Illini Eager To Start Regular Season

The Fighting Illini basketball team opens the regular season against UC Irvine Monday night at the Assembly Hall. This game is part of the Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament. The Illini want to win, but more than that they want to get their act together and develop the teamwork and hustle necessary for a successful season.

Illinois coach Bruce Weber doesn't know much about UC Irvine. As of Thursday, he had no game film to review.

"With Irvine, we have a roster and some box scores, but we don't even have a tape yet. It's a new coach. Russell Turner took over, a former NBA assistant with Golden State. Ironically, Coach (Jay) Price was watching the Oklahoma City Thunder practice, and Russell was sitting next to him. So he visited with him. But that's about all the info we have."

A study of the box score of their exhibition win over UC San Diego provides some information.

"We do know that they have two starters that played major minutes and were among their leading scorers. They have ten of their top twelve back. So they have a lot of people back that have played. But you've got a new coach, a new system, so it will be interesting how their quick turnaround evolves with them."

Eric Wise is the top returning player for the Anteaters. The 6'-6", 240 pound junior forward led the team last year with a 16.3 scoring average and hit for 28 in their exhibition game. He gets most of his points close to the basket. He is also their leading rebounder.

Guard Darren Moore, a 6'-3", 190 pound senior, averaged 11.2 ppg last year and scored 16 the other day while contributing 3 assists. Senior Patrick Rembert (6'-0", 188) added four assists while scoring in double figures in the exhibition.

Other players with significant playing time in the exhibition were Adam Folker (6'-9", 225), Daman Starring (6'-3", 190), Derick Flowers (6'-0", 170), Chris McNealy (6'-3", 170), Mike Wilder (6'-2", 210), Emil Kim ((6'-5", 205)and Povol Losonsky ((6'-9", 235).

Illinois will be a heavy favorite, but Weber will need to prepare his team for any eventuality.

"From what we were told, they played man in their first exhibition game. You've got to plan for that, but you also have to prepare for the unexpected. Have some things ready for 1-3-1's or zones or whatever that might be thrown at you."

However, even more practice time has been devoted to improving his own team. After two unimpressive exhibition wins, the Illini need to regroup and refocus so they can get some momentum before reaching the rugged part of their nonconference schedule.

"I think we've got a lot of things to work on," D.J. Richardson says. "I feel a little like Coach Weber feels, with a little rumble in my stomach. But I still feel we can compete with the best in the country. Those were early games, and it was our first time to get out there and play with each other. So I think we'll feel better with the next few games."

Richardson was asked the cause of his stomach turmoil.

"Not being able to put Division II teams away early. I think that could have been a game we put away by 30-40 points easy. We did that last year, not really blow teams out we should have blown out. I think once we get to know each others' games, we'll be able to do that."

All Illini players felt the same way. They are upset the way they played, but they are convinced they can make necessary changes. Mike Tisdale sees it as a wake-up call.

"We're obviously disappointed. The games didn't turn out quite like we wanted them to. There are a lot of things we should be doing better. But there's time for improvement right now. It's all how we use it.

"I don't know if it shook our confidence, but it definitely shook us up I hope. We can't just play around, we've got to get down to business and work hard to get better."

Mike Davis feels the same way.

"It was pretty bad. We still won, but we're not gonna win many games if we play like that. You see other Big 10 scores, and they really dusted them off. We didn't really do that.

"But I'm not worried. We're the same guys that last year beat Michigan State, the same guys that took Ohio State to double overtime. It'll be fun."

Davis realizes the 'Eaters are an unknown quantity, but he doesn't think that should matter.

"I think we're more talented. With the guys on this roster, we should still win. We should just go in there and play defense, play with a chip on our shoulder. We need to act like the 13th ranked team in the country, go in there and dominate and we'll be fine."

Tyler Griffey, who felt and played better in the second exhibition, says the formula for success is simple.

"We're definitely disappointed, but it's not a state of alarm. We need to improve on everything. Just stay focused and keep improving."

Senior point guard Demetri McCamey had two mediocre games. He believes he will get back into his usual groove soon.

"I had a couple family problems, issues off the court. But I shouldn't let that affect my play. I'm banged up a little bit, but I'm a guy with no excuses. On the court I've got to give my all.

"I think when the season comes and we're not doing five in, five out rotations, I think everybody will find their niche and learn the game better that way."

McCamey recognizes his responsibility for the success of the team. He says the seniors have to lead the team.

"As long as your point guard is playing good and can take over games, you will always be in the games. I think it starts with the seniors first. Tisdale had a good game last game. Mike Davis had two good exhibition games. Now it's up to me and Bill Cole as seniors to get this team going and headed in the right direction."

Richardson, who considers McCamey his best friend, has no doubt his friend will turn it on when needed.

"Demetri will jump in when the games start getting more serious. I just told him he's got to stay more consistent. I think his hip has been hurting him, so that could be a factor. I think he'll get it going, and we'll all jump on the band wagon."

McCamey believes the offense will come around once it is practiced more extensively. Up to now, most of each practice has been devoted to defense.

"As you can see, we haven't practiced any offense. We're out there like chickens with our heads cut off, running and setting screens. Coach Weber is a man with determination, and one thing he did preach was defense. I don't think we showed that either, the way we were going after each other in practice and how hard we've been working."

Whatever problems were exposed early, the Illini are ready to make up for lost time, starting with UC Irvine.

"We're still talking as a team," Richardson reminds. "We still have confidence and better chemistry than we did last year. I think everyone is ready to start the real season."

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