Times are very tough right now for the University of Illinois men's basketball team. You can see the frustration in Weber's face and sometimes you can hear it in his voice. Weber's troops are sitting in 10th place in the Big Ten at 3-11 and have an overall record of 11-16. Most people probably thought a conference championship was out of the question this year, but no one saw this coming.
For whatever reason, this team has found a variety of ways for things to go wrong: missed free throws, turnovers, untimely injuries, blown lay-ups, bad shot selection, and inopportune defensive breakdowns. Weber, in his post game interview, said "We come down and take a bad shot. They score and we don't get back. They score and we turn the ball over and they score [again]. It's all hard to explain. The kids are playing hard, but it's just hard for us right now."
Clearly, freshman point guard Demetri McCamey is Illinois' best offensive player right now. But what comes with his growth as a scorer and floor general is youthfulness and a tough learning curve. "Demerti can be very good if he chooses to be. He needs to check his whole card each time out. He's a young player that doesn't know how good he can be if he worked hard at it all the time." Weber said his entire team right now should take a look at that card and that includes his staff.
Illinois' head man is frustrated. And when losing becomes somewhat commonplace, doubt can creep in. Sometimes the players begin to point fingers and resist buying into the system and the coaches' instructions.
By now, the comparisons of McCamey to former Illini All-American, and future NBA All-Star, Deron Williams, have become ever-present, and properly so. What we might forget, though, is that at the start of Williams' sophomore year, he resisted buying into Weber's offense and philosophy. Fortunately, Williams eventually bought in and look what happened. McCamey might be the only player on this year's roster that can do the things Williams does (create shots for himself and others), but he is still dogged by the same thing that affects most young, budding stars: the "me" attitude. "I've talked with Demetri and told him what he needs to do. He needs to take care of thing on the court and off the court. [If he does] he has a very bright future ahead of him. I called and talked with his mother last week about some of this same thing," Weber said.
Right now, the Illini are having some major growing pains. Weber has done a great job with some things, as nobody could take anything away from the efforts given by these players. Junior guard Chester Frazier fought for 13 rebounds last night and senior big man, Shaun Pruitt, played hard and powered his way to 16 points, and went 6-7 from the free throw line. Unfortunately, the fact is that effort alone has not gotten these young men over the hump, except on far-to-few occasions.
It seems to be the theme this year, but the future for this team is bright, despite the frustrations that show up nearly every game. The Illini have a star in the making at point guard and several great recruiting classes on the horizon. Also, next year will see the return of sharp-shooter Jamar Smith and introduction, mid-year, of transfer Alex Legion. But until that time, Illini fans must be patient and hope this year's team can come together and fight their way over the hump.