’s a big deal, it’s just something I’ve been doing. I’ve just go to implement myself with the team and get better.”