In Part II of the Illinois Basketball Summer School series on senior forward Bill Cole, Writing Illini provides a scouting report of his game, notes five areas of improvement heading into his senior season, and makes some projections for 2010-2011.
The Bill Cole Scouting Report
In a day and age of fantasy sports where statistics reign supreme, Illinois senior forward Bill Cole is not a player who merits much attention or respect from armchair GMs.
With averages of 4.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1 assist in 21.3 minutes per game as a junior, Cole’s production would seemingly leave a lot to be desired given his time on the floor, that is if you don’t understand or recognize his role on the Illini.
For an Illini team that was maddeningly inconsistent in terms of its overall effort, focus and intensity throughout last season, Cole was a stabilizer who brought a consistent work ethic and attitude to the court, even if not always reflected in the box score.
As a hustle player, Cole was not expected to be a big-time scorer or rebounder but rather to play solid defense, make some energy plays, hit a few open shots, and fill in the gaps on an Illini team that had plenty of holes in 2009-2010.
While Illinois has certainly had more skilled and versatile energy players than Cole in recent years (Lucas Johnson, Damir Krupalija and Jack Ingram especially come to mind), his value to this current Illini team should not be diminished, as evidenced by the fact that his teammates voted him a co-captain along with point guard Demetri McCamey.
By no means is Cole a player who does anything great or really good. With that said, he is an unselfish teammate who makes a lot of little plays that don’t always show up in the final stat line but can have a big effect in setting the tone, changing the course of a game, and energizing his team and the Assembly Hall crowd.
After playing approximately 690 more minutes as a junior compared to his sophomore season, Cole won Illinois’ coveted Matto Award, which essentially rewards hustle plays on the following system:
● Passes deflected — plus 1
● Blocked shots — plus 1
● Steals — plus 1
● Dives — plus 1
● Loose balls — plus 1
● Charges taken — plus 2
● Five-second violations drawn — plus 2.
The fact that Cole was able to win this award after playing in only 17 games as a sophomore is a reflection of the important role that he carved out for himself and served for the Illini as a junior.
With that said, for as much of a hustle player Cole is, he is still a limited player.
Offensively, Cole is at his best moving off screens, where he can step into and shoot threes without hesitation. Cole is actually quite effective when moving into his shot; however, when straight-on and stationary or flat-footed, he typically hesitates, loses confidence and lacks lift on his jumper.
Cole rarely puts the ball on the deck when on the perimeter, and for a 6’9’’ player, he has no low post game to speak of. Most of his interior points will come off cleaning up garbage or getting in transition, where Cole is actually quite good at filling the lane and running the floor.
Defensively, Cole is nothing special, though he always gives a maximum effort. He sometimes struggles with closing out and guarding quicker perimeter players, but can compensate at times with his ability to slide to spots, get set and draw charges.
Cole does a decent job of using his length, particularly down low, to bother opponent shots and is probably Illinois’ best help-line defender. He is also very solid in the passing lanes, where he can get his long arms out to steal passes and kick start Illini fast breaks or poke away loose balls and get on the floor.
Cole is not the greatest box-out rebounder and consequently gets a lot of boards by outthinking and outhustling others. Oftentimes, Cole’s rebounds are the result of recognizing and getting to the right spot at the right time before the opposition is able to do so.
By no means will Cole have a professional playing career, but he is certainly a serviceable role player on the college level.
5 Areas of Improvement for Cole’s Senior Season
1. Continue to be a leader
While Cole is overshadowed by more talented seniors like McCamey, Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis, he has the best leadership skills out of the four.
Cole emerged last season as Illinois’ unquestioned leader and seemed to be the one player who took losing the hardest. Unfortunately, this did not appear to be the case for all of his teammates, which often lacked the urgency and consistency that was necessary to be an NCAA Tournament team.
With Illinois bringing in a heralded freshman class, Cole’s minutes are likely going to drop in his last season. With that in mind, Cole’s role as a leader is even more important in 2010-2011.
Cole needs to set a tone in practice emphasizing how this Illinois team has to prepare and go hard all the time rather than playing up and down to the competition. Similarly, he needs to be in his teammates’ ears on the sidelines when they are not living up to that standard of play during games.
As one of the most respected players on the Illinois team, Cole has the platform to be more than a rah-rah player but a team leader whose words command attention.
Cole, along with his fellow seniors, need to make it a point to groom the next team leaders when they are gone after this season, with sophomores D.J. Richardson and Tyler Griffey worthy candidates of filling the leadership void.
