Alex Legion is eager to get his college career restarted.
"There's been alot of excitement for me this week, to be able to get close to playing. I've just been working out and getting ready for finals. I had three finals this week, so it's been stressful but exciting.
"I've just played six games before, so I'll be nervous my first time. It's my seventh college game, so I don't expect to do too much, just go out there and help my team."
As a Kentucky transfer, comparisons are inevitable.
"Here, it's more of a skill development. Coach Gillespie (Kentucky) is more of a defensive minded, tough kind of coach. I think I've developed my overall game, defense, dribbling, and passing rather than just being tough."
Legion is a shooter and scorer. But he did need to improve other parts of his game. The year off may have been a blessing in disguise.
"It's been kind of a learning curve for me. It's a humbling experience to go from playing to not playing and encouraging my teammates on the sidelines. I'm just getting better overall as a player. I enjoyed it, and if I had the opportunity to do it over again I would because I've learned a lot from it."
Assistant coach Wayne McClain can be an enforcer at times, and he has worked Legion especially hard on his passing, defense and ball handling.
"Actually, Coach is my favorite coach. He gets on me because he wants me to be a complete player. I don't mind him getting on me. I've put forth the effort to improve, and I think I have improved since the first day I got here."
Coach Bruce Weber insisted that Alex make the correct decision when he transferred from Kentucky. Having committed previously to Michigan and then the Wildcats, he knew Legion couldn't afford to make another mistake. Coming to Illinois was the first time Alex made up his own mind, and he is happy with the result.
"I always liked the University of Illinois, and they were in my top five. I remember Coach Weber coming to my school at Detroit Country Day. I believe I was a sophomore at the time. I watched Dee and Lu and those guys growing up.
"My mom had a lot to do with my Michigan decision, her and my AAU coaches. So this was a decision I wanted to make, and I'm glad I made this decision. When you make your own decision, you have to live or die with it. When somebody else makes your decision, there's always a doubt you could have done it your way."
Trent Meacham will likely benefit from Alex's presence on the floor. Teams can't put their best defender on Meacham if Legion is filling it up. He looks forward to the addition.
"We're excited to get Alex back. He's been practicing with us the last year, so he's used to the system, and we're excited to have him on the court with us now. I sat out a year, and it's tough sitting out just practicing. The reward is playing. He's been practicing well."
Point guard Demetri McCamey is also happy to have Legion out there with him. He knows his job will get easier as a result.
"Without a shooter, you've got to take over. Now that you have a shooter, the main goal is to get him the ball in his spots. So he makes your job easier because you know you have somone out on the perimeter who can score. Everybody's excited to bring a key player to the team. Everybody's looking forward to it."
McCamey flashed an impish grin while describing how Legion was given the nickname Kobe, as in high-scoring Los Angeles Laker guard Kobe Bryant. Just like Kobe, Alex has never seen a shot he didn't like.
"It's not for hitting shots like that. It's because he takes a lot of crazy shots. We try to use that name at a minimum because sometimes he thinks he's really Kobe. He's got to keep that to a minimum and just be Alex Legion.
"He still shoots when he feels like he's got a good shot, which is often. As long as he keeps making them, I have no problem. If he doesn't make them, he's gonna have to get in the game another way. Defensively, intensity, things like that."
Legion wants to score, but he's now mature enough to be grateful for his opportunity to help his new team win. Scoring is now secondary on his mind.
"After sitting out a year, I don't care if I get 10 or 2 minutes. I just want to go out there and fit in."