Alex Legion Seeking Personal Transformation

College basketball is difficult for any newcomer. But it can be even more traumatic for a player who transfers to a new school at midyear and gains eligibility during the middle of a season. Fighting Illini basketball player Alex Legion has that behind him now, and he is working hard to vindicate those who have rated him so highly in the past.

Illinois senior Dominique Keller believes that junior Alex Legion is the most improved player on the team.

"That's a compliment," is Legion's response to the news. "I've been working hard in the gym in the offseason, so hopefully I'll be able to get most improved player."

What has he been working on since last season?

"Conditioning, ball handling, defense. Just kind of trying to get better overall. I didn't focus on any one thing. I just want to be an all-around player.

"I'm like 210 now. I've gained 10 pounds lifting weight and getting in shape."

From the beginning of the 2008-2009 season, Legion's development was behind his teammates. Not getting to play in the early games set him back.

"We have those early exhibition games to get ready, and it's kind of good to have those warmup games. So when the season starts, you're kind of acclimated and used to playing at that tempo."

When the Detroit native gained eligibility at the end of the first semester, he never got into the flow of the season. He is willing to talk openly about his struggles last year.

"It's hard at this level, D-1 basketball. To come into the middle of the season and just start playing, you've got systems, you've got chemistry. It's about winning together at this level, so you can't sacrifice one player for the team. No one player is better than the team.

"I totally understand people have doubts, looking at last year and my previous history. I don't look to make any excuses. Last year is in the past, and hopefully this year I'll be able to go out there and show what I can do."

People do have doubts. They will believe when they see improvement for themselves. So what is different this time around?

"Obviously, I'm a lot more mature and older. I understand the system, and talking with the coaches I understand my role a little bit more."

It appeared Legion was thinking too much on the court rather than relaxing and playing his game. That made him too tight to make shots, his best trait. He realizes that was a problem.

"Yeah. Obviously, I've gained a lot of knowledge and experience, understanding what they need me to do and the concepts they try to teach. I feel like this year is gonna be a good year for me."

In watching his workout with the coaches, it was clear he was hustling much better on defense. If he continues that growth, Illinois coach Bruce Weber will feel more comfortable playing him.

"Yeah, I believe my biggest factor last year was getting in shape. I've been running about three miles a day, and the better shape you are, the better off you are. If you watched our workouts, I wasn't really tired at the end. I think that helped me out a lot."

Perhaps the biggest improvement of all is his understanding of team needs.

"Obviously, it's good to play well and prove all the naysayers wrong. But I'm just trying to help us be top 25 and be better than last year. It's not about me, it's about the team."

The 6'-4" sharpshooter hopes to secure a guard spot next to point guard Demetri McCamey. There is good chemistry between them already.

"Demetri and I are roommates, so I've known him for a number of years now. They have us paired up in workouts. We do pretty much everything together, so we can play together when the time comes."

Legion enjoyed playing with and learning from former Illini great Deron Williams, back on campus last week.

"He's a fun guy. We won about 6 straight yesterday with him, me and Dominique (Keller). He makes players around him better."

What sets Williams apart from others?

"I'd say his knowledge of the game. He was out there teaching us and playing at the same time. He understands basketball, and he's a hard worker. He was out there doing things with us when it is his time to be off. That just shows the type of player he is, and the type of person he is as well."


Illini Inquirer Top Stories