Can Paul Find Consistent Success In His Game?

One extreme or the other. That has been the byword for Fighting Illini basketball player Brandon Paul. He can look sensational at times, his 43 point effort against Ohio State being his most obvious success. But there are other times when mistakes and turnovers mar his effort. Sometimes both extremes occur in the same game. Will he find a happy medium?

Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber said this about Brandon Paul a week or so before the Ohio State game.

"He's either really good or really bad. We've got to find an in-between. The same is true for a lot of our guys. They all try to make big plays every time they touch the ball. Sometimes the best thing to do is just move the ball. Slow down and let the game come."

Paul has tremendous athleticism, and at times he is the best player on the floor. At other times, Illini coaches are scratching their heads in bewilderment. Sometimes, like in the Ohio State game a week ago, both occur in the same game.

Illini assistant coach Wayne McClain watched Paul rack up 43 points, including the last 15 of the game, to help the Illini upset the Buckeyes. Paul's 8 rebounds, 4 blocked shots and two assists were also special, as was his defense and overall hustle. But he also was guilty of seven turnovers, including four in the first few minutes of the game.

"It's special. You have to go back a long ways to witness somebody score 43 points in one night. What he did was extremely interesting because at the beginning of the game, he was really pretty bad. He threw the ball away three or four times in a row, and the bank on his first shot, which was really a miss.

"At one point, we were talking about getting him out of the game. It was interesting how that happens. He got himself together. When he hit the shot from the corner, the ball kind of rattled around and went down. It gave him some confidence."

It truly became a night to remember for everyone concerned. Paul, who has been hitting barely over 30% of his shots from the arc, hit an amazing 8 of 10 against OSU. His last one, which put the Illini up 74-70 and broke OSU's spirit, was an off balance shot clock beater with star Buckeye defender Aaron Craft draped all over him.

"The last shot was a great athletic play on his part just to get the ball off, "McClain admitted. "When I looked at the tape, he got fouled on the play. Craft did a good job of blocking him, and he still got the ball down."

Paul has begun to follow friend and teammate D.J. Richardson's example and spend extra time on his own in the gym working on his shot.

"I think my shots have been off balance recently. I've been getting in the gym, keep shooting before the game, after and before practice. My teammates had confidence in me. At one point I wanted to stop shooting threes, and Joe (Bertrand) said, 'That's stupid. You're a good shooter, so keep shooting and it will go in.'"

No question, Paul played one of the best all-around games in Illini basketball history. And typical for athletes in "The Zone," Paul found the energy needed to keep going despite extensive playing time in a pressure-packed game.

"I was kind of tired, but once you get into that mode, you get your second and third wind. So I just kept playing."

The rim will not always look as inviting to Paul as it did the other night. He will have more games like the average efforts demonstrated most of this season. But McClain reminds him how he can become more consistent with his shots.

"He's a very athletic individual, but the thing with Brandon is just shot selection. When he gets his feet set and keep his eyes on the basket, he is one of our best shooters. We're trying to get him into situations where he's shooting his shots. When he's hitting his shots, he has a high arch and it really looks good."

He is best when his shots come as part of the offense rather than just standing on the perimeter. He has been encouraged to penetrate for midrange shots or attack the basket. But even then, knowing when to shoot and when to pass is still a work in progress for Paul.

"Sometimes when I start penetrating, I make my mind up before I move. What I've got to do is penetrate and see what the defense gives me. If I come off a screen and make a decision to shoot, it might not be the best. There might be a guy open in the corner. I've got to come off and be ready to make a play."

Weber agrees.

"I think one thing Brandon does on ball screens, he makes decisions before it happens. Demetri (McCamey) did that some last year and more two years ago. Basketball is reaction and anticipation. You've got to react to what the defense gives you and make the easy play."

The motion offense requires constant movement by all the players. Sometimes Paul settles for remaining on the perimeter. He realizes a need to change that.

"I've got to move more without the ball than I do right now. I might be standing around too much. If I'm on the wing, I feel maybe I can run the floor faster, get an outlet pass and get to the basket."

With Sam Maniscalco out with his injured ankle, Paul has added point guard responsibilities. He has played there before.

"I've been doing it since freshman year. I need to limit my turnovers, but other than that I'm pretty much used to being a combo guard."

He may be used to it, but he still has much to learn about the position. The hardest part is knowing when to pass and when to shoot and be receptive to both options simultaneously.

"It definitely is tough. Point guard is not my number one position, but I'm playing there to help my teammates. I've just got to continue progressing."

He sometimes tries to make the difficult pass, which often results in a turnover. Weber explains another Paul tendency when passing the ball.

"He throws the ball across his body. He's got to square up and make the solid pass. That's how he gets a lot of little deflections."

Despite the turnovers and inconsistent scoring efforts, the Illini are much better off with Paul than without him. His defense has been outstanding much of the year also according to Weber.

"If we didn't have Brandon, we wouldn't be near what we have record-wise. He guarded (John) Shurna and shut him down second half (of the Northwestern game). He did a great job on (Drew) Crawford first half. He's made huge plays in games. You just hope he can get a little more consistency."

Paul is confident in his defense.

"I've always been a defensive stopper. I want to come in and guard the best player on the court. I just want to go out and help my team win, whether it's on the offensive end or defensive end or both. I take pride in my defense.

"I think my physicality has helped me. I've taken it up a notch. I can guard guys smaller and bigger than I am. I think my athleticism and my length helps."

How Will Paul respond to his new notoriety? If he lets success go to his head, the Illini will suffer through one or more mediocre efforts on his part. But if he uses his new confidence in a constructive way by working even harder and looking to improve his weaknesses, great efforts might become commonplace.

It's all up to him.

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