Jackson State Postgame Press Conference

The Fighting Illini basketball team has enjoyed a 4-0 getaway to begin the 2008-2009 season. The wins have given encouragement to the team and its fans alike. With each win, the thoughts of Coach Weber and his players become more interesting for their reawakened fanbase. Highlights of the Jackson State post game press conference follow.

Illinois Coach Bruce Weber discussed a variety of subjects after the Jackson State game. He thought his team played well to finish off the first half but became somewhat complacent to begin the second stanza.

"They (JSU) play so loose and free, and they've been in this situation. They're not gonna back down. They keep coming at you. In the second half, for the first 5 minutes I thought we just went through the motions. They kicked us on the offensive glass. On the play hard chart, I think they were 8 to 1 on us to start the second half. And offensive rebounds might have been 10 to 1.

"Then we got a nice mix in there and made a nice run to get the lead to 24. I wish we could have finished it. It was a little disappointing that some guys had extra minutes to get their chance. It was not a great unit in there, but you've still got to do something. The poor finish left a little bit of a sour taste in our mouths. We can learn from it and hopefully get better.

"The biggest thing we've talked about is not getting complacent, trying to get some consistency and improving. If you want to be a good team, you've got to improve. I think we're way better than we were two weeks ago against Eastern Washington. But at the same time, there's a long way to go. We'll find out a lot more about us next week on a neutral court against some pretty good opposition."

Point guard Demetri McCamey played well in the first half but tailed off thereafter.

"It was positive we could make the run without him. It was something I think that was fueled by the defense, and he doesn't always push himself defensively. He gets a little lazy, and they had some quickness.

"I hope he gets a little bit of the message to play all the time. I told him after the (Vanderbilt) game, 'You were great, you were the star, but now do it in practice, do it against Jackson State,' and I don't think he is totally there yet.

On the positive side, we were able to make the nice run without him. We had great ball movement, played great defense and got some runouts. Mike Davis and Dominique Keller 17of 18, you can't get much better than that. Tis (Mike Tisdale) struggled a little bit. Trent (Meacham) has been consistent. I was happy for Calvin (Brock) that he got going a little bit. He had a better line and got some things done.

"We need everybody clicking because every play makes a difference. Richard Semrau had a good first half, struggled a little bit second half. The athleticism and quickness maybe bothered him. Maybe the same with Tisdale. Vandy had more guys they matched up with. But we have versatility with Mike Davis, Dominique. Those guys can come in and play against this style of team."

This Illini team is producing assists at a higher rate than last season. Weber discussed the difference in the two teams.

"Part of it was we didn't make shots (last year). You only get assists when you make shots, so that's one thing. We're a better shooting team, we have more people who can pass. Demetri, Chester (Frazier) and Trent can all pass the ball. They've all played point guard, so that helps.

"I thought Mike Davis made some nice passes against the zone. He got to the high post, kicked it down to Richard. And he went to the weakside. After a timeout, we did a better job of carving up the zone. Better ball movement, swinging the ball, unselfishness, spacing. We've still got to get better screening and reading screening angles.

"Davis has nice hands and nice touch. He shot 9 for 10. Some were easy shots, but some were more difficult. As part of his nice touch, he's become a decent passer. I hope it continues. It's been something we've worked on with him since he got here."

Weber continues to remind how both Davis and McCamey need to bring their best effort every day.

"Mike and Demetri don't always practice hard. Mike didn't have a very good practice after Vandy. I joked with him that if he would practice hard, he might have a triple double. And it's the same thing with Demetri. They're both very talented. They've both made strides, but they both have even bigger strides to make.

"Mike is talented on defense, he can block shots and get deflections. Same with Demetri. For his body, he's deceptively quick. To his credit, Demetri did have 8 on the play hard chart.

Jackson State coach Tevester Anderson said he would vote for Illinois in the top 25. Coach Weber is not ready to support that level of enthusiasm for his team.

"We've made some strides, but I'm not sure we're there yet. Let's wait a couple weeks. We might be the only team to win at a BCS conference team, so we've got a nice win under our belt. Other teams beat people on neutral courts. Now we're gonna have an opportunity at a neutral court. We'll see what happens.

"I watched Texas A & M against Jackson State, and they're pretty talented. Tulsa won 25 games and Kent State won 28 last year. They were both NCAA teams. It's pretty good competition. And then you come back and have Clemson, another NCAA team. We'll learn a lot about our team over the next 10 days.

"A big key to our season is how much they improve and keep on improving. If we're gonna beat the best teams, we've got to get better. We're nowhere where we should be."

