Everyone knows by now that Dee Brown, Deron Williams, and Roger Powell are going to get theirs. Luther Head will get his at home. The tallest guy out of that group is a 6'6 power forward. If Illinois is going to go from good to very good they will need the emergence of James Augustine.
On Tuesday night James put together the most complete game of his career. He outdid the more highly publicized Paul Davis on the night, limiting Davis to just 8 points and 3 rebounds. James has been bothered the last few weeks by a multitude of injuries. None of them kept him out of games but were nagging just enough to not allow him to play to his potential. "It feels good. I said at the beginning of this week that it's the best I've felt in 2 months. Even today warming up I felt so loose and like it was the 1st day of practice again," said Augustine.
When James is running the floor and snagging rebounds he becomes one of the Illini's most important pieces to the puzzle. "He was blocking shots, getting rebounds and trapping, he was slowing down on his layups, he would seal and we'd get it to him and he'd take his time, he was acting like he was 6'10 instead of 6'5," said coach Bruce Weber. When they get nothing from him, they really struggle. The guards will not be able to carry this team far enough in either the Big 10 or NCAA tournament. If Illinois wants to go far they will need the inside presence of James Augustine.
Coach Weber knew it was only time before James would have a breakout game like this. Weber had asked James to put in some overtime the last few weeks to work on post moves and to get back in the flow of things. The extra work definitely paid off for the big man. "We've been making him stay after practice. I told his dad to remind him that it's paying off," said Weber. Still, Augustine doesn't carry with him an assortment of post moves. He needs the guards to feed him in the perfect position so he can take it up quickly for 2 points.
If Augustine is to help Illinois reach its full potential, these are a few things I'll need to see:
1. A go to post move. James cannot go to his right at this point. He looks very awkward. He at least needs to develop a fade away jumper to that side if he's going to be a force. The left handed baby hook should be his signature move.
2. A warrior mentality. After the MSU game Weber claimed that Auggie had played "like an animal." Illinois will need that as they head towards the postseason this year and carry it into next year. Augustine has been quoted as saying that he doesn't want to be the focal point of scoring and that he'll let the others guys do that. I'm sorry James, but you're going to have to get that out of your head. Illinois must have a inside scoring presence. It would make Deron and Dee that much better.
3. The ability to defend. If James wanted to, he could be one of the premier defenders in the league. He's very quick off his feet to block shots. He can rebound. He is strong enough. Right now he still has some bad habits though. He'll go from almost fouling out one game to not getting any fouls the next. He needs to be consistent on the defensive end.
Overall James seems to really be putting the injuries past him and looks poised to make a splash as we near the stretch run of the Big 10. If James can put up numbers close to the ones he put up against MSU, this Illinois team becomes as dangerous as ever. You might even hear me say 2nd weekend of the NCAA tournament.