Growth a Must for Nunn, Freshmen

Freshmen will continue to play a large role in Illinois' by-committee approach...

Freshman Kendrick Nunn found himself on the court during crunch time in last week's close win against Missouri.

The 6-foot-3, 180-pound guard logged a career-high 20 minutes against the Tigers, a nod to his progression after oftentimes seeing less than 10 minutes per game in mid-November.

"Nunn right now I definitely think is on the right track," Coach John Groce said. "He was struggling, probably he'd be the first to tell you, a month or six weeks ago and he's gotten a lot better."

The Chicago native hasn't offered much offensively, but he has gotten better at taking care of the basketball, evidenced by committing only one turnover in his last 37 minutes of run. It's his defensive improvement that has built enough trust for Groce to insert him on the floor more often.

"Kendrick's gotten better defensively," Groce said. "That's the biggest thing.

"Just some of the habits he needed to build in order to defend in our system. He's getting better. I'm excited about his growth and development."

Nunn is the latest in a line of freshmen to make a mark this season. Point guard Jaylon Tate has been a steady presence, averaging 2.7 points and 3.3 assists per. Freshman Malcolm Hill has recently seen his minutes decline after a career night when he scored 10 points against Dartmouth earlier this month. Forwards Maverick Morgan and Austin Colbert both average around seven minutes a game.

"I don't know if any of them are hitting the wall," Groce said. "We need a couple of them to play better than they're playing right now, and then we've got a couple that are playing well right now. We need all of them. I've said that from the very beginning."

While Groce says no player has reached a breaking point yet, he does foresee a time when that could happen.

"It's too early for that," he said. "Usually when a freshman potentially might hit the wall would be in league play."

That's rapidly approaching. Illinois kicks off Big Ten play against Indiana on Dec. 31.

In the meantime, Groce continues to preach about the by-committee approach this year's team will use. With a bench essentially comprised solely of freshmen the need for the younger players to continue to progress is imperative.

"We're going to continue to work with those guys and help make them better," Groce said. "That's really what it's about is growing and getting better and obviously we need our upperclassmen to remain consistent. That's the challenge for those guys."

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