Weber challenges McCamey to carry Illini in first round of NCAAs

With senior guard Chester Frazier officially out of Thursday’s matchup against Western Kentucky, Illinois head coach Bruce Weber knows what he needs during the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

He said there’s still “too much damage” on Frazier’s hand to play him this weekend.

Weber targeted solid play from yearlong starter Demetri McCamey in a teleconference Tuesday. McCamey had one of his worst games of the season last week during the Big Ten Tournament loss to Purdue.

“I’ve just kind of challenged him without being too negative,” Weber said. “He’s supposed to be one of our best players. He’s All- Conference — he can’t have 20 minutes and zero points, four or five turnovers, nothing on the play-hard chart. We’re going to go home if that happens. If you want to be a star or be considered one of the top players, you have to do it all the time. That’s what I told him in practice.”

Western Kentucky (24-8) is a No. 12 seed in the tournament, while Illinois was spotted a No. 5 seed after finishing the season unranked. The Hilltoppers have been led in scoring this season by guards A.J. Slaughter and Orlando Mendez-Valdez. Slaughter scores more than 15 points per game and Mendez-Valdez has been good for 14 and 4 assists.

Weber said the team’s perimeter-oriented offense will keep Illinois busy on the defensive end.

“It seems we’re going to have to be ready to guard multiple ball screens, spreading you out shooting the three-ball and pushing the basketball in transition,” Weber said. “They’re an impressive team. You got to give coach (Kenny) McDonald a lot of credit for coming in, regrouping, taking what you had and bringing in a couple new guys and having a pretty good finished product.”

McDonald told reporters earlier this week how his program turned around during the season.

“We had some good players here, like A.J. Slaughter and Steffphon Pettigrew, but we weren’t practicing or working hard enough earlier in the year,” McDonald said. “We were down at home to Southern Illinois and I just put my foot down, and we started playing harder right there. Then Louisville was the next game.”

Western Kentucky then went on to beat Louisville, now a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, 68-54 in November.

Frazier injured his hand eight days ago during team practice while going up for a rebound. Weber announced at a press conference Wednesday night that Frazier would be unable to play. He missed all of the Big Ten Tournament after undergoing minor surgery. With Frazier on the bench, Illinois won its first tournament game against Michigan 60-50 but fell to Purdue.

Weber said he’s been impressed with the play of forward Calvin Brock recently, as well as the defense of Jeff Jordan, and added that he was pleased with how the team’s bench has contributed. But McCamey, who averaged 11.5 points and 4.6 assists per game this year, has games where the energy just isn’t there.

“You talk to our trainers, our weight coach, and they feel he needs to take care of his body better,” Weber said. “He’s kind of a typical college student, doesn’t always eat the right things. He needs a little more conditioning.”

McCamey, though, was excited on Selection Sunday and said he’s not satisfied with just getting to the first round.

“We finally got there and reached our goal we set for ourselves in the season.

Now we got to set another goal,” McCamey said. “We found out halfway through the season we were a pretty good team. We’re not just happy about getting there. Now, we just want to do something.”