D.J. Richardson was Freshman of the Year in the Big 10 two years ago, but a prolonged shooting slump last season had a negative affect on his entire game. He is aware of the problem.
"Yeah, I noticed that. I've got to work hard and do other things and keep my confidence up the whole season."
He is convinced this year will be much better for him.
"It's coming along great. I'm more confident after Italy. I've been dedicated and getting in the gym every day, talking with Chester (Frazier) and watching film with him, learning the game."
Richardson has struggled at times with his ball handling, but he has worked hard on all parts of his game.
"Yeah, everything's been coming along. I know it's a big season for all of us."
The Italy trip was more than a chance for Richardson to gain confidence. It also gave everyone an early glimpse of what is possible for the 2011-12 season.
"We have a good team. We played well in Italy, which helped us get prepared and focused for the season."
With all the newcomers, he and fellow junior Brandon Paul must sharpen their leadership skills as well.
"We've been doing a good job of pushing the guys through conditioning. We've been getting the guys in here even when the coaches aren't here. We're being coachable. The best teams are led by the players, and we're doing a good job of that.
"I'm being vocal on the court and off the court. Getting guys up for class, I've been doing things besides on the court."
"Brandon is more versatile than I am. He's getting better, and he also can shoot. Brandon is probably overall our best player. Sam is good as well. He's experienced, and the ball will probably be in his hands more than anybody."
The Peoria guard is excited about the Illini's new playing style this year, using a full court press and transition game to wear down opponents and get easy hoops.
"It'll be a lot of fun. I did that in high school and also prep school. I've been bumping my first two years here, but it's good to see these other guys bumping and getting experience both in Italy and in the season coming up."
Illinois coach Bruce Weber wants to play more players to keep everyone fresh. Does Richardson believe that will happen?
"Yeah, I think we will. In Italy, it was impressive seeing Joseph (Bertrand) and guys that really didn't play last year step up. It will be an interesting season."
Another big reason for the improved depth on the team is the athleticism and aggressiveness of a large freshman class.
"They're getting better by the day. Tracy (Abrams) has been playing pretty well. He's gonna have to play big minutes, especially if anything happens to Sam. So Tracy will be another big piece to the team this year."
Richardson is optimistic about the season, but he's not adding pressure to the team by promising anything it can't deliver.
"We look pretty good. We have pretty good players all around. We've got point guards, shooting guards, forwards, big guys ready to bang around. I think we're gonna be pretty good this year.
"We're just trying to win. We're a young team, and we're just trying to make some noise, show people we can do it this year."