Blog Entry

Trippin': Illini thrive in Italy, rout West Va.

Posted on: September 13, 2011 9:12 am
Edited on: September 13, 2011 9:36 am

In our Trippin’ series, we’re talking to teams as they return from preseason trips to foreign locales. Click here for all Trippin’ related stories.

By Jeff Goodman

Bruce Weber wouldn't come right out and say it, but it's fairly obvious from his tone that he likes this year's Illinois team.

Gone are veterans Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale. Jereme Richmond also made the mistake of leaving after just one season in Champaign.

But let's face it: Those guys underachieved, whether it was due to a soft mental approach or, for some, a soft physical one.

Whatever the case, Weber is ready to turn the page and was optimistic following his team's recent trip to Italy:

What Weber learned: "We have a lot of depth and these guys play their butts off. We pressed the entire time and rotated guys and when guys didn't play hard, they came out."

Who stood out: "Brandon Paul was our best player, but at the same time, he can still play better. He still has lapses, but he's made progress each year. He should be one of the better players in our league if he is consistent."

What is the biggest concern: "Taking care of the ball. Turnovers. Rebounding is also a concern. We lost Mike Davis, our best rebounder, and Jereme (Richmond) was also one of our better rebounders."

- McCamey is playing in Turkey, Tisdale has returned home from Germany and Davis is in the Ukraine.

- Weber said that the Illini played well in the NCAA-sanctioned scrimmage against West Virginia on the Aviano Air Base. Illinois jumped out to an early lead and finished with a 47-26 rout. "It was one of those games where our guys were ready to play and we make shots." Weber said it was an unbelievable experience, playing against the troops, holding a clinic for kids and also holding an exhibition against Bob Huggins' team.

- Weber raved about one-year Bradley transfer Sam Maniscalco, who is eligible immediately and will likely start at the point guard spot. Weber saw plenty of Maniscalco prior to college, when he played on the same summer team (Illinois Wolves) with McCamey. "He's a Godsend," Weber said. "He's a tough little guy who knows how to play and gives us stability and leadership." Maniscalco, who averaged 9.7 points and 4.3 assists last season for Jim Les, played on the trip at less than 100 percent. "He's not totally healthy," Weber said. "He's still recovering from an ankle injury."

- Sophomore big man Meyers Leonard didn't dominate on the trip (6.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg) by any means, but Weber said a combination of fatigue and a sprained MCL were both factors. "He was gone 23 days for the US Under-19 team, then came back and we started practicing. Then he got hurt. I think it was mental and he was afraid of getting hurt again."

- Weber said that Tyler Griffey, who was stuck behind Davis and Richmond last year, was the surprise of the trip. Griffey was second on the team in scoring (12.6) and also averaged 5.7 rebounds per game. "We have to play him," Weber said. "He can shoot and be a pick and pop four-man."

- Freshman Nnanna Egwu averaged 7.4 points and 3.2 boards on the trip. "He plays so hard. He's only played for four years, so he still needs to learn. But he's 6-10 and is going to end up being a good player for us."

- Look for freshman Tracy Abrams to backup Maniscalco at the point guard spot. "He's a rock 'em, sock 'em type of point guard. It's not always pretty, but he's tough and gets the job done. He gives us toughness and defense. He played better in the games than in practice." Crandall Head, Luther's younger brother, and Paul could also see time at the point.

- Freshman Devin Langford suffered a deep thigh bruise in the first practice and didn't play on the trip, but he'll be ready for the start of practice. "I'm not sure what position he is," Weber said. "But he's 6-7 or 6-8 and can handle and pass it. He just needs to get a motor."

Photo: AP
Category: NCAAB
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