USA Today // Brian Spurlock

Werner's Whits: Egwu to hang on in NBA?

Illini Inquirer publisher Jeremy Werner discusses Nnanna Egwu's possible NBA future, the Illini injury report, recruiting a kicker and Brandon Lloyd's retirement

Nnanna Egwu appears to be making the most of his training camp opportunity with the Orlando Magic. Orlando cut Greg Steitsma on Thursday. That leaves the Magic roster at 15, the NBA max during the regular season, and Egwu still remains on the roster with a non-guaranteed contract. Now, teams are not required to keep 15 on their roster. Many keep 13 or 14 to keep roster flexibility, and the Magic may do the same. That leaves Egwu as the most likely cut candidate, Orlando Sentinel reporter Josh Robbins writes. Egwu, who is averaging 1.3 points and 2.7 rebounds in three preseason games, didn't play in the Magic's last preseason game. But he appears to have made an impression on defensive-minded head coach Scott Skiles and the Magic front office. Robbins writes that Egwu is a candidate for the Magic D-League affiliate, the Erie BayHawks. Many fans would scoff when I often said that Egwu would get a chance at the NBA -- not that he'd make it, but that he'd have a chance. Sure, Egwu has flaws (mediocre rebounder, below average scorer) that will probably keep him just outside the NBA's minimum 390 roster spots. But he has size, quick feet and one elite skill (defense) that give him the chance to carve out a niche in a league full of niche, role players. Yet, like so many recent Illinois players before and after him -- Demetri McCameyMike DavisBrandon Paul and Tracy Abrams -- his flaws were further exposed at Illinois due to a lack of talent around him. Egwu was a flawed but really good basketball player for Illinois. He was not the reason Illinois missed back-to-back tournaments. Fifth-year transfer Mike Thorne's offense will be an improvement this season, but there will be times this season when Illini fans understand how big of an impact Egwu -- who will make money playing basketball for a long time, if he wants -- made on the Illini program. Oh, and happy 23rd birthday, Nnanna.

Speaking of former Illini trying to make the NBA, Brandon Paul likely would have had a shot by now if it weren't for shoulder injuries. Coming out of college, I thought the only difference between Paul and Michigan's Tim Hardaway Jr. -- a first-round pick entering his third season as an NBA player -- is three inches of height. Paul averaged 14.6 points per game for the D-League's Canton Charge (the Cavs afffilate) last season, shooting 46.5 percent from the field (38.2 3FG%). But another shoulder injury stopped his possible rise to the NBA.

According to the Illini injury report, wide receiver Marchie Murdock will be out this week. First, that injury report is getting a bit ridiculous -- nothing new for Illinois' two major sports. Three of the Illini's top four running backs are out, including starter Josh Ferguson, and three of the top-five receivers are out. Murdock's absence doesn't help, especially with depth, but it's not a huge loss either. Murdock had just five catches for 44 yards in the previous two fully healthy games. Most of Murdock's production has come on wide receiver screens and he's had as many bad moments this season (drops) as positive. Illini freshman receiver Desmond Cain likely will take over more Murdock's role in the slot, and he's been the better player recently anyway, hauling in 14 catches for 123 yards over the last three games -- basically serving as another running back in the screen game. Senior Dionte Taylor (10 catches, 89 yards) and freshman Sam Mays (seven catches, 78 yards) also will see increased playing time, and safety Caleb Day has repped at receiver this week to provide depth.

Illinois football is schedule to host two senior prep kickers this weekend: Edmund (Okla.) Memorial's  Braxton Pickard and Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas' James McCourt. Both have the same offer list -- Illinois, Army and Air Force -- and The Illini are the only power-five conference to offer each a scholarship. McCourt is visiting with STA teammate and Illini commit Dominic Thieman. The Illini are set on adding a talented kicker -- Pickard is ranked ninth in the class and McCourt is ranked 12th -- and look close to landing one this weekend. Which one might depend on who acts first.

Brandon Lloyd officially announced his retirement from NFL after 11 seasons.  The former Illini finished his career with 399 catches, 5,989 yards and 36 touchdowns -- second among former Illini in the NFL behind Bobby Mitchell. Lloyd, a fourth round pick of the 49ers in 2003, led the NFL in receiving yards in 2010 with 1,448 yards with the Denver Broncos and followed that season with back-to-back 900-yard seasons. Lloyd has dabbled in rap and acting but would likely have a future in the media if he wants it.


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