Sam Maniscalco Brings Leadership To Illini

There is a big influx of talent for the Fighting Illini basketball team this summer. Fans are talking about any of 5 freshmen with potential to improve the program. But perhaps no newcomer will play a bigger role than Bradley senior transfer Sam Maniscalco. The Illini need a point guard and a leader, and Maniscalco fits both descriptions.

Sam Maniscalco took advantage of the NCAA rule permitting graduate students to transfer schools without losing eligibility to participate in grad programs unavailable at their previous schools.

"I'm really excited about the opportunity to be here. I feel like it's a privilege to put on this jersey, this uniform. So many great players before me, and great teams before us. The tradition here is very rich, so I'm just glad to be part of it."

It is somewhat a surreal experience for the 5'-10" point guard.

"A little bit. I grew up an Illini fan when I was really young because of the fact that Dee Brown and Deron Williams had such a great team and went to the National Championship."

Maniscalco isn't burning any bridges with his previous school. He will always treasure his experiences at Bradley.

"Absolutely. I've mentioned multiple times, I had a wonderful four years at Bradley. I wouldn't trade it for anything. Unfortunately some stuff happened there, and I had to move on. But I've got nothing but good things to say about Bradley. What's past is past, and I'm looking forward to the opportunity here now."

The Illinois staff and team have made the transition easy for him.

"I feel very welcomed. I'm just taking it one day at a time, trying to get better each day. I'm working on getting healthy and having good things here."

Maniscalco had ankle surgery last winter, and he is almost back to full speed. He was asked when he can begin scrimmaging with his new team.

"It depends on my rehab. My rehab schedule says I should be good to go by the first of July. I'm following the protocol there, so in the next few weeks I should be ready to go."

He would like to be healthy for the season, but that is a relative term. When last was he fully healthy?

"I'd say my sophomore year at Bradley. When you're a basketball player at this level, you're always gonna have bumps and bruises. I don't know if you can ever walk into a season or a game and be 100% healthy as high level athletes. My sophomore year, my bumps and bruises were a lesser part of being healthy.

"But I'm healthy now. I'm working every day with Al Martindale on trying to get in shape and get my conditioning back. It's still early, it's still June. I'm looking forward to our trip to Italy in August and then getting ready for the season."

The Italy trip will be another new experience for Maniscalco.

"I've never been to Italy. The only time I've been out of the country was when I went to Brazil with Bradley."

Maniscalso is expected to provide major minutes at point guard for the Illini during the 2011-12 season. He and freshman Tracy Abrams will likely share the role. As a grizzled veteran, Maniscalco hopes to smooth Abrams's transition to the college game.

"Tracy's a great kid. First thing, he's a competitor. He's come in here with a bulldog mentality. He's been working hard, as has all the freshmen. But I'm the kind of guy, I've been in his ear a little.

"When I was a freshman at Bradley, I had an All-American point guard in front of me in Daniel Ruffin. I competed with him and went after him. But at the same time, I listened to some of the things he said. I tried to pick up something new.

"I think that's what he's doing. He played on the same AAU team that I did, for the same coaches. So I'm sure he's looking forward to it, and I am as well."

Maniscalco has always been a leader, but moving into a new environment can be difficult if others object to the newcomer asserting authority. He shared his thoughts on leadership.

"I don't know if 'difficult' is the word. I think being a leader, the biggest thing you have to do is adapt to situations. You've got to go on your instincts. You can learn to be a better leader obviously. But I think sometimes it's something you are born with.

"You have to adapt to your situation. I'm adapting to the situation here, and I'm gonna use my experience to guide these guys a little bit and lead by example. Let my instincts take over here and see how that goes."

It sounds like Maniscalco is up to the challenge. If so, the Illini are certain to benefit.

"I'm looking forward to working hard every day and try to provide some experience and leadership for these guys."

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