The Missing Link

<p>With the recent departure of former Illini big man Brian Cook, Illini fans wonder who will fill that spot. The answer: Aaron Spears might be that guy. After going down with a torn lateral meniscus in practice December of 2002, the Illini's giant is back, and with attitude. Read here for his latest quotes.

With scholarship offers from Houston, Oklahoma, Uconn, Oregon and Louisville, coaches knew behind that big 6'9", 270 frame from Chicago's Dunbar High School was a kid with a load of potential.

I can remember watching Spears play in high school and people questioning his work ethic. He was somewhat overweight, and didn't show much enthusiasm. Former Illinois coach Bill Self had an eye for talent, because Spears is now turning into quite a special player for new coach Bruce Weber.

This past Saturday during Weber's clinic, he kept talking about kids with great attitudes. Spears' name kept popping up.

Spears played in six games before his injury. You could see then how strong, physical and determined he was. Spears is also a vocal leader on the court. What a great surprise for Weber - two Chicago kids with white headbands leading his team this year.

This past summer the Fighting Illini took a trip to Europe. According to Weber a lot was accomplished. There's an old saying that "it's tougher to teach big men how to play", but Spears is coming into his own. "We were really able to use our big guys as a huge advantage in the paint," Weber said about that trip.

In the last game Spears had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. According to the coaches, Spears was the biggest surprise of the trip. I saw Aaron play this fall in a few pick-up games. He's clearly the most physical player on the team this year. "I just like to bang; that's my game," said Spears with a smile.

The past few big men to play at Illinois were guys that liked lay-ups instead of DUNKING. "I can assure you that when I get the ball anywhere near the rim I'm throwing it down", said Spears. There was one game Spears played in against Western Illinois. He missed a lay-up, got it back and slammed it home. I knew then this kid played with an attitude and won't be denied. It's easy to forget about him when you talk Illinois basketball because of his surgery last year. But come Midnight Madness, fans will get a real taste of what Spears will bring this winter.

Final statistics from the European tour: 6-0 games, 16-28 FG attempts (.571%), 14-22 from the charity stripe (.636%), 48 rebounds, 13 offensive and 3 blocked shots.

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