Practice has only been in session for a few days, so the team is far from polished. Basketball has become an amazingly complex game, and many nuances are still being taught late into the season. Illini fans will need to be patient as the team rounds into shape.
But a few things are already obvious. First and foremost, the Illini players appear to be working well together, putting aside individual goals for the needs of the team. They are learning the value of making the extra pass, setting a quality screen to free a teammate, and playing solid team defense.
There may not be any superstars on the team, so there are no guaranteed points. That is why teamwork is essential for success. The motion offense can create numerous open shots, but the Illini will need to focus on working offensively until they can free each other for those shots.
Seniors Chester Frazier, Trent Meacham and Calvin Brock have important roles on the team even if they don't figure to lead the team in scoring. Frazier is the acknowledged leader of the team, and he lights a fire under his teammates with his determination and strong work ethic.
Meacham is running and jumping freely this year after having ankle surgery to remove bone spurs in the offseason. Coach Weber wants him to be more consistent with his shot as he is possibly Illinois' best 3-point shooter. But Trent also brings intangibles such as intelligence, experience and confidence to the table.
Calvin Brock has had an enigmatic career, but he can help if he can put everything together this year. From early indications, Brock is working hard and showing signs of maturity. Illinois needs his athletic ability for defense and rebounding, and he has a quality midrange game. Illinois will benefit if Calvin can become a consistent force.
Rebounding and post defense remain concerns. Mike Tisdale is practicing full-to after leg surgery, and he is getting first crack a the center spot. He brings an element unavailable last year, a post player who can move around the floor to help teammates and hit shots from a variety of locations. But he still has strength and endurance concerns, so he needs to continue his development.
Squadman Rich Semrau shows occasional signs of helping. He is big, mobile, and intelligent, and he seems to be fitting in better and gaining confidence. But he struggles with rebounding and receiving passes. C. J. Jackson's bulk allows him to represent future opponents' strength inside, but he is not yet ready to give major minutes.
Freshman Stan Simpson's mind must be spinning wildly as he tries to catch up with his older teammates. He is mobile, leaps well, has long arms and a soft touch, but he needs time to decipher the complexities of the game. It is too early to know whether he's a redshirt candidate, but that remains a possibility.
The power forward spot may become the most interesting competition throughout fall workouts. Bill Cole, Mike Davis and junior college transfer Dominique Keller all show signs of helping. Cole and Davis are stronger and understand things much better this year. They are good shooters and fluid athletes. But they could still use more strength and maturation, and their rebounding still needs work.
Keller is extremely athletic, and he is a tough-minded adult who can definitely help once he catches onto everything. Illini coaches are working with Dominique on his shot release and his ball handling. He could be the team's leading rebounder and provide some post defense once he settles in. He seems more than willing to play the role Coach Weber requires of him.
Sophomore point guard Demetri McCamey is much more confident of his game this year, and he is excellent at hitting open men. It appears he learned much from his freshman experience, so now it's just a matter of putting that knowledge to use consistently. He isn't ready for superstardom, but he's a key factor in helping teammates get open looks.
Jeff Jordan should provide minutes as a backup point, but coaches need to keep him from overdoing his weight training. Too much strength tends to make him tighter and less fluid. His shot is improved, but he still tends to leave some shots short.
Illini fans will get their first look at midyear transfer Alex Legion. He isn't eligible until the end of the first semester, so he must take a back seat to the other players until his opportunity arrives. Alex is an excellent shooter and can create his own shots, something Illinois needs.
He could easily become Illinois' top scorer if given total freedom to shoot. But Coach Weber wants him to improve his defense, ball handling and passing and will not give him that freedom until he earns it.
The Orange & Blue scrimmage comes far too early in the team's development to reflect accurately the team's potential. But Illini fans capable of projecting into the future will likely see reasons for optimism Sunday.