Dominique Keller and Alex Legion had not yet completed their China trip when Bruce Weber spoke about them. The Illinois coach was encouraged by progress reports on their play during the trip, especially by Keller's rebounding in one game.
"Dominique had 21 points and 19 rebounds, which made me happy. You know he gets shots up, he does that all the time. I believe he had 9 or 10 offensive rebounds, so that's a positive step."
Legion had big scoring games early but struggled for awhile after that. Weber says a long trip wears everyone down.
"Alex really started well, but I think he's gotten a little bit under the weather as the trip has taken its toll. The travel over there is tough, and then the travel there is tough. Coach (Sean) Harrington has done some traveling, and he says it's been a tough go for everybody. But I think that's part of the trip.
"When I went to Poland and Germany, I took a 12 hour overnight train. That takes a toll on you. But I think a good part of the trip is developing some toughness to deal with different situations. I hope in the long run it will be good for Alex and for Dominique confidence-wise, appreciating what you have here, and maybe it will lead to other opportunites down the road too."
Mike Davis will be trying out for the USA team that will travel to Serbia later this summer. Whether he makes the team or not, his tryout will be an invaluable experience for him according to Weber.
"Just to get him in the trials is great. That's a great experience. I'll have a chance to be out there because I'm on the US committee. I've been out there before, I've run practices out there.
"I was fortunate with Coach (Gene) Keady to be part of US basketball, and it's just an unbelieveable experience. You're talking about the best players, the best coaches in our country all in one place. It's the Olympic training site. So I think that will be a good for him.
"I just hope he's preparing himself. I told him when you go home, you can't take time off. If you want to make the team, you've got to be working at it, you've got to be in as good a shape as you are at the beginning of a season.
"You have a three day opportunity to make it. If he makes it, then it's an even better opportunity for him to play not only against some of the better people in our country but around the world.
"Any time our guys can play extra games in the summer, I think it's good. The travel's good for him, the maturity is good for him, the basketball is good for him. There are so many positives. And if you see the good programs, from Duke, Carolina on down the road, their kids have always played in the summer. I think it's a good thing. I hope Mike is ready to go and has a chance to make the team."
The individual spring workouts went well according to Weber. Progress was made, although it remains to be seen whether new lessons can be retained throughout the summer and applied properly in the fall.
"I think some guys matured. I think they understand, now can they grab it? We'll find out when the summer comes. Then it's a time we can't be there. A lot of times, it's not the improvement you make when the coach is there, it's when the coach isn't around. That's the key in the summer. How motivated they are, how dedicated they are, those are things that we'll find out.
"I think Demetri (McCamey) made some strides, I think he understands it. Now, can he be consistent and help other guys?"
Leadership is a concern. Younger players must replace three quality seniors and set the tone for the rest of the team. Weber is encouraging upperclassmen to step up and take charge, but he is also planting a bug in the ears of his freshmen.
"Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale, all those guys have opportunities right now to become leaders for us. If not, we've kind of challenged the freshmen: 'Hey, if they're not going to lead, you guys can take the bull by the horns and go with it.'
"But I hope our older guys set the tone and make sure all the new freshmen newcomers understand what it's all about. What Illinois basketball is about, how hard we play, how hard we work. That's one of the challenges I gave our guys. Bring those guys in and set the tone right away."
Last year, the team relied primarily on Chester Frazier for leadership. He is still around, thanks to a student assistant program that allows him to remain in school, work out with the players and prepare for a coaching career.
"Chester is a student athlete, so he can play with them and be around them. He's still in school, he's still got his internship left. So he can be around the guys in the summer. I think that'll be a positive too. Chester loves to play, and he always plays hard. And he can really help the younger guys get acclimated."
Frazier and Weber both realize that too much reliance on them can discourage other squad members from taking over a leadership role. The key will be for Frazier to help others replace him rather than follow him.
"Chester can be a nice bridge to next season. I think his job will be prodding Demetri, prodding Mike Tisdale. Hey, this is the thing you do. If Chester just does it, it probably doesn't do us any good.
"But he can lead them in the direction and make suggestions. He can also be a nice liasion for the younger guys. He has no issues now, no agenda. He's going to be a coach, so I think it's a positive thing for us this year.
"If we help him do it in the right way, it's gonna help bridge the gap. One of the best things I did when I got here was keep Jerrance (Howard). The past staff had told him he was done, graduate. Wayne (McClain) came to me and said it would be a good idea to keep him on because we had no seniors, and he wants to go into coaching.
"It ended up being a real positive thing. In a way, Jerrance was part of our staff. We talked, he listened, he knew his role. But at the same time, he could really help the other guys. And he had that charisma and personality that they would listen to him.
"What happens when the coaches aren't around is important. Not only what they do on the court, but what's being said. Chester can help with that stuff."