"I think Mike Tisdale has shown some signs that he would be our big guy," Coach Bruce Weber states. "Can he more than 20-25 minutes, that will be the question. Last year, it was back and forth should he redshirt. He is up to 240 now. Since he arrived here 14 or so months ago, he's gained about 45 pounds.
"Does he need more weight, yes. Does he need more strength, yes. His endurance will be a question. But he's a committed kid, he's in the office all the time, he's in Jimmy Price our weight coach's office all the time. So he'll get it going better than anyone."
The slender 7'-1" Riverton product knows the importance of strength in the rugged Big Ten, and he is optimistic his continued strength and weight gains will help him this season.
"Gaining 20 pounds is a big thing in the post. In the Big Ten, we've got guys like B. J. Mullens (Ohio State) coming in. There are big guys in there, so you've got to hold your own. I think more strength will help. I've made some strides in gaining weight and gaining muscle. So far, it's helping. I feel stronger, so it should be good."
Strength and weight in the upper body isn't enough. A major college post player needs to establish himself inside with his legs and hips. Coach Weber esplains that without a solid base, Tisdale will struggle against stronger defenders.
"He got mad when I joked he's like a giraffe, but he is. He has very long legs, and he's got to get some strength and meat on those legs so he has balance and can't be moved around in the lane."
Weber likes Mike's versatility and his shooting ability. But he wants him to develop a post presence to compliment his outside shooting and keep defenses honest.
"His is never gonna be a power game. One, he's got to fight for position. Then, he's got a nice hook, right or left. He just kind of shied away from that last year. It was just too tough for him to fight and get position. So that would be nice, if he could use that little hook, get a couple of those down.
"But his is more of a face-up game, like the European big man, square up and shoot the ball from 15-17 feet. With him, I don't even mind the three, as long as his feet are squared up, like a trailer on the break. But last year, he kind of gave into that more than anything. I'm open, I'm gonna shoot this thing as quick as possible."
Tisdale is practicing full-time with the team despite recent leg surgery. His recovery has been quicker than expected as he was expected to miss the first week or so of practice. As for the freak injury, it was completely unexpected.
"It was actually real sudden. I noticed one day I had a little pain in my leg and a lump in my leg. I showed our trainer and went to the doctor that Thursday, and I had the surgery Friday morning. It was pretty quick. It was pretty weird getting a call saying you have surgery in the morning when you just found out that day something was wrong."
And it was especially shocking to Coach Weber, who had just witnessed Mike's best practice to date.
"The day he got hurt, we actually did a team workout. I left for recruiting and said to the coaches, 'That's the best Mike Tisdale has looked since he's been here.' And the next morning, I get a call with bad news. What happened overnight? It was such a crazy thing. Luckily, he's back at it."
Most tall, gangly big men develop more slowly than other players. Mike would probably have benefitted from a redshirt year, but Weber explains there was little if any choice last year. At least, the experiences he gained will make him a better player in the future.
"We probably should have redshirted him last year. But with the situation with Brian Carlwell, we had to play him. After the season, he said maybe he should have redshirted. I told him you did it, don't look back. Use it as a learning experience. You got to start a Big Ten game on the road, you got to play major games.
"How many opportunities did he have to make big shots? The game-winners didn't go in, but he had that opportunity. So now, he's been through it. It will help him throughout his career. Now, if he has that big shot, I think it is gonna go in. And the real positive thing is he's not afraid to shoot it."
Mike Tisdale has tremendous potential, but it will take awhile for it to manifest fully. Whether he can provide the rebounding, scoring, defense and leadership the Illini need in the post this year remains to be seen. But his future is bright.