2. Make the most out of his minutes
Cole was overextended at times last season, averaging 26 minutes a game in the Big Ten, and his final stats showed his overall limitations in terms of production.
Ideally, Cole will be in the 10-15 minute range as a senior, which will afford him the opportunity to have a greater impact in shorter spurts than he did as a junior.
This means more of Cole playing with reckless abandon, getting in the passing lane, diving for loose balls, crashing the offensive boards, extending possessions, taking charges, playing good help-side defense, and hitting the occasional three.
To see what I mean about Cole having a big impact in shorter segments, see the first 4 minutes of the second half of the Big Ten Semifinal game against Ohio State, when Cole was all over the place on both ends and helped Illinois extend its lead to double digits.
3. Shoot with more confidence
When not thinking and just shooting, Cole is pretty solid and can be ridden for stretches at a time (see the Minnesota and Wisconsin games). Unfortunately, when Cole needed to shoot and score more, the Illini were often down big, as a result of poor overall energy.
With this in mind, there are spots in the offense where Cole can give you 1 or 2 threes a game, as long as he is confident to take the shot.
As a junior, Cole showed no hesitation in hitting big threes late in home wins against Penn State and Indiana.
At other points, he looked nervous to shoot and passed up open looks (see the first overtime of the Big Ten Semifinal against Ohio State, when he passed up and open look and put Richardson in a tough shooting spot with the shot clocking winding down).
Cole is an outside shooting threat that other teams need to respect; he just needs to have more confidence in this aspect of his game.
Reportedly, Cole has been working hard on his outside shot in the summer, which is good news to hear.
4. Crash those offensive boards
Despite his height, Cole is not a great or prolific rebounder. Still, he does have the length to track down energy boards.
It would be nice to see Cole place a greater emphasis on crashing the offensive boards, where he can come up with hustle plays and extend Illini possessions, especially late in games.
In some regards, such hustle plays from a player like Cole can be a backbreaker for the opponent, especially when Illinois is slowing down the game to hold onto late leads, which is a trademark of Weber’s coaching style.
5. Be more relaxed in end-game situations
In some end-game situations last year, Cole tightened up, with his last couple of minutes against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament especially sticking out and a bad pass in overtime of the Big Ten opener against Northwestern also coming to mind.
Cole is a heady enough player that he doesn’t need to play so tight when Illinois is trying to hold onto late leads. He also could be more relaxed at the free throw line in late game situations.
Projecting Cole’s Senior Season
As Illinois’ most improved player in 2009-2010, Cole worked his way from a backup whose minutes were up in the air to a solid contributor who started in 19 of 20 Big Ten games.
With Richmond on campus and expected to play small forward, it has been assumed that Cole will lose his starting spot immediately.
Don’t count on that just yet, given Cole’s competitiveness and head coach Bruce Weber’s history of making players earn their spots.
With that said, it’s just a matter of time before Richmond is starting. Here’s guessing that Richmond will be the opening-night starter, but that Cole will start a couple to a handful of games (and maybe more) at some point in the season to try and energize the Illini.
While it wouldn’t appear that Cole will get 21.6 minutes per game given Illinois’ depth, Weber does trust him greatly.
If there’s one thing with Weber, it’s that he loves to play solid overachievers and has less patience with youthful mistakes.
That means that Cole will probably get more than the projected 15 minutes and be close to 18-20 minutes per game, especially during conference play.
For Illinois, that could be a good thing in stretches on the court but ultimately affect the development of a Brandon Paul or Crandall Head, whom may get lost in the shuffle (along with Joseph Bertrand) as a freshman.
With all that said, Cole will be one of the first guys off the bench all season long, inserted to wake up Illinois when it needs to be woken up. Given how Illinois played last season, expect to see Cole on the floor more than what everyone is projecting with Richmond and Head arriving in town, Bertrand taking off his redshirt, and Paul continuing to progress.
As for his numbers, Cole will have a hard time matching his junior statistics, though his intangibles will once again be more valuable to an Illini team that is extremely talented on paper but still a big question mark on the court.
D.J. Richardson will be the next Illini to be featured in the Illinois Basketball Summer School series, so look for that early next week.
Topics: Assembly Hall, Bill Cole, Brandon Paul, Bruce Weber, Crandall Head, D.J. Richardson, Damir Krupalija, Demetri McCamey, Illini Basketball, Illinois Basketball, Jack Ingram, Jereme Richmond, Joseph Bertrand, Lucas Johnson, Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale, Tyler Griffey, U-of-I Basketball, University Of Illinois