Weber says power forward Dominique Keller knows how to play against people his own size. He also believes he can succeed against larger players, but he needs to develop his skills and learn how to outquick them around the hoop.

"Dominique has to get some confidence (to go against taller players). When a guy is 6'-8" or so, he can use his strength. He's got those hooks and stuff. Uncanny angles, he's able to bank it without space and spins.

"His drop step and lefty was something he didn't have when he got here, so he's made strides in just the 2-3 months we've had him. He never used his left hand when he got here. He can be versatile for us because he's so active and strong. He can learn he doesn't have to score over people. He can get angles on slips and cutting."

The 21 straight free throw streak over a three game stretch was a pleasant surprise. Weber was apologetic for Bill Cole. The normally sweet-shooting Cole missed the only three free throws of the game for the Illini.

"I feel bad for Billy. He finally came back and made one. He wants to play, but it's tough. He's a little bit frustrated. You never know, someday he could play a key role as it goes on. So we've got to keep being positive with him."

Weber discussed how important it is for his team to set proper screens and to understand how to use screens to advantage. If they can do that, the foul calls off improper screening will diminish.

"A lot of teams don't screen, but we need to screen. So much of college basketball is dribble and shoot. We need dribbling and creating, but we also need screening and motion. No one wants to be screened.

"It's about screening angles, knowing where people cut off of you. You don't have to put your arm out. It's up to the guy to cut off you. And if they cheat and go over the top, we've got to read it and change the angle, maybe dribble and hit the guy on the flair. Or cut backdoor or something.

"The game is about spacing, angles. And then getting it to the guy when he's open. It's pretty simple, but to get to that point it's pretty complicated."

Mike Davis was a center of attention in the media room after the game. He was asked how the Illinois offense has become more fluid than last year.

"Lot's of practice. That's how we play. Coach has been doing a lot of 3 on 3, 4 on 4, so everybody can get movement. We've just carried it over from practice, and we're doing a great job right now."

Davis was asked about his improved confidence shooting the ball.

"Today, I got off to a hot start, so I just went on from there. But even in the Vanderbilt game, when I got off to a slow start, Coach told me to keep shooting."

There are some bigger, stronger teams down the road for Illinois. Is Davis wondering how he will perform against players stronger than himself?

"We're not really focused on that right now. But down the road, I'll just have to outquick some people, you know. I'm pretty rail thin right now, so I will need to outquick them and try to get some easy buckets."

Dominique Keller came off the bench to score 16 points on perfect 8-8 accuracy. He discussed his learning curve with the Illini offense.

"Yeah, it was kind of hard at first. A lot of movements, cuts and backdoors. But now, after a couple games and watching guys, I think I've got a better feel for it."

Keller is competing with Davis at the power forward spot, but he isn't worried about playing time.

"It's gonna be in and out. Right now, Mike's got the upper hand because he's been here a year. He knows the offense, he knows what's going on. I'm still learning. I don't have a problem with it at all, as long as we are winning and contributing and doing something to help, it's fine.

"Down the line, you'll see more of me and him in there together. When we're in there together, we can guard a lot of different players. We can run breaks, we can rebound, so now it's just a question of me getting to where he's at. It's knowing the offense and being in position to do things."

The 6'-7" Dominique will find himself dwarfed frequently by bigger and stronger opponents inside. He will cross that bridge when it comes.

"To be honest, I'm not thinking about that right now. That'll come with time. I just think about the game at hand. We play Kent State, they're the next big game and that's what we're focused on. I'm sure those other teams are very good, but I'll learn about them when the time comes."

Jackson State coach Tevester Anderson knows Weber well and has great respect for him.

"When I was at Murray State and he was at Southern, we played each other quite often. He's always gonna come out and play hard, get after you defensively. That is his trademark, great defense and rebounding the basketball. He runs that motion offense also, so he's got a pretty good team here, I think. I always enjoy playing his teams because he's gonna make your teams compete and play hard."

Anderson had to remove his star forward early in the first half with two fouls. It affected his game plan.

"When Grant Maxey got his second foul early in the game, he's our best player, we knew we had some problems because it's tough for us to compete without him in the game. We are not deep enough at his and Jeremy Caldwell's (inside) positions to compete with big teams like Big Ten teams. We can do it in our conference, but not in a big conference."

Anderson was surprised by the quality of Illinois' bigs.

"They were better than we thought. We watched the Vanderbilt film, and we didn't realize they were as strong as they really are. They're pretty good inside. I like this team. They're real long, all the kids are real long out there. Teams will have a tough time scoring against them. We're usually a pretty good scoring team, and we had trouble getting shots off against this team because they're so long."


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