They beat Michigan State, a Final Four team in an emotional ESPN
College Gameday event, and won at Wisconsin's Kohl Center, where almost
no one beats the Badgers. They also had Ohio State, a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament on the ropes in the conference tournament semis before angering/motivating Evan Turner, the man who swept last year's national player of the year awards, to extinguish their NCAA hopes in double overtime.
I also watched from press row on my birthday as the Illini lost a
"play-in game" of sorts at home to Minnesota, and heard them fumble away
early season games to Utah and Bradley on a neutral court.
So this year it's all about finding consistency and finding a true
identity. Especially since expectations are bubbling up in Champaign.
They have a loaded senior class in place, a talented sophomore class,
and highly nationally ranked incoming freshmen.
If they learn to defend better, it could be a special year.
Here's some of the highlights from Coach Bruce Weber's opening press conference at Media Day yesterday:
"It's right around the corner, I know we're in the middle of 80 degree weather and people are excited for football, but when we start practice Friday, we have 11 days and then an exhibition game, and then another exhibition game a couple days later, and then it's only 17 days till our first game, in Coaches vs. Cancer."
On what went wrong last year:
"People didn't appreciate what Chester did and Trent Meacham and Calvin Brock's energy and we couldn't replace that...Obviously, when things go bad everything gets blown out of proportion and I think because of that, they took notice and it was much easier to get their attention, and we probably made bigger strides this summer than in a lot of summers...it's kind of a funny mix of players, we got a talented group of upperclassmen and this is it for them and we have a group of young guys and hopefully it's a formula for success."
On having two 7-footers instead of one around in practice everyday...
"I've said since the beginning that the best thing for Mike Tisdale is Meyers Leonard and the best thing for Meyers Leonard is Mike Tisdale. It's made Mike concentrate everyday, now he's got somebody banging with him who's just as tall...it's positive thing no doubt about it. Now we just need them to be backstops to our defense."
Here's video of senior power forward Mike Davis. Around the 3:09 mark, you'll hear a brilliant, young up-and-coming journalist ask a poignant question about Davis and his NBA Draft exploratory process
And here's Demetri McCamey. You'll see a handsome devil in a white polo pass by in the background around the 2:35 mark
Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest webzine. He is also a regular contributor to the Tribune's Chicago Now network, Walter Football.com, the Washington Times Communities, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com
You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank
Filed under: Illinois Fighting Illini
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