All four Illinois freshmen basketball players are impressive on and off the court. They are all articulate, intelligent, personable, and highly motivated to achieve success in college. And they are outstanding basketball players.
Forward Tyler Griffey demonstrated versatility and advanced ball skills for the media in recent pickup games on campus. The graduate of Lafayette High School in St. Louis suburb Ballwin, Missouri, is an outstanding outside shooter, can run the floor, and can use a dribble drive to set up teammates for inside passes.
He will be competing with several veterans for playing time at power forward, including Mike Davis, Dominique Keller and Bill Cole. He hasn't had to face Davis yet since he is recovering from a broken foot. And Cole plays on a wing at times. But Keller has given him trouble.
"Dominique has such an unorthodox shot. It's crazy. He's shooting the ball real, real well. He's a good guy and a great player. I'm getting used to guarding him and playing with him."
What are the hardest adjustments for him going from high school to college ball?
"The quickness and the defense. The game is so much faster now than in high school, and it's going to take some time getting used to. The ball moves fast, the other guys move fast.
"Everybody is bigger, stronger, and faster. I'll stay in the gym, get in the weight room, jump rope and do those kind of things. It's going to take some time getting used to it. I'll take it one week at a time, one day at a time. I'm just trying to improve every single day. It's been working for me so far."
Griffey says he is not worrying about the competition for playing time.
"I'm not trying to beat out guys, I'm trying to work with them. I'm just trying to keep learning and adjusting as much as I can."
Griffey had an outstanding high school career. The 6'-8 and 1/2", 225 pounder shot an amazing 46% from the three point line as a senior and should aid the Illini offense with his marksmanship. However, he did suffer a spring setback when an errant elbow in a pickup game fractured his jaw.
"It sucked (no pun intended). It didn't really set me back. I could still lift, I could still shoot a little on my own. I wasn't allowed to play any games or anything. The first four days, I lost about 15 pounds. I had four screws on the top and four screws on the bottom, with four wires in between.
"At one point in time, I had $120 worth of gift cards for Planet Smoothie from my family. I used to live on Smoothies and mashed potatoes. It was a setback, but I tried to make the most of it.
"I definitely got in the weight room a lot and lifted, tried to keep the weight on. One of the trainers said, when you haven't been eating a lot, once you get off you'll start gaining a lot more. I'm actually seeing that now. I'm heavier than I was, and hopefully I'll keep putting on more pounds."
"Absolutely. We hang out off the court, and we get along great on the court. It should be a fun four years here, and I couldn't have anyone better to play with than Brandon, D.J. and Joe."
The freshmen have benefitted from having Chester Frazier around to lead the team this summer.
"Chester has been coming here for workouts at 11:00 at night, and we've been coming with him. I'll ask him about Coach Weber's style, what to do in different situations, how to come off screens with Tisdale, pick and rolls and things like that. He's been telling me how to anticipate things and how to guard stuff. I've already improved on it."
Right or wrong, some Illini fans are already talking about a Final Four and maybe an NCAA Championship in the future for Griffey and his freshman mates. He is hopeful but won't go out on a limb.
"I shy away from all that stuff, as best I can. But if we all come together and work hard, and if we do our thing on the floor, it could be a possibility. It's definitely our goal, but I don't want to boast or anything."