Weber Sees Growth In Illini Hoopsters

Coaching a basketball team is an evolving process. No team is able to reach peak efficiency in its first few games. Each practice and game provides opportunities for growth. Illini head coach Bruce Weber is pleased with the progress of his team so far, but there is much yet to be learned and many hurdles to overcome.

Illinois coach Bruce Weber spoke with the media prior to his team's Thanksgiving trip to the South Padre Invitational Tournament.

"We're really only 10 days into the season," Weber explained. "It's a very positive start, but there's a long way to go. We've continually emphasized improving, each guy with fundamentals, and as a team getting better, understanding concepts and learning the game.

"That's the key to any team, to have success and keep advancing as a team, whether it's their defensive concepts or their offense, screening angles, executing the plays. Anything offensively that you can do to help yourself. We have a big weekend ahead of us.

"I've said from the beginning we are a better shooting team, but we've got to get open shots. As we face better competition that can guard you with athletes, then how do you get open? Whether it's a screen, a set play, motion or fast break, we have to get open shots.

"We've been very good at sharing the basketball. I think that's been positive, I hope that continues. People enjoy watching us and how the guys play together. I've heard comments doing things around town. Everybody likes playing with one another. We've got to keep that going."

Defense is Weber's forte, and it is defense that will determine how far this team goes.

"We have to continue playing good team defense. This will be the foundation of this season. That's got to continue."

Junior college transfer Dominique Keller impressed the fans by being a perfect 8 for 8 from the field against Jackson State. But Weber spoke at length about Keller's struggles learning a complex system.

"Coming to a major college is a big step for Dominique, and I think he's done a good job. But he still has a lot to learn. Offensively, he still watches the ball and just wants to post up. Defensively, he doesn't always see where the action's going and where he's supposed to rotate.

"It's just gonna come over the course of time. If he can keep a good attitude and be patient with himself with the ups and downs, I think he can make some steps.

"He can really run the court, he's strong, makes some uncanny shots. Now he's just gotta learn when to screen, when to post, when to step out to catch it and swing it. He just doesn't feel comfortable yet with all that.

"And then there's the defensive concepts. As an example, we guard a ball screen four different ways. So we're introducing four concepts, four different terms, and then you've got to figure out when to do it. If he's standing there and some guy runs up a ball screen, if it's one angle we're doing one thing. He's not only to call out ball screen, he's got to talk it through and help the guards.

"Right now, he just stands there and wonders is it this, is it that. I'm just telling him be aggressive, don't think. I'd rather have him be aggressive and do the wrong thing than to stand there and do nothing. Do the things you can control, and then learn in practice and get better.

"I was hoping Dominique would be a little farther along. I thought he would just play and do some of the things, but he has a tendency to overthink. The fire's burning in the brain, smokes coming out. But maybe he made some steps the last couple days. Do what you do, play hard, run the court and then continue to learn and improve in practice. And watch film.

"That's one thing that's hard for kids to understand. How can you learn unless you watch yourself? The coaches can say stuff, and guys say 'it wasn't me,' or 'I didn't do that.' And then when they watch the film, 'well maybe I did do that.' A couple times we asked Dominique to watch film, he shied away. He's afraid a little bit, and you get some criticism. But it's not to downgrade you, it's to help you get better and learn about the game."

Weber sees potential in all his bigs and is especially pleased with Mike Davis' improvement.

"I think if there's been one surprise so far it's been Mike Davis. We saw glimpses of it last year, but he's been pretty consistent so far. I think Mike Tisdale can play better. I think he overthinks and worries too much. When things don't go right right away, he's worried about making another mistake. He's just got to learn to play. That will come with some time, some maturity and some toughness.

"Richard Semrau is way better than anyone thought because we were the only ones that saw him. He's come into his own a little bit. He's found a niche and enjoys the toughness, screening, post defense and rebounding."


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