Stan Simpson is a stranger to most Illini fans. Other than two exhibition games, Stan hasn't been seen performing on a basketball court since he was a senior at Chicago Simeon High School. He has shown flashes in practice, but he wasn't ready to compete for playing time as a freshman.
"There were some times in practice where he'd block shots and rebound, and it got you pretty excited," Illinois coach Bruce Weber states. "But you've got to do it consistently."
Stan is listed at 6'-9" and 225 pounds, but some observers believe he may have grown another inch. He has the type of physique that can put on muscle mass, so he can eventually be a strong post player. He has a good shooting touch, and he has good timing for shot blocking.
He made progress during his freshman year, but Weber reminds it is difficult for anyone to ride the bench.
"It's not easy for him or any redshirt. You feel like you're not part of it all the time. As a staff, we try to give him some personal attention. He has his own individual workouts, sometimes the day before games, sometimes the day of games. We try to bring guys in early to get some extra work with guys that don't get a lot of minutes."
Simpson couldn't participate in practice as much as the regulars because of the need to prepare for upcoming opponents. Being the lone freshman, he no doubt felt left out at times. Perhaps that contributed to his inconsistency. Weber reminds that Stan hasn't played basketball as long as most.
"He's made some progress. Once every week or ten days, Stan shows some ability that he can be very effective. Some of it's the nature of the practices and he's redshirting, so he doesn't get to do it all the time. When he turns it on, he can block shots, he can rebound. He has some potential. And he's starting to learn the game and how to play hard. That's his biggest step yet to make.
"He's pretty laid back personality-wise. He's gifted physically, and he's kind of been able to just play and let it happen. It's been a learning, growing year for him in a lot of ways.
"How they make the transition (from high school) is different for each kid. And there were a lot of areas, from academics to social, where he's had to grow up. I think he's made some progress. It hasn't been easy, but he's made some progress."
Illinois assistant coach Jay Price goes into more detail about Stan's potential.
"Stan brings something we don't have right now. He's a good shot blocker. He has good timing and can go up and block shots. And he's big and strong. He gets stronger every day.
"He's one of those guys, I tell him all the time, that 'You've got to be our enforcer.' He's not that right now, but hopefully he can turn into that, to be a kind of guy that can set some screens.
"He really can shoot the ball very well for a big guy. The biggest thing is that he can block shots, set screens, grab rebounds and make jumpers. Absolutely, we expect him to play next year."
Another trait that Simpson can use to good effect with time is his overall awareness. For a freshman facing the pressures of school and major college basketball, he seems surprisingly aware of is going on around him.
By the end of the season, he was calling out screens and telling his teammates what was happening on the court. And his volunteering to share a "suicide" with a punished teammate demonstrated a maturity beyond his years.
Spring practices have concluded, so now Stan must focus on keeping his academics in order through final exams and continuing his basketball development prior to the next basketball season.
"Just like for a lot of guys, the spring and summer are big for him," Weber reminds. "A summer trip would be good for him. A camp would be good for him. Hopefully, he makes some big strides once he feels like he's part of it."
Stan Simpson knows what he must do to earn playing time. How fast he develops is up to him, but there is the incentive to provide talents otherwise missing from this Illini team according to Weber.
"If you look at us, we needed rebounding and we needed a post presence inside and post defense. It's kind of up to him to grab that."