Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber provides details of the Orange and Blue scrimmage Sunday.
"This is an opportunity for our players, but also for our fans. If they get there early, they can be in "A" section, or at worst "B." And this is basically the only opportunity to get autographs. We'll spend 45 minutes to an hour after the event signing as many posters as we can.
"We'll scrimmage 4 eight-minute quarters. The last one will probably have a running clock, depending on how it's going. We're probably gonna mix in a little dunking and maybe a three point contest at halftime because we didn't have an opportunity to do that in a late-night event."
Illini fans should not expect a finished product. The team has had just one week of formal practices, and seven newcomers have much to learn. Those who witnessed the informal practice/scrimmage last Saturday saw glimpses of potential, but Weber reminds the freshmen especially must acclimate to playing before a large crowd.
"We had a nice turnout on Saturday. I thought the event went pretty well, and it's good for our players. With so many young guys, anytime they get to play in front of people (it helps). Our freshmen especially kind of froze a little bit with the crowd. Some of it is fatigue from practicing so hard and so long, but also that adrenalin rush and emotion involved when you have people come in there."
With the season beginning soon, Weber and his staff have their work cut out for them in preparing for every eventuality.
"There's a lot to learn. We're trying to master some basics. But looking down the road, we have exhibitions in a couple weeks and then a real game three weeks from Friday. So a lot to get in in a short period of time. You never know what teams are gonna play defensively, so you have to get in different zone offenses. You never know if some gimmick defense might cause you some problems."
Weber says the foundation for success is being established right now. He shares what he sees in his team at this juncture.
"I think they are very coachable. We have so many guys that just play hard. They're not smooth or pretty; the skill part of it is not quite what we've had. But they play hard every day, bodies on the floor. We've taken more charges in four days of practice than we might have all last year.
"We'll make some mistakes as we go. I just hope the relentlessness of the players is the thing that carries us through early. Then as we get to Christmas, we hope they'll be more comfortable with where they should be, what they should be doing and their roles on the team.
"If we're gonna make a step forward, we have to master the basics. Right now, the basics for us are taking care of the basketball, rebounding and becoming more mature as a group. I think we can overcome some of our flaws if we have a good attitude, maturity and focus as a team.
"We have enough athleticism, we're long. We can get by with some things if they play hard and have that great attitude to be a good team."
Junior D.J. Richardson says he is looking for specific things from his team in Sunday's scrimmage.
"Just to get better and keep gaining chemistry. Keep learning to play with each other. Take care of the ball as a whole team and try to get better each day in practice."
Junior Brandon Paul agrees with that assessment. He knows the season will be on us before you know it.
"The scrimmage is another test for us. The season is coming fast; it's like a blur."
The most experienced Illini is senior guard Sam Maniscalco. Thinking like a coach, he realizes the freshmen will benefit from the scrimmage as much as anyone on the team.
"I think it's good to be in a game situation with the clock and two different teams to promote competition. Also in front of the fans in a game-like atmosphere. We can see if we can transfer what we've been doing the last few days onto the court in a live situation."
Junior power forward Tyler Griffey likes the more aggressive style the Illini now employ. He is looking forward to showing it off Sunday.
"It's gonna be a good experience. It's gonna be fun getting under the lights a little bit and playing before a crowd. We can show off what we're all about. We're getting after it, but it's fun. It's how you want to play as a player. Every day is a battle."
Paul may need this scrimmage more than anyone else on the team. He has pressure on his shoulders others don't face. As an upperclassman, he is expected to lead. As the most experienced offensive threat, he is looked upon as a go-to player. It is a major adjustment for him, and he admits he hasn't relaxed and settled into the role yet.
"I've still got a lot of things to work on. I don't think I'm playing as well as I can right now. I may be thinking too much with all the pressure. We have a young squad, and a lot of people look up to me to be a leader. I'm trying to balance everything out with schoolwork and basketball. I'm doing a pretty good job of it, but I think I can do even better.
"Me and D.J. have the most experience, so more is expected of us. They look to us to lead. I think I can do a good job, but I've got to do it right."
Illini Nation will have a birds eye view of a pressing, running Illinois team. It will also get an early look at rookies Tracy Abrams, Ibby Djimde, Nnanna Egwu, Mycheal Henry, Devin Langford and Mike Shaw. The freshmen will definitely suffer growing pains early in the season, but Richardson says they are progressing well.
"The freshmen are coming along pretty well. They're listening every day, and Coach has been doing a good job of helping them."
Sunday should be a fun day, so it is hoped a large contingent of Illini fans will be there to encourage their team in action.