Illinois figures to benefit greatly from the transfer of point guard sam maniscalco to the school. He will be eligible immediately since he will enroll in a graduate program unavailable at Bradley, and he is expected to provide quality minutes next season after the graduation of Demetri McCamey.
Peoria Journal Star reporter Dave Reynolds, speaking on WDWS radio, provided background on the injury that forced Maniscalco to sit out what would have been his fourth year at Bradley.
"Sam had surgery on his left ankle in early December. He played just 6 games this year before shutting down. It was just bothering him too much.
"He's had ankle trouble throughout his career. He sprains or rolls them a lot. The left one started developing into a worse condition. Last summer he had surgery on it. He had some bone chips removed. But a bad bone bruise developed as the season was getting underway. The pain got too bad for him."
According to Reynolds, that is saying a lot.
"Sam is a tough, tough kid. He's really hurting if he can't play anymore."
The question now is, will he be fully healthy to contribute at Illinois in 2011-2012?
"As of the last time I talked with him, he said he was doing well and was on schedule. He was doing rehab and was optimistic he'd be 100% and be able to start doing summer workouts."
Assuming his good health, Reynolds believes Maniscalco will be a big help to Bruce Weber's team.
"As far as how he's going to fit in with the Illini, you guys are gonna love him. He's a great kid. He's all about hustle and toughness. He's 6 feet tall, and he's not gonna wow you with anything other than he has a great outside shot. I know you're not bringing him there to be an outside shooter."
Illinois suffered through a lack of leadership the past two years. That is one of Maniscalco's best traits, and it will be needed as he will be the only senior on the team.
"His leadership skills have been great at Bradley. Unfortunately, he's had injury problems throughout his career; that's the only thing that would hold him back."
Reynolds believes Maniscalco can run the team next year despite being new to the program.
"I think he can. I'm not saying he's gonna be the 35 minute a game point guard, but from what I see of the Illinois roster, he adds an element that's not there. That older leader if you will, and interject some toughness there."
Just as important, he can serve as role model for entering freshman Tracy Abrams, the UI's point guard of the future.
"He doesn't have the athletic skills a lot of those kids have, but I think he'll be a good mentor to Tracy Abrams. Maybe Sam plays 20-25 minutes, I don't know."
Weber may have a coach on the floor, someone capable of transferring a scouting report and personalized instructions to the court. That's always important in college athletics.
"I just think he's the type of player who Bruce Weber will really like. He's gonna do what the coach wants, and he doesn't care whether he scores two points or 20. He seems like he's all about the team. He's a kid that doesn't complain. I just think that, whatever his role is, even if it's more of a limited one, I think he'll be fine with it."
Max Bielfeldt, the 6'-7" power forward at Peoria Notre Dame, concluded an outstanding high school career before announcing his intention to enroll at Michigan. Reynolds has watched him play numerous times and shared his thoughts on Bielfeldt's basketball skills.
"I really like him. He's a really hard worker. He really goes for the ball, he's a plus rebounder. He's physical inside, gets things done around the basket. And that's mostly what we see during the high school season.
"I had a chance to see him play in the summer on the AAU circuit, and that coach let him step out and shoot threes. He's got a nice touch from out there. I don't know if that will be his game at the college level, but he has the ability, if not from three point range, to at least hit that jumper from 15-18 feet."
Illinois had also offered Bielfeldt a scholarship. Since his grandfather donated large sums of money for naming rights to the Bielfeldt Administration building, it was assumed he might favor the UI. Reynolds shares the public reasons Bielfeldt gave for his choice of the Wolverines while speculating whether more was involved.
"I think he just really loved the school when he went up there to visit and really got along well with his future teammates. Those are the two things he's saying.
"Now, we can all speculate that maybe Max wants to forge his own path. If he goes to Illinois, there's a lot of pressure to live up to the Bielfeldt name. Maybe everybody's got their eyes on him, thinking his grandfather's name is on this building, maybe you'd better be something special. Maybe he didn't want all that.
"I know he grew up an Illinois fan. Maybe Michigan offered a little bit of a respite from that pressure. I'm just speculating that might be part of the factor, but I don't really know. Max hasn't told me that."
On paper, Maniscalco took the 13th and final Illini scholarship for next year. Some assume another scholarship might open up later, while some wonder if the UI offer was rescinded recently.
Regardless, depth at the power forward spot might have also pushed Bielfeldt away from the UI. Next year's roster includes Jereme Richmond, Tyler Griffey and Mike Shaw, all of whom are capable of playing that position.
"That's got to be going through his head: 'What are my opportunities? He might come into Illinois and be a Bill Cole situation for a couple of years. I'm sure that's something he wouldn't want to do. Maybe there would be more opportunity at Michigan."