Blue collar style on display at men’s basketball open practice

The Illinois men’s basketball team is already starting to generate buzz.

Head coach Bruce Weber and the Illini opened the doors to the public Saturday, allowing more than 4,000 people to get their first glimpse of the team during a practice and scrimmage.

Among those in attendance were Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany and former Ohio State star Evan Turner, a friend and former AAU teammate of senior point guard Sam Maniscalco.

“He’s been a great friend to me and a great support system for me,” Maniscalco said. “We’ve been through a lot of battles together on and off the floor, but it’s great to have him here supporting me.”

Maniscalco seemingly fit right into his new home of the Assembly Hall, thanks to 3-for-3 shooting.

“It feels good to be out here with my team, everybody’s working hard, there’s a lot of encouragement,” Maniscalco said. “We’re allowing the coaching staff to coach us, we’re approaching it with the right attitude, and that’s all you can ask for.”

Play on the court was about what was expected of a team holding just its second practice. The group, which includes six freshmen, showed promise on both sides of the floor while sophomore center Meyers Leonard was more than happy to display his athleticism on dunks.

But at times, mental miscues resulted in turnovers. On one instance, freshman Myke Henry put back a rebound on his own basket, drawing laughs from the crowd. He immediately made up for it by responding with a 3-pointer on the other end of the floor.

What the Illini hoped would stick with fans, though, is that they are committed to giving full effort at all times. The practice ended with Weber addressing the crowd while the team was doing its “Play Hard Drill”, in which players are expected to dive after loose balls and take charges.

“We’ve got to be blue collar and get down and get on the floor and do all the little things that make a difference,” Weber said.

The event didn’t have the glamour or bright lights like many “Midnight Madness” events across the country do, but Leonard said Saturday’s event fits well with the team’s commitment of playing hard.

“In the past, we’ve had a dunk contest and the game, but the game was all dunking too,” Leonard said. “This, we’re actually playing defense, running our stuff we put in at practice and going hard. I think it definitely shows that’s our style of play. We’re here to work and we’re here to get better.”