Illinois coach Bruce Weber has been working hard to find playing opportunities for his athletes this summer. At least four have made arrangements for camps and games, and Weber is still looking into other possibilities for his players.
"Alex is gonna go to China this week with Coach (Sean) Harrington and Dominique (Keller). A little bit more experience, a little bit more confidence, understanding what it's about. I'm hoping he can make a nice jump for us."
Legion struggled last year once he gained eligibility and wasn't able to show his talent. Weber believes that every game he plays in China will help him mature with his game.
"Alex didn't play for a long time. All of a sudden, he got out there and the game was moving pretty quick. He just didn't adjust to it real well. You felt bad for the kid. It became a confidence thing, a mental thing. We're hoping now we've fast-forwarded toward next year. He had a good spring.
"He does have the ability to score, there's no doubt about that. He's got to be a little more competitive, a little more sense of urgency on the court. You can't fool around and shoot jumpers whenever you want. I hope that comes over the course of time."
Keller can also use the China trip to improve. He is searching for a position where he can get more minutes, so these games can help him refine his game.
"I know he said he was gonna be our three man. I think he sees Mike Davis as being one of our best players, and how many minutes is he gonna get? And if Tisdale continues making progress, it will be tough taking minutes. He's trying to find a niche where he can get more minutes, and probably more shots. I don't know if that's possible, but he likes to put that thing up there.
"He's really one of our better shooters if he gets his feet set. It's just a matter of his ball handling and all that. I just told him, you've got to keep getting better. We'll take care of minutes. If you get better and improve your left hand, your ball handling, your passing."
Keller was recruited specifically to rebound and battle inside against strong postmen. But when he started practicing with the Illini, he emphasized his offensive game. Weber needs the former more than the latter.
"I told him, if you really want minutes go rebound. Go get 10 rebounds a game, and you're gonna play because we don't have anyone with that kind of mentality. I tried to give him a new ratio to worry about. I said for every two shots, you've got to get a rebound. I know he's gonna put it up there. So if he gets 10 shots, he's got to get 5 rebounds at least."
Illinois and many other college teams have gone to a three guard lineup, and Keller is not a guard. He may want to be a prototypical small forward, but only a rare few have the skills and size to be effective in that roll. Weber discusses Keller's dilemma.
"With the ball handling skills and defense, we've gone to that. If you're lucky enough to get somebody Dominique's size, like a Kevin Durant or something, who can handle the ball, shoot threes and all that, then you can play the old school two guards and a small forward. But right now, it's not only us. Almost everybody plays three perimeter guys."
Mike Davis will have a special opportunity to compete with some of the best players in the country this summer.
"Mike Davis will be trying out for USA basketball. It hasn't been announced yet, but I'm on the national committee. I think Mike just let it out to the media. So many kids put their names into the draft, I think they want a definite roster.
"But in June he will go out to Colorado Springs and be part of that. There's two teams of 19 and unders, and then the World University Games. So he's excited to be part of that great experience. If he makes it, it's a three week commitment through the summer, which would be tremendous for him. Bo Ryan will be coaching his team, which would be good for everybody."
Demetri will be involved with a Nike camp that can help him refine his point guard skills.
"Nike has done a nice job, not only with the high school kids doing more skill development, getting them into mini camps. Deron actually has a Deron Williams Point Guard Camp sponsored by Nike. They try to bring the top underclassmen high school kids in and teach them about skills and how hard you've got to work.
"They have a Stoudamire camp, a Paul Pierce camp, different position camps. And then they bring them all in together at the end of summer. The top kids have the LeBron James Camp.
"They also bring college guys in and have those guys work on skill development. So Demetri has been invited to be part of that. That's a nice opportunity for him, and hopefully he can perform well and move on to the next camp. Anytime they can play and be involved in experiences, it's gonna benefit them."
The Illini coaches hold their summer camps in June, and all the players will be on campus by mid June to begin summer classes and work out.
"Our parent-child camp starts the first week in June, and we have our Shootout. And then everybody comes back the weekend of the 13th and 14th. All our young guys will be here, at least we're planning on it right now. And then summer school starts on the 15th, with everybody back.
"For seven weeks, they get after it in the weight room and on the court. And then they go home. I hope they're still playing basketball when they're home, but just get away from the thing and get some freshness. Everybody needs a little bit of break, get away from the grind. Their bodies and minds need a break."