The Big Dogs

<p>The Illinois frontcourt is a rare combination of height, strength, speed, leaping ability, and shooting touch. Each player is so much different than the rest that it will be hard for opposing teams to match up with them. With the loss of Brian Cook many people are assuming that Illinois will be weak on the frontcourt. I agree that Cook was an integral part of the team last year, but his loss will be made up with a multitude of players. Here's a look at the big men:

James Augustine- James is a 6'10 and 220 pound forward/center. He has long been described as a big man that runs like a deer. Offensively James received lots of benefits from playing with Brian Cook last year. The opposing teams could not focus on James and he made them pay several times. Augustine could have put up even bigger numbers had he not been in foul trouble every game. James has a nice medium range jumper and finishes well under the hoop. He will never be a power post player but he is not a pushover either. He will take advantage of his quickness around the basket to gain position. James is a good leaper as well. He will be the receiver of many alley-oops. Augustine can really get up and down the floor. You'll see him sprinting down the lane when the Illini get going on a fast break. Defensively James has the potential to be a great defender. He can block shots and block out very well. His main problem has been not getting good position and reaching too much. He takes himself out of way too many games due to his aggressiveness. Look for James to learn how to play position defense this year. James is one of the top big men in the Big Ten and will have NBA scouts looking at him this year.

Aaron Spears- Aaron will be a beast down low for Illinois. He has slimmed down a bit from last year but he's still huge. He has a nice frame in which to put on more muscle. Aaron was forced out of action last year with a knee injury and from all indications it looks like he's back with a vengeance. Illinois could have used Aaron last year for more toughness down low especially with their foul prone big men. His redshirt year will benefit Aaron and the program down the road. Aaron is exactly the type of guy that you want in your program for five years. He came to Illinois as an unpolished big man and should leave a highly skilled post player with NBA potential. Offensively Aaron likes to gain solid position on the blocks and will call out for the ball. He has enormous hands and long arms making him an easy target to find. Once down low he will need to work on an assortment of moves. At times he reverts back to the lowering of the head and bulling his way to the basket. Its nice to see that in a big man but in order to become better he'll need to develop a mid-range game. Look for Coach Weber and staff to really focus on building Aaron's offensive skills. On defense Aaron will not be pushed around. He can block shots but must be more careful with using his hands too much. He needs to stay out of foul trouble. It wouldn't be so hard with him except for the fact that he plays with so much emotion. It's hard for him to contain himself when he's battling another man. This emotion he plays with is good though in the aspect that it fires his teammates up and they look to him, along with Dee Brown, to bring significant energy to the floor.

Nick Smith- Nick is the tallest basketball player in Illinois basketball history. Does everyone know this?? Good. Nick has steadily improved in each year he's been with the program. He will never gain weight like the Illinois fans want him to and his asthma will not go away. What Nick will do is be a solid contributor off the bench. The role fits him perfectly. He'll come in, maybe hit a 3 or two, block or alter a shot, and then sit back down. Illinois fans should love having a guy like that on the bench. Offensively Nick is a dead eye shot all the way out to 3-point range. He is a great free throw shooter and effective down low as long as he doesn't dribble. A baby hook shot should be the next asset Nick adds to his game. Defensively he can alter shots but isn't a great shot blocker. He has no leaping ability but he doesn't need it.

Jack Ingram- Jack has really been impressive since becoming an Illini. Jack is a strongly built power forward who likes to bang inside. Jack is not limited to an inside game. From what he's showed so far, he might be one of the most accurate 3-point shooters on the team. Many experts think Jack will be a starter from day 1. It really depends on the development of Aaron Spears in my opinion. Jack can run the floor better and shoot better but Spears is the low post banger they need for toughness. It will be a nice combo to have.

Warren Carter- Warren is a tall lanky combo forward that will suit up as a freshman for the Illini this year. He comes from the state of Texas which has produced lots of D-1 talent as of late. The early indications are that Carter can help this team right now with his athleticism. There is a remote chance that he could redshirt. Offensively Warren is very talented. His range extends out to 3-point range and his athleticism helps him take it to the hoop right over the defenders. Warren is very long and lanky and will need some added strength to bang with the physical Big 10 post players. Defensively Warren can block a lot of shots due to his leaping ability and long arms. He will have trouble guarding the stronger guys but will have quickness to cover his assignments and provide help side defense. Look for Warren to make a splash this year when given the opportunity.

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