Illinois recruited Mike Shaw out of De La Salle Institute to help at power forward. He has already begun to show a toughness and selflessness that will gain him minutes and help the Illini win. But first he had to get in top shape.
"Both him and Myke Henry must have done some good eating in May because they came in a little chunky," Illini coach Bruce Weber explains. "Both of them have lost somewhere between 17 and 20 some pounds since they got here. I think they've dropped 7-8 percent body fat. That's where both of them have made some progress."
Shaw has seen a difference.
"I lost weight and gained muscle, so it worked out pretty well. I can stay out there longer, I contribute more for a longer time."
That is especially important because Shaw is a warrior who's hustle and other intangibles make up for a lack of scoring output according to Weber.
"With Mike Shaw, if he'll do the things he can do...I've seen him take 3-4 charges in a game, rebound, run the court, get on the floor, all those little things, and let the scoring come. He's gonna be good for us."
Recruited since his freshman year of high school, Shaw is pleased to finally be wearing the Illinois uniform.
"It's a great feeling. We've been working hard."
Shaw has taken only four shots in three games, making one. He can play offense, but he cares more about helping the team than building personal stats. He isn't told not to shoot; he's letting the game come to him.
"I don't think they're limiting me. They're letting me play my game. First things first, I've got to come play hard. Play defense and rebound, and everything else will come to me. I'll do whatever it takes to get on the court."
In the long run, the offense will come. He has been known to hit jumpers out to the three point line, although he's not considered a high-percentage shooter. He can also post up and make moves on the inside. He feels his versatility is an asset.
"It depends on the matchups. I can either take a big person out or post up a smaller person."
In practice, Shaw has shown the quickness and fluidity to find an open space for a layin when guarded by bigger players. Even 7'-1" Meyers Leonard has succumbed to Shaw's talents on the inside at times.
"Yeah, you've got to mix it up."
Like his teammates, the 6'-8", 215 pounder has high hopes for his first season.
"I think everything's coming our way. We're working hard every day, getting better. I think we're gonna have a good squad this year."
Some fans are skeptical the Illini can maintain full court pressure and utilize a deep bench all year long, but Shaw is optimistic the Illini have both the talent and depth to make it work.
"We have some different weapons on the team. I think it's possible to play pressure defense and a transition game all season."
He is sharing time with Tyler Griffey. He is a team-first guy, so he's fine with that.
"It's cool. It's a team, and I'm gonna do whatever it takes to help the team win."
Shaw is also acclimating well to the academic requirements at Illinois. It is a good fit for him.
"I like it a lot. I love the whole atmosphere. My time management has been good. I think it's coming along pretty good. It's tough, but you've got to stay with it mentally. You've got to take care of your body, get rest, do all the proper things."
The Illini have sought a tall, strong rebounder who will bang inside and not back down to dominant post players defensively. In the long run, Mike Shaw might be the answer to their hopes and wishes.