Illini resume basketball season after exams

After a flurry of games, the Fighting Illini basketball team took the last ten days off to study for final exams. They resume nonconference play Saturday night with a home game with the Detroit Mercy Titans. Illini coach Bruce Weber provided an update on his team's progress this season and discussed recent practices and adding Alex Legion to the mix in his latest press conference.

Illinois head basketball coach Bruce Weber spent the first part of his weekly press conference providing a progress report on his team's development.

"We had a stretch of 6 games in 11 days, and 10 games in about a month. That's quite a few games. We gained a lot of experience. It was not quite perfect since we lost to Clemson, but some good progress. A lot of quality minutes for a young team, players that needed these minutes.

"Now, we're done with most of the nonconference. We finish up with three important games, and we need to try to continue to build our resume up for a possible NCAA selection down the road.

"It starts with Detroit on Saturday, and we're hoping not to have an 'exam game' where you don't play for awhile and the kids get overloaded brainwise with their tests and papers, worrying about grades and things like that.

Exam week practices don't always run smoothly as some players miss sessions to take exams and all players' minds are on other things besides basketball. But as each day went by, the focus improved.

"We worked them pretty hard. It was back to basics, back to fundamentals. Just like the start of the season, although we didn't go three hours like we did early.

"We've tried to keep them sharp this week. We scrimmaged about 30 minutes, a full scrimmage with refs on Monday, and we did about a 20 minute scrimmage Thursday to keep a little bit of the game conditioning and game routine. Our goal is to keep some sharpness on Saturday.

"Overall, our practices have gone well. The Monday practice was an exam practice for a lot of reasons. Ironically, some of the guys that struggled were the ones already done with their exams. Maybe they were laying around or didn't sleep for a few days before that and crammed some things in. I don't know why. But we took a day off Tuesday, had a good practice Wednesday and Thursday, and Friday we'll get back into a day-before routine."

About half of Weber's time on the podium was devoted to Alex Legion and his unique situation of beginning his Illini career at the end of the first semester.

"We're hopefully adding Alex Legion to the mix Saturday if everything goes right. We probably won't know that until sometime Saturday when we go on the computer and make sure all the grades are in and everything is taken care of.

"It's been a process since the beginning of the semester. We knew the situation, and our compliance people and academic people, Tom Michaels, communicated with the Big 10 office and our Office Of Admissions And Records on campus to see if it was possible.

"And it is possible. Like any other student, they've got to take their exams, testers have to grade them and get the final grade in. Grades are already popping up for all students. In his case, we're hoping for all of them to get in a little ahead of time. Alex has communicated with his professors as much as possible. And most people were cooperative. So unless a glitch comes up, we should be fine."

If the grades aren't posted in time, Legion's first game will be the Bragging Rights game in St. Louis, his first college away game. It is not the atmosphere that is conducive to a first time player.

"I wouldn't wish on anyone to have his first game the Missouri game. You've watched the Missouri football game the last couple years, pretty high level football games. It's pretty intimidating to stick a freshman or a junior college transfer in there. That's not the ideal place for your first game."

It is an interesting challenge for Weber and his staff to blend a new player into a team that has been productive in a 9-1 getaway.

"Alex is back in the mix. Now, instead of being on the scout squad while we prepared the guys who were gonna play, he's involved in the practices. He does come in on his own. He came in 3 or 4 times extra. He knows his time's here, and he's getting excited. He's one of the guys that likes to come in and shoot. He'll do it on his own.

"I don't want too much pressure on him, just blend him in. We'll keep our same rotations, mix him in as the game goes on. Just like we've done with all the guys this year, if you produce you stay in the game. If you don't produce, we'll find somebody else. If he doesn't produce, we'll give you another shot or even rotate in somebody else. We've been fortunate that each game somebody different has stepped up.

"This will add a new dimension to our team. We have some pretty good chemistry at this point, so it's a little bit of a challenge for our staff and team to allow him to blend in, and also for Alex. It's an important game for us for a lot of reasons."

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