Tisdale fails to qualify for USA World University Games team

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. — Maybe it was the intimidation of playing alongside the likes of Purdue’s Robbie Hummel and Penn State’s Talor Battle. Perhaps it was the presence of ESPN senior writer, Andy Katz, pacing up and down the sidelines for 72 hours. Or it could have been the tiny dorm rooms he had to stay in for three consecutive nights with the other seven-footers.

Either way, Illinois big man Mike Tisdale was told to depart the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., around noon on Thursday, as he failed to qualify for USA Basketball’s World University Games team.

All Tisdale could do was wish the best of luck to his new friends before they head to Belgrade, Serbia on July 2 to compete for ten days.

“It was a good experience,” Tisdale said on his way out of the Training Center. “I think there’s some really good players on the team, so good luck to them, and I hope they bring back the gold.”

Meanwhile, Illini head coach Bruce Weber was present at the trials as both a member of USA Basketball’s five-member selection committee and Tisdale’s supporter. Weber knew his player was an outside shot to make the team and said it was an uphill battle for Tisdale from the beginning.

“I think the only way he would have made it — distinguish himself — is if he just shot lights out because that’s what he does probably different than the other guys,” Weber said. “He shot OK, but not great. If he would have done that it would have given him a little bit of a boost to get on the team.”

The selection committee was composed of coaches Jim Boeheim (Syracuse), Lorenzo Romar (Washington), Roy Williams (North Carolina), Weber and athlete representative Jay Williams, while the team will be coached by Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan.

Instead of Tisdale, the committee went with big men Jarvis Varnado of Mississippi State, Craig Brackins of Iowa State and Trevor Booker of Clemson, who scored 16 points in the Tigers’ defeat of the Illini in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Dec. 2.

Tisdale’s original hope after arriving in Colorado Springs was that the committee would hear his voice on the court.

“It’s important to have a couple big leaders on the team, especially to bring people together,” Tisdale said Tuesday night, following the first day of trials. “That’s what I’m really trying to work on — being a leader for these guys and helping them out, and it will hopefully bring us all together.”

Despite the outcome, the Riverton, Ill., native was honored just to have the opportunity to try out. After teammate Mike Davis broke his ankle last week, Weber and the committee chose Tisdale to fill Davis’ void at the trials.

“It was pretty cool to be able to do that,” Tisdale said about putting on a USA uniform for three days.

“(Playing for) USA is a whole other thing than the Illini. All these guys are good players, and it kind of makes you realize what you got to go up against every day,” Tisdale said.

Weber said Tisdale has come a long way in his first two seasons at Illinois.

“He’s gained 50 pounds in the last year and a half, so we hope he can make some big strides,” Weber said.

“He’s only 19-years-old. He was only a month or so away from playing for the 19-and-under (team), and he would have been the best player there. And that’s what he’s got to keep in mind — he’s a young guy.”

Weber believes players must play against the best in situations like this in order to become the best themselves.

“He learned a lot,” Weber said of Tisdale.

“I think he found out he can play with these guys, now he just has to go home and get strong. Two years from now, he has another chance to come out here and maybe make it.”