Weber looks to upperclassmen for leadership as freshmen hit campus

D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul, Joseph Bertrand and Tyler Griffey are no longer heralded incoming recruits for the Illinois basketball team. They are now freshmen students at the University.

The four new Illinois basketball players are on campus, and if head coach Bruce Weber has it his way, his upperclassmen will soon be “reaching out and bringing everyone together.” That, he said, is something the older players did not always do a good job of when his current group of upperclassmen came in.

“When these seven guys, our upperclassmen, came in, I’m not sure we did a great job of reaching out and bringing everybody together,” Weber said. “The players didn’t do it, for just different reasons, and I’m kind of reminding these (upperclassmen), ‘Hey, when you were freshmen, guys kind of left you out.’ So now reach out to this next group and bring them in, make them understand how hard we have to work, what it’s about, being on time, all those things that are important.”

But Weber has given the freshmen advice already, just in case the upperclassmen don’t fulfill their role.

“We’ve also told the freshmen, if the seniors don’t do it, then go by them. You create your own timetable, your own style, your own tempo. You don’t just wait for them,” Weber said.

From the sounds of junior center Mike Tisdale, Griffey, a 6-foot-9 forward from Ballwin, Mo., is not waiting for anyone in pick-up games, which have been quite competitive and intense lately.

“He’s real athletic, he can shoot,” Tisdale said of Griffey. “He’s really skilled. He reminds me of a European player.”

Tisdale will be one who is counted on to help get the freshmen acclimated. Even though he could be gone overseas for almost a month if he makes the Team USA roster that is competing in the World University Games, Weber was not worried.

“I think the advantages of playing the extra games, all the experience, probably outweigh being here,” Weber said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I encourage it, all my experiences with international basketball, with USA basketball, it’s been the best memories I have probably of basketball. I hope he makes it. It would be tough (for us), but it challenges Demetri or any of the other guys to become a little more vocal leaders.”

For now, the freshmen have started voluntary workouts and are also taking a few summer classes. Weber hopes that will help them be prepared for what lies ahead when the players face the rigors of the season while taking a full class load.

“It’s kind of a dress rehearsal for the school year,” Weber said. “You do have a couple classes (in the summer), so it’s not a full schedule, so you get used to that. (Lifting) weights is a big thing. Getting to know your team’s camaraderie is a big part of the summer. Then just the playing, you hope they get in the gym and play, push each other.”