Tate's Taking Lessons

Through better or worse, freshman Jaylon Tate is learning lessons in the Big Ten.

Jaylon Tate made sure he looked his coach in the eyes.

He'd just travelled after getting too deep into the lane with no escape route, and there was no way he could hide. Even if he could, the freshman point guard wasn't going to run from his mistake.

He caught Coach John Groce's attention and patted his chest, said my bad with his eyes and facial expression and sprinted back on defense.

He did the same thing after airballing an awkward attempt at a running floater late in Sunday's loss to Indiana.

In his 27 minutes, Tate scored six points and dished out five assists (the only Illini to post even one). But it was the moments following his missteps that revealed his what-coaches-look-for character.

He was trying to make plays to win the game. And he was pissed off and accountable when he was unsuccessful.

"You know, everything happens for a reason," Tate, 6-3, 160 pounds, said. "We've just got to move on. We've just got to make some plays toward the end. We played hard. Indiana did a good job making plays down the stretch. That's just something we've got to do."

Tate was on the floor for the most run in his career because junior Tracy Abrams was sidelined with back spasms. It was clear in pre-game drills Abrams wasn't right and might not be able to go. Coaches and teammates let Tate know what needed to be done.

"They just said stay ready, stay ready," Tate said. "My teammates gave me confidence. I just helped contribute."

This was Indiana. This was Assembly Hall. And yet, Tate wasn't fazed by the proposition of playing a major role in trying to end Illinois' losing streak.

"He was real ready. He's improving every game," junior Rayvonte Rice said. "He just watches film, sees where he needs to work at it and just comes in with great confidence."

Tate entered less than three minutes into the game and went to work. He's clearly pass first, but the first half ended with him hitting a lay-up and two jumpers while mixing in two assists.

"I just try to read the defense," Tate said. "Playing with my guys for so long, I know where they like to be, where they're comfortable scoring. I just try to read the defense and take what the defense gives me."

Perhaps it was fatigue or the pressure of a close game on the road, but the second half wasn't as friendly to the young buck. Those two instances where he let Groce know he messed up happened in the final 10 minutes of the game. And he missed all three of his shots and committed three turnovers in the final 20 minutes.

Looking at the entire body of work, Groce was pleased for the most part, speaking about the learning curve as a hurdle he expects the Chicago native to leap over.

"Jaylon was ready to go, took the whole next man up concept, I thought, to another level," Groce said. "He did a great job being ready. He made some good plays for us. Learned a few freshman lessons there late in the game. Jaylon's a kid who cares a lot so he watches film all the time. He'll have to kind of figure that out."

So where does it go from here? Abrams has been dealing with the spasms for some time, mostly pushing through the issue with the help of the training staff. The four games preceding the Indiana game didn't include much of Tate. The most he played in one game was 12 minutes and he took only three shots total. No matter happens, Tate says he'll be ready. And he showed on Sunday he can answer when called.

"We work hard every day in practice," he said. "We're right there. We just have to make some more plays towards the end. Indiana did a good job of doing that. We're just getting better. We'll be fine."


Illini Inquirer Top Stories