CHAMPAIGN - Kipper Nichols only is two practices into his Illinois career, but the early returns are in.
"He's Jimmy Butler 2.0," Illini junior Malcolm Hill said, referring to the Chicago Bulls All-Star wing. "He looks just like him."
Nichols certainly looks the part. The 6-foot-7 freshman transfer looks stronger than most first-year players.
"He's really physical," Hill said. "He has a nice mid-range touch too with a high arc. He has the potential to be a really good player because he's already quick, and he's big, strong and physical. I can't wait to see him improve.
"Yesterday was our first practice with him; he's good," redshirt freshman forward Michael Finke said. "He was shooting a little bit. He was attacking the hole. He was playing pretty good defense. He's going to be a really good player for us."
While Nichols is officially enrolled at Illinois and started practicing with the team on Monday, Illinois fans won't see Nichols on the court for another year.
Nichols, an Ohio native recruited heavily by Illini assistant Dustin Ford, enrolled at Tulane for a short period this fall. He attended class for "a couple days," according to Illini coach John Groce, but did not play a game with the Green Wave.
So when will Nichols play for Illinois? That's uncertain, according to Groce.
In the worst case scenario, Nichols will sit out two semesters-- until the conclusion of the 2016 fall semester (mid- to late-December 2016) -- before returning to the court for three and a half seasons of eligibility. But Groce seems to hold out hope that Nichols, could be available sooner.
Illinois will file an appeal for a waiver to allow Nichols to be eligible to start next season.
"We'll work on that," Groce said. "We think he has a good case. But at the end of the day, that's the NCAA's decision."
Nichols, who signed a financial aid tender with Illinois in November, is expected to give Illinois a much-needed physical, athletic defender on the post who can also help on the glass.
"Boy, are we glad to have him now and have our entire team," Groce said. "He's really a great student, a great person and really just offers a lot of versatility as a player with his size, his strength and his body. He's got a man's body at 18, 19 years old. He's very versatile both offensively and defensively. He can guard multiple positions defensively. He can play mulitple positiond defensively. Guys like always offer just tremendous value to our team."
Penn State, Northwestern, Minnesota, Maryland, Xavier and Dayton were just a few teams who had shown previous interest.
"The thing that's impressed me the last two days is just how well he's fit in," Groce said. "I think he fits right in line with the character that we have in our locker room with our team this year. I know he's awful glad to be here, so we're awful excited to welcome him."