Mike Tisdale started every game last year and impressed Illinois fans with his ball skills. He is difficult to defend out on the court as he can shoot as well as anyone on the team. And he is developing an inside game, expecially with right and left handed hook shots. But he knows he must be physical and battle in the post to help the team the most.
"We need a post presence," Tisdale reminds. "Coach Weber keeps talking to me about that. We need someone in there, maybe me, maybe Dom (Keller), somebody who can score and rebound."
Tisdale continues to eat 6000 calories a day and work out with the weights. But weight gain is slow for slender people.
"I put on 10-15 pounds (in the offseason). Not too much, but I'm working on it."
He works so hard maintaining position in the post against strong opponents, he has no explosion left to grab defensive rebounds. He may never be an outstanding rebounder, but he knows improvement is essential.
"Rebounding is important for me. Every day in open gym and workouts, I keep working on that trying to get better. I do all kinds of different drills, getting a feel for technique."
Despite his successes on the court, the big fella lacks natural confidence. Being invited to the USA basketball tryouts this summer helped a great deal to improve his outlook even though he didn't make that team.
"Yeah, you could see what you're playing against. There were some of the best guys in the nation out there. I felt I competed with them, so that makes me feel better."
The humble Tisdale minimizes his leadership role, but he is one of the upperclassmen who must take over that responsibility.
"The young guys really look up to us. They're not out there by themselves. If we can get that mix together, I think we'll be all right."
What does he think is the strength of this year's team?
"Team comeraderie. We're young, and we've got some real good freshmen coming in, and we have some experience."
The schedule is difficult, but Tisdale believes it will help in the long run.
"Yeah, I think it helps to play the best. If you want to be the best, eventually have to play them. I think it's good for us. It will be a good challenge."
Illinois lost it's defensive presence when Chester Frazier graduated. But Tisdale is hopeful about the defense, especially the guard play.
"Yeah. We've got some good freshmen in. They're athletic with really long arms. I thing they can help us out there, and Demetri (McCamey) and Alex (Legion) can pick it up."
Redshirt freshman Stan Simpson is still a work in progress. Is he too far behind to provide competition for Tisdale this year?
"I don't know about that. If he works hard and keeps getting better and better, he'll be all right. He has the talent and ability."
Tisdale is impressed with the progress of freshman big Tyler Griffey.
"He's improved since he's been here. He's got the learning curve down pretty quick. He's only getting better, and that's good. As long as he gets more aggressive, he'll be all right. He can shoot the ball, so he can help both ways (inside and three point)."