Illinois coach Bruce Weber held a media teleconference Friday afternoon. He says an attitude adjustment has been key in senior Chester Frazier's growth.
"He's finally just accepted what he was. He takes things so hard, and he wants to do so well. Last year when things weren't going good, he was trying to make plays. But with Demetri starting to get better last year, he began to play more of a 3--1 rather than a 1--3. When other guys improved, he's just accepted that he's not the go-to guy and lets the game come to him."
Another factor is Chester's desire to become a student of basketball.
"He's starting to learn about the game. We talked a lot about spreading people. And he's done that through watching film and learning the hard way. It wasn't that he didn't know how to pass, it was just that he was trying so hard to make plays. It's adjusting your game to the level of your competition.
"In high school, he was so strong he could just go and punk people, take them to the basket and just overpower them. Now, he can't do that and he has to change. It probably took a little longer than I would have liked.
"I'm happy at least now he understands to dive in there, jump stop, make the next pass to your teammates. And when we have guys who can shoot the ball like we have now, it's much easier to go in there because you have different options."
Alex Legion is still working off the rust, but progress is being made.
"Alex has grown, especially offensively. Alex just kind of plays. We're trying to get him to learn a little bit about the game, when to shoot, tempo, time tempo, all those things. We hope over the course of time he gets more minutes and starts getting better at that.
"He's a very confident kid, and he's really worked at it hard. I talked to the guys who took him to Poland over the summer. They said he just walked into the gym, jumped up and got 30 points. Obviously, he's not shy about putting shots up."
There is concern how Alex will react on his first return to Michigan. After all, he committed to the Wolverines before enrolling at Kentucky and then transferring to Illinois. He may meet a hostile crowd.
"We haven't talked to Alex about it, but it's a little bit of a worry for our coaches. He's gonna be all gung-ho since he committed to them not just once but twice. It's his state, and he wants to do well. In this kind of situation, guys either come back and have great games or have awful games. We just have to make sure he keeps his poise and just lets the game come to him. That's his biggest obstacle."
Perhaps the biggest reason for Illinois' improvement this year is team chemistry. Weber began to see the team coming together late last year, and it has continued.
"Everyone is getting along. Actually, as last year went along everyone got along off the court. Obviously, when you win and things are going good it's more fun. We struggled last year. We went through that, and I think it brought some guys closer.
"They just enjoy each other. And based on the assist ratio, there's not much selfishness. You feel good about that. It's a good group, and their biggest obstacle is if someone gets recognition, we can't have jealousy."
Finishing 5-2 last year, including advancing to the championship game of the Big 10 Tournament, helped immensely.
"Yeah, I don't think there's any doubt. The taste of success helped drive them to go to work a little harder in the off season. And I hope we will be more prepared for where we are at this point.
"Down the stretch last year, we won a few games. And other games against good teams we went right down to the wire. We talked a lot about physical toughness and mental toughness.
"Mental toughness is the discipline, the poise to make the plays in tough situations. Whether it's offense or defense, the physicality underneath, the rebounds, all those things. Those were the things I thought were the big questions.
"We've still got to get better with the physical toughness. I think they've shown some good mental toughness, especially the discipline and poise in late game situations."