Illini Basketball Looking To Add 4 Freshmen

Illini basketball fans have anticipated the 2009-2010 season for more than a year. Top players are returning and four coveted freshmen are about ready to enroll. There will be growing pains as the returnees and newcomers work to become a cohesive unit. And the new freshmen need an adjustment period to learn the college game. But the future appears bright.

In the last few days, guard D.J. Richardson and his Findlay Prep team won a national prep school championship by defeating Oak Hill Academy, and Richardson showed the athleticism, ball skills, defensive prowess and teamwork to fit in nicely at Illinois.

Brandon Paul, Tyler Griffey and Joseph Bertrand all played in an all-star game in St. Louis. Paul and Griffey were named MVP for their respective teams after each scored more than 30 points. And Bertrand added 15 points and won the slam dunk contest.

Illinois coach Bruce Weber looks forward to the future of Illini basketball with excitement, although it is tempered by the realization he is replacing seniors with inexperienced freshmen.

"You lost Chester Frazier, Trent Meacham and Calvin Brock, and those guys were pretty important to us. There are gonna be some quality minutes for somebody to grab. I think they (newcomers) all had successful senior years."

Weber spent time at a recent press conference discussing the abilities of his new players.

"D.J. is probably one of the better defenders I've ever been around as a high school kid. A little bit of those Peoria, Wayne McClain, Manual, Central guys that guard people. He's naturally gifted quickness-wise.

"I think he's improved his offense. The one thing he's gone through, he's been away from home, traveled all over the country, more extensive travel that we would ever dream of. So I think his transition will probably be a little easier than some of the other freshmen coming in.

"Brandon Paul had a tremendous finish to his season. Just great explosion, physical ability. Defensively, he could be really good too if it's something he takes a lot of pride in. He can be a defensive stopper he's so long. He can block shots, he can rebound.

"I always compare Brandon to Dwayne Wade. And that's a mouthful because he might be the best player in the NBA right now, or one of the top three. But just that explosion, the ability to do so many different things. Now, he obviously doesn't play with that intensity right now. But he has those physical capabilities.

"And then Joseph Bertrand, if you saw him at the dunk contest (Illinois state championship), he's very gifted. From playing tennis to doing one-handed cartwheels to a flip into a dunk. Not many kids can do that. I would have fallen down and broke my ankle on the first one. He's able to maintain that with the ball and do that.

"He won the dunk contest back to back years, he's continued to grow. He's got to get stronger and become a little more physical.

"Tyler Griffey had a really good year. He is strong, he works at it. In terms of weight, he'll come in as good as any we've had in recent history.

"He has very good skills, and he can shoot the three. He shot unbelieveably from three, I think 46%. Like with most big guys, rebounding and defense are the things he'll have to make the adjustment to."

It will help the new additions to move onto campus this summer. They can get ahead in their school work and become better acquainted with their teammates. Weber is cautiously optimistic all four will be able to do that.

"I hope so. They've got to get everything done, but that's what we are anticipating. Right now, everything looks like they'll be here."

It is important for the freshmen to bond with each other. Weber says this process has already begun.

"They've gotten to know each other. I do know they talk to each other off and on."

They also need to mesh with and learn to cooperate with the established veterans on the team.

"How the junior class embraces them when they come in is gonna be even more important. Those guys have been around us a lot because they committed so early. So our guys already have relationships with them. I think it will help."

The beginning of basketball practice is still more than six months away, but excitement is building and will continue throughout the summer and fall.

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