Tyler Griffey is known as one of the Illini's most effective outside shooters, but he has needed to develop more of an inside game to go with it. The current Illinois team lacks rebounding strength, and Griffey has been asked to do more of the dirty work in the paint.
The St. Louis native led the Illini in rebounding on their recent tour of Italy, in addition to being the second leading scorer. Humility prevents him from boasting.
"It was just being at the right spot at the right time, or boxing out. I always try hard, and I'm good at boxing out. Coach (Jay Price) told me to keep pursuing the ball, and I got a couple of rebounds that didn't come to my area. I think I did real well."
Hard work and continued maturation are also key to his improvement. Griffey was one of the few Illini players to get to the line frequently in Italy, thanks in large part to putbacks off offensive rebounds where he was fouled in the process.
"That's another thing Coach Price was talking to me about. If I used to get boxed out, I would just give up. And he says to keep after it, make a move and try to go around. I've been doing that, and a couple of times the ball fell right into my hands, and I put it back in."
While his inside game grew by leaps and bounds, his three point shooting was erratic.
"Yeah, a couple of them didn't fall down. It was a FIBA basketball. The grips on it are a little bit different. And I think the three point line is a little farther back. I'm not too worried about it."
Illinois coach Bruce Weber said the officiating in Italy left a lot to be desired. Griffey explains some of it resulted from a different interpretation of the rules.
"Over there, it's always different. In America, we get a step before we dribble the ball before we travel. And they give a step after you pick up the ball. So in transition, you've got to catch it and put it down right away. We were having some trouble with that.
"But they weren't too bad. You could tell they weren't professionals, but we were over there to play, and that's what we did."
Griffey cares more about his team than himself. He was excited about team closeness on the trip.
"It's an overall more positive atmosphere. Everyone wanted to play basketball, but we had a great time off the court. We bonded. We went out to some incredible places, and we had fun. It was a good trip."
He is also quick to praise his teammates, particularly Joe Bertrand, who made a strong impression on the trip.
"Joe played out of his mind. He played really well. He kind of came into his own, and at one point kind of took over. That's what we like to see from him."
"They come to play. They're not afraid to get their nose bloody. They play so hard, especially Nnanna. He runs real hard and never takes a play off. He's gonna have a good year for us."
More than anything, this new Illini team needed a confidence boost after losing five players who saw considerable playing time last season.
"Just having ten practices and some games under our belt already, it goes without saying we will be more prepared."
And the confidence gained from battling back to win a close game in overtime is priceless. Griffey says the team knows it can repeat that performance in crunch time.
"Definitely, they were confidence-boosters. Just getting in those kind of tough situations, knowing what to do. When the season comes, if something happens like that, we've already been into that. We've already experienced it. We know what to do, we know the game plan. Hopefully, we can pull it out."