Forward Dominique Keller is the only senior on the Illinois basketball team. With the loss of last year's leaders Chester Frazier, Trent Meacham and Calvin Brock, Keller must become a leader whether he is a starter or not.
"I already knew I was the oldest one here and the guys would look up to me, but I kind of noticed when the freshmen kept asking me questions," Keller remembers. "And when I was doing something, they were kind of copying what I was doing.
"It made me realize as a senior, you've got to do everything the right way. If you do something wrong, the other guys think they can get away with it. And Coach is gonna be on me more."
He has just one more year to prove himself as a college player, and this gives him more incentive to work hard.
"Yeah, this is my last go-around. I kept thinking all summer, I've got to take control of the team. I've got to be the example. I've got one more year left, and I'm gonna try to go out with a bang."
Illini coaches are allowed occasional short practice periods to work with groups of four players at a time in preparation for the official beginning of practice in mid October. Keller says the practices are intense.
"They're working us pretty hard. They're pushing us on the sideline."
With four newcomers and a hunger for a great season, Keller understands the necessity of hard work and likes it.
"I'm enjoying the workouts. It's a lot more fun than last year for me. We've got these young guys in, and they're so athletic. I just got through watching a couple of them, and it's just amazing how things changed in a year.
"Last year at this time, we were just trying to get back. Now we're back, and with these new guys coming in, it's a lot of fun."
The 6'-7" Texan has been pleased with the progress of point guard Demetri McCamey.
"I think Demetri is a lot smarter. And I think he's a lot quicker than he was last year. At first, he seemed like he was more offense oriented. Now I think he has a better understanding of the need to get his man.
"During the games, he tries to guard the best player in the game. He's better with that. He's a lot stronger and a lot faster. He realizes this is his time to take control of the team and be a leader. I think he accepted his role."
Keller has another player in mind when asked who is the most improved Illini.
"I'd have to say Alex Legion. Last year was kind of tough for him. He went into the season playing half a year. He came in and hit a couple shots, and then he went into a drought. It would be tough on anybody because he was expected to do so much coming in.
He could always shoot it, but now he's doing other things like shooting off the dribble, playing defense more, rebounding. So I'd say he's the most improved player."
Keller learned a great deal playing pickup games with former Illini star Deron Williams recently.
"It was me, Alex, Demetri, Stan (Simpson) and D-Will. We lost the first game, and then we came out and won like 8 straight. He just knows so much about the game. He's so smart on the court. He kept telling us to reduce our turnovers. He had the ball about 80-90% of the time, and even with double and triple teams he never turned the ball over once.
"He kept telling Demetri, if you want to be a point guard you have to control the team. And he was on me and Alex alot about making us drive left, hitting step-back shots and just working on our games in general."
When asked what separates Williams from other players, Keller had a ready response.
"I think it's two things. One is his work ethic. I see how hard he works just shooting around. I know we played 10-11 pickup games back to back, and he played all of them and still got shots off, was working on his pick-and-roll and stuff afterwards.
"And he just hates to lose. Nobody likes to lose, but he was pretty hot after we lost that first game. He let us know that he don't lose, and if we want to be successful we've got to win. He was on us pretty hard, and we were on our game after that."