I know, I know, enough about the Bulls, so I will stop there. But the Bulls are not the only NBA news. Former Illinois point guard Deron Williams played in his first NBA game on Wednesday evening as the Utah Jazz hosted the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks were coming off of last night's stunning 111-108 win in 2OT over the Phoenix Suns in the America West Arena, and according to Mark Cuban's blog, they did not get into Utah until 4:00 AM. It was no surprise then that the Mavericks were a step slow on Wednesday evening against the Jazz. The Jazz defeated Dallas 93-82 and were led by Mehmet Okur's 27 and Deron Williams' 18 points. Utah outscored the Mavericks 28-15 in the final period, when it was obvious the Mavericks were running on fumes in the final quarter.
Williams, the third overall pick in the draft, was 7-for-14 in his first game and played the entire fourth quarter as the Jazz rallied. He also beat the third-quarter buzzer with a shot from well beyond half court to get Utah within two.The Houston Rockets started out this season on a good note beating the Sacramento Kings 98-89 in Houston. Former Illinois stand out Luther Head did not see any action in Wednesday night's game as Lord Van Gundy decided it would be best to save the Rocket's secret weapon, Head, for a time when they really needed him. Since we all bow down to the genius that is Lord Van Gundy, I do not question this decision, and I am just thankful Luther gets to learn from God himself in human form.
But enough about the NBA, even if it does involve former Illini players, let's look at the college game, specifically the Fighting Illini Men's Basketball team. On Thursday night the Bruce Weber welcomes the very dangerous (okay, I could not even type that without laughing) Illinois Wesleyan into Assembly Hall to open up the exhibition season. There is one thing Illinois fans will learn from this game, and one thing only: whether or not the plan is to redshirt CJ Jackson. If Jackson does not play on Thursday night, expect him to redshirt. If Jackson does play on Thursday night, he can't redshirt. Yep, these are the NCAA rules for redshirting, playing in an exhibition game (the Orange & Blue Scrimmage was a practice) means you cannot redshirt on the season.
Every member of the Fighting Illini will be glad come Thursday evening at 7:00. Why? They will no longer be playing against themselves. The first exhibition game is always a great time for basketball players because they are so sick of playing against each other in practice day after day. It will be interesting to see how the Illini do on the court against someone that they have not been playing defense against for the past three weeks.
If I had to pick one thing I want to see from each player in tonight's game it would be:
Dee Brown: Play the point guard and run the team. I don't care if you don't score a point, be a pure point guard, just to do it. It is IWU, you don't need to score.
James Augustine: Be aggressive offensively. I want to see you stake out a claim in the post. Receive the pass, and go straight up with the shot. I also want to see you get the ball from fifteen feet and take the shot without hesitation. This is IWU, and time to gain that aggressiveness the Illini will need.
Rich McBride: (If he plays due to his foot injury) Hit a few three-pointers to build up that confidence.
Brian Randle: I want to see aggressiveness on the offensive glass. Last season, Roger Powell was the Illini's garbage man, cleaning up the boards on the offensive glass. I want to see Brian do some of that this season.
Warren Carter: I want to see him start. Why? I think Illinois' best five players are Dee, James, Rich, Brian, and Warren. I know Warren and James are a lot alike as players, but getting the best players on the court at the same time always brings dividends. As far as what he does on the court, I want to see Warren play some help-side defense, something that he has not been great at in the previous two seasons.
Shaun Pruitt: Some aggressive post moves, and defense. Last year, we did not see much of Shaun, but this year he is looking to be ready to bust out. I want to see how his post moves have improved from his "Sean May"-esque lowering the shoulder and going to the basket, as well as how his defensive footwork is. (He did not play a lick of defense in a real game last year, because he was always in when the game was out of hand).
Calvin Brock: Some good minutes that show improved ball handling. We all know he can dunk, but I want to see Calvin improve his ball handling, as if that does not improve, it will be hard to keep him on the court.
Marcus Arnold: A solid game with defensive rebounding, and a few points. I think most Illini fans remember the out of this world Marcus from when Illinois State nearly upset the Illini in Assembly Hall, but Marcus will be a steadying force for the Illini off the bench on the interior providing much needed defense and rebounding, and that is what I want to see tonight even against the smaller opponents.
Chester Frazier: The ability to play the point while Dee is on the bench. This season Illinois will need to give Dee a rest for five minutes a game, and I want to know that the Illini will be in good hands with Chester running the team. With Dee not on the court, I know teams are going to add additional pressure on the ball, and Chester needs to prove that he can handle the pressure and start the offense calmly. Any offensive output he gives the Illini, would be a bonus.
Jamar Smith: I would like to see him hit a three pointer in the offensive flow, and show some hustle and effort defensively. Reports out of Champaign show that his defense is lacking right now, but if he puts the hustle and effort into defense, it will get better and he will see time on the floor.
CJ Jackson: I don't want to see anything from him on Thursday night, as I hope he ends up reshirting because I think he needs an additional year to get into basketball shape, and become a contributor for the Illini.