What Happens in Vegas...

Illinois takes off for it's first road trip of the season, a Tuesday date with UNLV...

CHAMPAIGN – There's no time to sit in on a blackjack table and don't even think about figuring the odds on the spinning roulette wheel.

That's a bust.

The Illinois basketball team is tripping to Las Vegas, flying after practice Monday for tomorrow's game against UNLV.

The bright lights of the Vegas strip may beckon, but Coach John Groce said his players wouldn't have any stirring off-the-court stories to tell.

"It's a business trip for us," Groce said. "It always is when we travel."

Every week seems to bring about a first-time-something or another for the team with nine new faces. This time around the talking points centered on the road trip, the Illini leaving the familiar State Farm Center for the first time after winning five games to open the season.

Per his usual outlook, Groce talked about the experience in a positive tone, eager to face the challenge and see how his players respond. Senior forward Jon Ekey echoed his coach's sentiment.

"This first road game will tell us a lot about where we've come, what we still need to work on, things like that," Ekey, who scored 19 points in each of the last two games, said. "This will be a good test just to see where we are, how close we are as a team and will be a good way to show the young guys exactly what we need. I'm excited to see what we do."

First-time Illini players in Ekey and Rayvonte Rice have at least travelled and played at the college level before. Ekey paused for a long time before saying he didn't remember the first road game he actually played in while at Illinois State.

"I'm sure it was crazy," he said.

For the five freshmen on the roster, though, Tuesday's game brings about many firsts.

"Obviously I expect the captains and the veterans, all of them to lead by example in this area and talk to them about how we travel," Groce said. "It starts with how you dress, how you act, how we eat, sleep, all those things become really important when you're trying to gain an edge at this level."

Junior guard Tracy Abrams is one captain Groce will lean on to deliver the necessary messages. He was a freshman in 2011 when Illinois lost to UNLV in Chicago.

Abrams didn't remember much from that game, but did recall that it ended in a loss (64-48).

"I definitely don't want to have that feeling again," he said.

As for what it takes to get it done on the road, Abrams said: "I mean, we've got to live up to our motto, being tough and being together. That's the biggest thing. It's only us there. So we've got to be together and play tough."

Freshman Malcolm Hill, averaging 14 minutes and nearly five points a game, seems to already be picking it up.

"This is the first time all season that everybody is going to be against us," Hill said. "This is what toughness and togetherness is all about."

Six of the next eight games are away from the State Farm Center, a stretch where Groce says he'll learn a lot about his team. It starts Tuesday, though, with a chance to grow and get better, according to Abrams.

"It's a great experience," he said. "Me, I'm excited for these young guys, you know. They haven't been on the road. It's definitely a different experience. We'll see how the guys respond."


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