While the momentum is starting to pick up for the upcoming football season, the Illinois basketball team continues to be a compelling storyline this summer.
From the early arrivals on Jereme Richmond and some encouraging comments from Mike Davis to an incredible amount of press for Mike Tisdale and some interesting basketball developments at one Big Ten school (Northwestern) and a soon-to-be conference member (Nebraska), here’s what’s been going on in the Illini hoops world.
● After gaining some weight and practicing against some of the NBA’s elite this summer, Illinois center Mike Tisdale is apparently brimming with confidence heading into his senior season. Tisdale was the subject of so many glowing pieces this week that I had to wrap them all up in one post on Friday.
● Last Sunday, the News-Gazette’s Paul Klee had a nice piece on the summer progress of talented but enigmatic Illini senior forward Mike Davis, who impressed me by saying that next year is not about personal goals but team success. Davis went as far to say that Illinois has enough talent to be an Elite Eight team. While let’s just worry about playing more consistently as a team and making the NCAA Tournament, Davis and his teammates at least have seemed to take a more serious and mature approach to this offseason after a disappointing 2009-2010 season. Of course, it remains to be seen how it all translates on the hardwood.
● The most heralded recruit of the Bruce Weber era, incoming freshman Jereme Richmond is impressing this summer with his versatility and winning mentality, according to these recent stories from Rivals.com and the Daily Illini.
● The blog Rush the Court had a cool post earlier this week ranking the top 20 players in the Big Ten, with Illinois seniors Demetri McCamey coming in at 6th, Mike Tisdale at 14th and Mike Davis at 18th. Just looking at some of the players on this list, it’s safe to say that the Big Ten will have a crazy amount of talent in the league next season. While the talent isn’t as good at the top as it was in the late 80s and early 90s, it’s pretty damn deep, thanks to upperclassmen at Illinois, Purdue (Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore) and Michigan State (Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers) staying in school.
● While anyone who watched Illinois last year knows that the 2009-2010 Illini were easily Bruce Weber’s worst defensive team in his seven seasons at Illinois, ESPN’s College Basketball Nation Blog provided some sound analysis of the team’s defensive deficiencies. As evident throughout my Illini Tale of the Tape series, the Illini simply couldn’t contain the dribble and struggled to guard the three last year. While Illinois has the talent to be really good next year, the team’s ultimate success is going to begin and end with more defensive toughness and urgency.
● According to Mark Tupper at the Herald-Review, the Big Ten will ideally release its finalized basketball schedule in roughly 10 days. Can’t wait to see Illinois’ schedule and start making some early predictions. While Illinois looks like it will be pretty tough, a lot of questions have to be answered in my mind for me to sold on this team. Having potential and talent is one thing; playing with more consistency and urgency is another.
● Was shocked to learn that Kevin Coble is leaving the Northwestern basketball team. After sitting out last season with a foot injury, Coble’s expected return as a senior was seen by many as the key piece that would finally put the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament. Reading this Chicago Tribune story, I wonder if there was some disagreement between Coble and NU head coach Bill Carmody about the progress of his recovery (that’s just speculation on my part). With that said, it’s sad to see Coble go as he was a fun player to watch, but here’s hoping that Northwestern can get to the 2011 Tournament with senior Michael Thompson, junior John Shurna and sophomore Drew Crawford.
● Last week I wrote why I thought Jerrance Howard would be a great fit for the open UIC job. I was a bit surprised to check out some of the Illini basketball forums and learn that some fans thought this job was beneath Howard, who has never been a head coach at the college level. Well, it turns out that Howard is interested in the UIC job, and the Flames are interested in him (along with Illinois assistant Jay Price, Wisconsin assistant Howard Moore, and a few others). While Howard is expected to interview with the Flames, whether he gets the job is another thing. In his weekly basketball chat, Klee expressed the opinion that Illinois would not let Howard go after his recent contract extension. Klee would know better than anyone else, but if this proves to be the case, I think Illinois will be making a big mistake. Howard has been extremely loyal to stay at Illinois and spurn assistant coaching offers from Kentucky, Louisville and Marquette, but he wants to be a head coach someday. UIC would be a great opportunity for him to start his head coaching career. Not saying that I want Howard to leave (I don’t!), but it’s going to happen sooner than later. It’s time for Illinois fans to accept this reality and be thankful for Howard’s contributions in the last 3 seasons.
● I don’t think I covered this last week, but Illinois head coach Bruce Weber recently talked to Klee about Illinois’ depth next season. Illinois has 11 scholarship players, all of whom could have a role next season. While Weber has talked in the past about the need to develop a deeper bench, he has struggled to really do so during his time at Illinois. How Weber utilizes his depth will be a key area to watch next season. With that said, I would expect the Illini to add a couple of walk-ons for more bodies in practice.
● Former Illini assistant coach Tracy Webster was rumored by some to be a candidate for the UIC job after serving as the DePaul interim head coach when Jerry Wainwright was fired last season. Well, it appears that Webster is headed to Nebraska as an assistant coach, though this has not been formally announced. This move sounds like a shrewd hire by Nebraska head coach Doc Sadler, especially with the Cornhuskers joining the Big Ten in the 2011 season. Webster has great recruiting relationships in Chicago and will give Nebraska some inroads in the city. While I doubt that the Hoosiers would pose a serious threat to Illinois in terms of Chicago recruits, Nebraska could become an attractive option for a lot of Public League talent if Webster does land in Lincoln.
● Here’s another story on former Illini three-point sharpshooter Rich McBride taking the head coaching position at Cairo High School, with some actual comments from McBride on the opportunity.
● Illinois Prep Bulls-eye had some interesting observations on 2011 Illinois verbal commitments Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu and recruiting target Chasson Randle at the recent Hoop City Classic in Kansas City. Randle has Illinois (along with Purdue and Stanford) in his final 3. It had been rumored earlier last week that Randle was soon going to cut his choices down to 2 schools. Roy and Harv Schmidt believe that Randle is more suited as a shooting guard in college, which would be good news for Illinois if the program could add him next to Abrams. The Schmidt brothers also noted that Abrams is the best guard in Illinois due to his competitiveness and ability to penetrate.
Until tomorrow and the first Illinois Basketball Summer School piece on Mike Tisdale.