Bruce Weber's Weekly Teleconference

Fresh off a South Padre Island Invitational Tournament championship and 6-0 start, the Fighting Illini basketball team now faces four games in 10 days prior to first semester finals week. In his weekly press conference, Illini coach Bruce Weber discussed Tuesday foe Clemson, the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, Mike Tisdale, Chester Frazier, Alex Legion, shooting and the need for fan support.

Question: How would you describe your progress so far?

Illinois coach Bruce Weber: "We need to build on our quick start. I'm sure not a lot of people thought we'd be 6-0. As a staff, we thought it was possible. We are developing as a team, and I think they've really bought in as a team.

"The comment I heard from quite a few people the last couple days since I got home, it looks like the kids enjoy each other and are playing with some great passion. I think that's a key to our success. That and learning to win close games. We've been through so many of them, and we don't fear anymore. Especially defensively, we've been pretty good down the stretch of games. And rebounding.

"We need to get the students to buy in. We need an extra showing of students tomorrow and get some great support from them. You play with passion and win some games, and so far we've done that. Slowly but surely, we can get those guys back in the stands and get the noise going. Assembly Hall's been a special place since I've been here and before. We've got to keep that energy alive and make it a place that is tough to play in."

Q: What is your opinion of Tuesday foe Clemson?

Weber: "I wish we had a little more time to prepare. We didn't get back until 3:00-3:30am Sunday morning, and we had to come back last night and practice a little. That wasn't real easy for the kids.

"But we felt we had to go over some of the press stuff and get them thinking so they know what we're up against. And then we have a short practice Monday where we really key on some things on press offense, transition defense, and dealing with their athleticism.

"It should be a fun game. I think passing and catching will be very important for us. We've been a good passing team up to this point.

"They make you play fast, that's the whole purpose of their style. We've got to attack, but at the same time we have to be smart and take shots we practice. They want to make you do things you don't practice. If you get shots, you've got to make them. If you don't, they're getting the rebound and going the other way. They live off that. They shoot a lot of quick threes, they spread you and then hit the glass pretty hard. They're a fun team and a good challenge for us.

"This is an NCAA week for us. We have two BCS conference schools in Clemson and Georgia. We focus on two games at a time. Clemson may be the best team we'll face in the nonconference and maybe one of the best we'll face all year."

Q: The Big Ten has never won the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Can Illinois help the cause this year?

Weber: "It would be great to have the Big Ten have a good showing. It would be good for our whole league. We've got to do our part and take care of the home court. It would be a nice win for our resume down the road. I think Clemson will be one of the top 4 or 5 in the ACC."

Q: Illinois started out the season shooting well, but they didn't make a single 3-point shot against Tulsa. What happened?

Weber: "Three point shooting is a lot legs, and both teams had games on consecutive days. We were 0 for 10 Saturday, and Tulsa was 2 for 18. They also made a decision to lock in on Trent (Meacham). We have good shooters, but now we've got to get open shots.

"I think that's even more the case with Trent. I thought he forced some things. If you're not open, don't shoot it. He's got to learn how to get open, and we've got to learn to get him open whether it's through screening or penetrate and kick.

"When we thought we had Jamar, Alex and Trent, I thought it would help Trent get better looks because teams couldn't just focus on him. Right now, he's the focus point. Playing two games in a row takes a toll, especially early in the season when they're still getting into game condition."

Q: Mike Tisdale was named Co-Big Ten Player Of The Week. How might he fare against athletic Clemson?

Weber: "He had some good games last weekend. It was great for him, and he's such a good kid. He's worked at it so hard and it means so much to him. He's always in the office, even yesterday. Mike pops in a couple hours before practice, talking and watching film. He gets down to the trainer early, gets out and shoots. When a kid really cares and has success, you feel really good about it.

"He seems to play better against bigger, bulkier guys. He can step out on the court and do some things. He's gonna get some open shots by the way Clemson plays. If you beat the pressure, you're gonna get some open looks. He's got to take his time and nail those short jumpers and be strong in the paint."

Q: How is Chester Frazier's health, and will he be able to play the next four games?

Weber: "He can't practice. Yesterday he stretched, watched practice and watched film. I doubt if he does anything today. We've got to grind out the next ten days. We've got games Tuesday, Saturday, Monday and Wednesday. I don't think he'll have much practice time other than a shootaround and things like that.

"Then we have a 10 day period where we have to give him some total rest. They say it takes 2-3 weeks with that kind of injury to be healed. The problem is the way he plays and keeps coming back. It probably gets worse instead of better. I think practice is important, but in his case we need him for the games.

"The energy he gives us tomorrow will be so important. He needs energy to control the point guard because he pushes it. If he's not out there, I think Jeff can do it a little bit, but the other guys aren't really geared up to controlling tempo with defensive pressure."

Q: How is Alex Legion adjusting to not playing?

Weber: "Right when we started the season, he was sad and pouting a little bit. All of a sudden, you're on the scout squad. You're on third team, you're playing defense alot in practice. In the long run, it's good for him because it's something he doesn't like doing.

"Now, it's right around the corner. Last week, he played with some pretty good energy. Like last year, we had some fun with the guys who haven't been getting as many minutes. Yesterday, we had a mini practice with Alex, Stan (Simpson), Richard Semrau, Dominique (Keller), guys that need to get better.

"When you get into games, it's all team stuff and preparation. We have to make sure we take time and try to help those guys improve. Anytime we can do an extra 15-20 minutes of basketball stuff, it'll help. That's helped Alex a little bit also.

"We have four more games before he'll be back with us. It's a long ten days, but if we can have success it won't be quite as difficult for him. Although we still have to figure out some rotations, sticking a different element into it. Because he can score, there's no doubt he's gonna play for us. But he's got to blend in too and be patient with us. It'll take a little time to determine minutes, shots and that stuff."


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