Illinois men’s basketball season opens with Orange and Blue Scrimmage

Illinois fans will get their first opportunity to see the 2013-14 men’s basketball team on Thursday at the State Farm Center, when the Illini face off in the Orange and Blue intrasquad scrimmage.

The scrimmage will pit two seven-man teams against each other, and the members of each team will differ during each of the four 8-minute quarters.

Nine Illini  — five freshmen and four transfers — will play in front of fans for the first time. The new players have been learning their spot on the team, both literally and figuratively. Groce said assistant coach Dustin Ford spent five minutes Tuesday teaching the players which positions sit where on the bench.

With less than three weeks of practice finished and all of the new faces, the systems aren’t quite in place, either, Groce said.

“There’s no question (the systems will be basic at the scrimmage),” Groce said. “Not necessarily because we want to be basic, but because we have to be basic right now. We haven’t mastered anything yet.”

The players put on their jerseys and played for the first time at a Coach’s Clinic last weekend, and Groce said he could immediately recognize the youth and unfamiliarity with each other.

“It was the first time our new faces, in an Illinois uniform, have played in front of people, and I think we did a couple things out of character,” Groce said. “It was good because it is different.”

Illinois lost its top-three 3-point shooters from last year’s squad, which relied heavily on the 3-point shot, but Groce said at Illinois Media Day on Oct. 9 that this year’s squad is shooting better than last year’s team at this time.

Senior Joseph Bertrand said he doesn’t expect much of a difference in the way the team will play.

“It’s gonna be the same system just with different players in it doing different things,” he said. “It should be pretty much the same.”

The Orange and Blue Scrimmage will be the only opportunity for transfers Ahmad Starks, Aaron Cosby and Darius Paul to play in front of Illini fans this season, something junior transfer Rayvonte Rice experienced last year.

“I talked to them about it, just how they have to stay calm and just wait and have patience,” Rice said. “Their time will come.”

The scrimmage also marks the first time Illinois will compete at the State Farm Center since the name was changed from Assembly Hall in April.

“It’s a little bit to get used to, but it still looks the same and everything,” Bertrand said. “But the name’s gonna be hard to adapt to.”

Johnathan can be reached at [email protected] and @jhett93.