Prized recruit Alex Legion Leaves Illini

By Paul M. Banks

Special thanks to Illinois Loyalty.com for the picture

It’s yet another move for the highly heralded recruit, who just can’t seem to find a spot anywhere. Junior guard Alex Legion (Detroit, Mich.) has left the Illinois basketball program. “Alex is a good kid who faced a difficult situation in returning to the court last year at semester break,” Illinois head coach Bruce Weber said. “He worked hard during his time here and gave great effort. We wish him the best and we’ll do whatever we can to help him in his transition.” When he came to Illinois last year, he was rated the highest recruit of the Bruce Weber era at the time.

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Illinois Basketball’s Key: Improved Depth

demetri

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.”Illinois

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 webercontributors 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.”

Meet your Illini Dominique Keller, Alex Legion

Illinois

By Paul M. Banks and Paul Schmidt

Welcome to The Sports Bank.net YouTube Channel! We just launched what will now be our primary home for the first-class interviews we conduct with the biggest names in Midwestern sports. Please subscribe to TSB’s channel by clicking here. We launch our channel with the first of our series of exclusive interviews with some of the #23 ranked Illinois Fighting Illini’s best players.

Meet forward Dominique Keller here

And wing Alex Legion. He was a highly sought after recruit who left both Michigan and Kentucky to come to Champaign-Urbana. Here him discuss the difference between the Big Ten and the SEC.

Illini Need a Closer!

By Paul M. Banks

Remember the Bulls glory years, when Michael Jordan was the finest late game finisher? When somebody had to be the team’s go-to guy and knock down the big shot, MJ was the Bulls’ assassin. The 21st ranked Illini lack this quality- a true ‘balla” to close games out, a star carrying this team on their back when necessary.

I asked Head Coach Bruce Weber if the team’s current leading scorer and most athletic player, Demetri McCamey can be the guy- “Our team doctor mentioned to me before the Michigan State game, the one thing we don’t have is someone who can just take it over and make a play when we need it, Alex {Legion, Weber’s highest rated recruit} jumped up and made some shots against Michigan St. but if one guy would made a couple plays in gut check time, we could have found a way to win that thing. I think he {McCamey} has the potential. He’s got to learn the game: how to use screens, how to play without the ball, and if he could do that he could be the guy. He passes well, shoots the three, he’s got a big body and can pull-up,” Weber responded.

Another reporter followed up my question by asking “if not McCamey, then who?” Weber reiterated that it could be Legion, the transfer from Kentucky or forward Mike Davis. “I’m not sure right now, I think Alex has the potential to make big shots because he can just jump up and shoot it over people and maybe Mike Davis can continue to develop a triple-threat game so he can beat somebody by doing his little half-hooks and turnarounds, but Demetri has the most potential no doubt,” Weber answered.

Currently, Illinois (18-5, 6-4) is nationally ranked: 17th in RPI, 16th in Sagarin, 23rd in the AP and 21 in the Coaches poll. They appear to be a #5 or #6 seed come tournament time. Illinois has great balance -four different players: McCamey, Davis, Mike Tisdale, and Trent Meacham are or within a point-per game of being the team’s leading scorer- and resembles the 1998 team, who used balanced offense to go 13-3 and win the Big Ten, but imagine what they could be with a true closer? Their struggles on offense the past three games accentuate the urgency.

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the NBC Street Team, the Washington Times and The Sports Bank