Tracy Abrams played more off the ball than at the point for his Chicago Mt. Carmel high school team. He is quick and athletic and has the potential to be a good leader at point guard. But he admits it will take time.
"It's a real tough position. You've got to know each player's position and what they're doing at all times. You've got to bring energy at all times. There's certain things you've got to know you don't have a clue of coming from high school.
"It's tough, but I'm doing what I have to do to try to learn the position and keep a positive attitude. And keep working."
If the Italy trip is any indication, Abrams is earning playing time. He averaged 7.2 points and 2.3 assists per game, and he was second on the team with 13 steals. He shot 48% from the field and 44% from the arc. He had more turnovers than assists, but that is not surprising for a freshman in his first college action.
More than anything, Abrams showed his bulldog mentality when the chips were down. The 85-84 overtime loss to the New Zealand national team was a case in point.
"The last few minutes, I was just going all-out. I wasn't thinking about anything, I was just trying to focus on defense. Defense wins games; it's the most important thing. I created a few steals and got opportunities for the team.
"I came in for Sam with about three minutes left in overtime. We were down 6 points, and I came in and got a few turnovers and got a basket. Just bring energy to the game. It changed everything.
"I wanted to bring energy to the team and do what I can to help make everyone around me better. I feel that will make me better. That's all I was trying to do."
The New Zealand team was comprised of players older than the Illini, and they played a physical game throughout. It offered an excellent learning opportunity.
"They were real strong. It just shows you what you need to improve on. It prepares us as a team for the game situation. Be prepared for anything."
Abrams has a reputation for finding another gear when his team needs him. That is continuing, although he wants to play that way all the time.
"That's something I'm working on. I have to bring my best all the time from the beginning of the game, and do what it takes to help my teammates."
Abrams feels Illinois benefitted from the mass substitution patterns employed by head coach Bruce Weber.
"It was kind of good. The time that you're out there, you've just got to go play hard. Don't try to save yourself for the next play, just play hard."
The 6-footer has benefitted from playing summer AAU ball with Coach Mike Mullins and the Illinois Wolves. The coaching style was similar to Weber's, and he is already familiar with several teammates. Among those who played for Mullins was senior point guard Sam Maniscalco, who is serving as mentor for the youngster.
"I thought about it of course. We pretty much came from the same backgrounds, same coaching staffs, so I'm familiar with things. Coach Mullins did with the Wolves like Coach Weber.
"It's great, actually, to get a chance to bond with those guys. Sam can teach me a lot about what it takes to be a point guard and help me out a lot. I like playing with Sam."
The Illini have six freshmen on the team. Abrams feels they are all making progress.
"I feel like everybody's coming along pretty good. It all starts with a great attitude. All the players have a great attitude. You just have to learn and build from it."
His shares his favorite memory of the Italy trip, apart from the games.
"The best memory was when we were all on the bus, we came up with a little song about the team. It was a great chance to bond with my new teammates. It was great to see the different personalities and characters, and it was great for them to see mine. So it was pretty fun."
Soft-spoken fellow freshman Devin Langford showed his teammates more of his personality on the trip.
"Devin Langford did the singing. He's a funny guy. He's a different personality."
Abrams came away from the Italy trip with confidence in himself and his teammates. He is excited about the potential of the Illini team.
"I feel like we're gonna be a pretty good team if everybody is on the same page mentally. If so, I think we'll be great as a team."