By Paul Schmidt
A very different Illini team is taking the court this season in the Assembly Hall in Champaign, and this fact gives the Illini options a-plenty.
Though defensively the team has seemed to take a step back, offensively they have as diverse and dynamic of an offense as the team has displayed in 20 years — Yes, since the Flyin’ Illini.
One of the more exciting aspects for the Illini is that the offense will push the limits this season, for certain.
“I want to run; that’s our strength, our athleticism,” Illinois head coach Bruce Weber said. “Last year, when I wouldn’t run, that’s all I heard was, ‘Why don’t you run??’ So now, we’re running.”
Weber was obviously not buckling to the pressure of the media, and was kidding in those post-game comments. It does illustrate the point that everyone knows that this team is deep and has a bunch of moving parts that can come in and out of the game.
Following the 78-64 win over Wofford, the toughest game they’ve had all year, Bruce was candid about the clash in styles between this year and last.
“Tonight we still had 78 points, and last year that would be like a season high, so we’ve obviously made some strides this year,” Weber said about the game.
He had some great things to say about his reserves after their 80-61 win over Northern Illinois.
“I thought Tyler Griffey and Richard Semrau both played well, Griffey really gave us some nice minutes,” Weber said.
“Dominique Keller gave us a nice spark, and Bill Cole, though he did not take a shot, played 14 very solid minutes, good defensively, did the little things and didn’t try to do too much defensively. We have a +/- chart (illustrates whether the team has a positive or negative scoring margin while you are on the court), and it’ll be interesting, because I believe while he was in there we had some pretty good runs.”
Indeed, the play of the reserves will be extremely important as the season progresses. Weber currently runs the rotation 10-deep, and as fatigue and/or injuries take hold during the season the bench players’ minutes will progress.
“That’s the best thing about our team,” Weber said. “We’ve got other people we can put in that can do some things and help us survive some runs when we get in trouble.”
“I honestly believe that we have 7 or 8 guys on this team that could start, and then a couple more that could play big minutes anywhere in the country,” Weber added. “At least I hope we do, because that’s my mindset. I know a lot of these guys would love to start. The key is that we need everyone to buy into their role.”
Demetri McCamey is one of those players that has had to adjust to a different role this season. Once thought to be the next great Illini scorer, McCamey has had to take a back seat in the scoring and become a more-true point guard, distributing the ball and getting everyone else involved.
This hasn’t bothered McCamey in the least and you get the impression that that unselfishness runs all the way down the roster.
“I think we’re gelling pretty fine. It’s like I said last week, you never know who is going to score, whether it’s me, Mike Davis, Brandon (Paul), D. J. (Richardson), Alex (Legion)…we’ve got a lot of guys that can score, so different nights, it’s different people,” McCamey said. “As long as we’re happy, and winning basketball games, we all don’t have to go out there and score. Everyone will be gelling, and we’ll all be on one page.”
The biggest issue with the depth is inexperience. The Illini are, largely, a young team, and still learning how to run and gun the entire game, yet remain controlled with the basketball.
“It’d be nice if we could win all of our games by 40, but I don’t think that that’s going to happen,” Weber said. “We’re going to have game situations and runs by teams where you’re going to have to learn how to deal with it. You have to learn how to play when you have a lead, and how to run the clock.”
For Weber, however, it’s always about finding the style of basketball to fit the roster, and with the amount of contributors this team has, a faster pace is the way to go.
“I don’t mind pushing the basketball and outscoring people,” Weber said. “I always want to push the basketball. But I also want to win, so if we don’t have scorers, we have to play possession basketball. Then you’ve got to guard, you’ve got to play in the halfcourt. I think that’s the one thing that I learned from Coach Keady, working with him for all those years — You’ve got to be flexible. A good coach is flexible, and he changes with his talent.”
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