Roundballers Talk About Early Progress

The Fighting Illini basketball team is deep into preparations for the upcoming South Padre Island Tournament Friday and Saturday. A 4-0 start has helped the team gain needed confidence. And it encourages them to continue their hard work for the difficult schedule to come. Four players met with the media Tuesday to discuss their progress so far.

Senior guard Trent Meacham is optimistic about this Illinois team. He now wants to continue the progress.

"The first four games have been encouraging because we've been improving every day in practice. We've just got to keep that going. We can't get too high after a few wins, and when we lose we can't get too low. Stay humble, stay hungry, and keep improving."

Mike Davis has led the Illini in scoring so far with a 14.3 points per game average. He will become a marked man for future opponents, but he is confident his teammates can pick up any slack.

"It's not just me. We have a great shooter in Trent (Meacham), a great player in Demetri McCamey, Chester Frazier and Mike Tisdale, so we have a lot of weapons. It's not just me scoring the ball."

In fact, Meacham and McCamey are close behind with 14.0 and 13.8 averages respectively. The improved chemistry and teamwork are big factors in Illinois' early success, and much of that can be attributed to the leadership of the seniors.

"It's my senior season, and I've put in a lot of time," Chester Frazier offers. "I've got to step up and be a leader. The young guys look up to me, and it's time to lead. I'm calm right now, no off-court stress. I'm just finally growing up to a point where I just let things go and move on.

"Like I said in preseason, I think the chemistry's a lot better. Everybody's coming together. Practice is a lot better, and the on-court chemistry is a lot better. Everybody's cheering for each other. It's not about self any more, it's about winning."

Meacham feels the same way.

"As a senior, you need to be more relaxed and confident, and let other guys feed off that. This year, I want to be consistent. Coach has preached that to the whole team, especially the seniors Chester, Calvin and myself. Be consistent, be solid day in and day out. If we do that, the other guys can come along and follow us. I want to be a leader, be focused and be confident out there.

"I definitely feel that on the court, and that's what we need to do. That's what they expect from us, that's what our teammates expect and what we expect from ourselves. I'm not gonna shoot well every game, Chester's not gonna have his best game every time. But we have to be solid and lead the team."

Davis is just a sophomore, but he is also taking responsibility for the team's needs.

"Our main goal is to stay together. Times are tough, and we need to stay together as a team, make the extra pass and try to win."

Junior forward Dominique Keller is perhaps the most versatile player on the team and will be asked to fulfill different roles in different games. He prides himself on being able to guard anyone asked.

"It really don't matter. The most important thing is playing. I wouldn't care if you put me on a point guard as long as I'm playing. I've been guarding different players my whole life. I can't ever remember playing just one position. I have guarded every position, so I don't have a preference for defense."

Frazier provided clarity on the development of the offense.

"The offense looks a lot better. We're shooting the ball really well, we're passing a lot better. I think we had 17 assists on 18 shots in the first half last game. Everybody's sharing the ball and just looking for the best shot."

However, Chester still thinks the defense is better at this early stage.

"I'd say defense is a little ahead of the offense right now. There's still things we can do better. We still don't screen, we still don't block out. But we go over defense so much that defense will be ahead of offense."

The Illini now get to combine some pleasure with their business. But like Davis reminded, the business end of the South Padre Island trip is most important.

"It should be fun. Get out of the cold and into some warm weather for awhile, get to wear some shorts. We'll fly out on Wednesday and then get to work on Thursday."


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