Low-post presence and outside shooting are key for Illini offense

By Eli Schwadron

Tweet: .@IlliniMBB features talent in the low post and quality outside shooting for balanced offensive attack.During Sunday’s post-game presser, Jalen Coleman-Lands donned an orange Illinois vest over a white long-sleeve shirt, a look reminiscent of the Marty McFly character in Back to the Future.

It was only fitting. In a 6-for-10, 20-point performance in just 23 minutes of playing time against Illinois-Springfield, Coleman-Lands displayed the confidence and swagger of a young Michael J. Fox.

After the 104-69 exhibition win, the freshman guard — flanked by head coach John Groce and center Mike Thorne — fielded questions with the same self-assurance.

“Personally, I feel like every shot that I shoot is going in,” Coleman-Lands said.

Before the Indianapolis native had a chance to finish his thought, Groce chimed in.“So do me and Mike,” Groce said.

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Translation: Coleman-Lands has the green light, even as a freshman coming off a major injury.

Groce said the La Lumiere product played “as good or better” than what he expected. Prior to Sunday, Coleman-Lands had only practiced twice with the team. He sat out three and a half months due to a stress fracture in his lower left leg, which meant having to miss European practices and games and the entire fall training camp.

Coleman-Lands acknowledged his conditioning is not yet up to speed.

“A little bit of (conditioning issues), I’m not even gonna lie,” he said. “I’m still getting my feet underneath me.”

Groce mentioned failing to block out and running into screens as areas for JCL to clean up.

“He can see those things in drills, but they’re harder to execute at real time speed,” Groce said. “He’ll be the first to tell you he’s still got a long way to go.”

Coleman-Lands won’t be the only newcomer to provide instant offense for the Illini. Thorne’s inside presence will play a vital role in Illinois’ ability to get open outside shots. The 6-foot-11, 270-pounder possesses the low-post skills to warrant multiple defenders.

“When I get doubled, I find open guys on the wings,” Thorne said. “We draw up things for me to get the ball out of the post, so I won’t turn it over and (we can) make the right play.”

Illinois will feature multiple perimeter options. Freshman Aaron Jordan and graduate transfer Khalid Lewis shot a respective 2-for-5 and 3-for-3 from beyond the arc against UIS on Sunday.

Like JCL, Jordan doesn’t see many shots he doesn’t like. The Plainfield native put up the third-most shots Sunday with eight attempts (Coleman-Lands and Thorne each attempted 10), sinking five of them.

Coleman-Lands is the better shooter, but Jordan provides versatility. The latter is better at slashing and getting creative on the drive.

As for Lewis, his three-point percentage increased from 20 percent to 32 percent from year one to year two at LaSalle. He gets good lift on his jumper, and his shot was wet against UIS – though, keep in mind, an exhibition versus a Division II school isn’t all that telling.

Even Jaylon Tate, who enters his junior year an abysmal 2-for-35 (.057 percent) from deep, drained his sole three-point attempt Sunday. If he can knock down the occasional three-ball this season, the floor will open up even more for sharpshooters Coleman-Lands and Jordan.

Now that the lone exhibition is out of the way, the Illini are gearing up for the real deal. Groce said the team will focus on ball movement, out-of-bounds plays and transition defense leading up to the regular season opener.

With junior Kendrick Nunn and sophomore Leron Black out with injuries, Malcolm Hill is expected to carry much of the load offensively Friday at North Florida.

But don’t be surprised if Marty McFly pitches in.

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