Brandon Paul was named Mr. Basketball in Illinois last year after a tremendous senior season. He is a natural athlete with outstanding leaping ability and body control. He can penetrate for dunks, and he can hit midrange and three point shots with regularity.
Some Illini players liken him to Dwyane Wade. He can hang in the air for acrobatic shots in the post area like Wade. With long arms, intelligence and the desire to work hard, Paul has a bright future.
Paul and fellow freshmen D.J. Richardson, Joseph Bertrand and Tyler Griffey provide a foundation for four years of potentially outstanding teams. In summer pickup games and fall workouts, these youngsters were paired together.
"In pickup games, it would often be freshmen vs. the older guys," Paul remembers. "They'd kind of hand it to us a little bit. We actually started playing defense better a couple times.
"They actually wanted it that way at first, just to see how we played with each other. But there's been a lot of mixed teams to even it out since then."
Illinois coach Bruce Weber has challenged the freshmen to step up as leaders should the upperclassmen not provide sufficient direction. Is there a freshman leader?
"I think we all step up as individual leaders, working hard. D.J.'s really proved himself as one of the leaders and is a factor on defense. He helps us work harder on ourselves."
Fall workouts and the first few team practices have been a challenge for the freshmen. The motion offense requires constant movement, much more than they had to do in high school. Paul has adapted quickly.
"It's coming along pretty well. Obviously, I still have a lot to learn. With this motion offense, we've got to keep moving. There's a lot more movement and activity than high school."
The 6'-4", 195 pounder has already learned that he will get plenty of shots in the offense if he considers his teammates first. Some players take several years to learn this, and a few never do.
"I feel if I keep setting screens and help teammates get open shots, I'll get open shots when I want them. I've just got to run hard and keep setting screens."
The main problem for Paul is deciding which shots to take, given his large arsenal of choices. In the informal scrimmage at Illini Madness, he scored nine points. He hit one three, two driving layups and one dunk.
Whenever possible, Weber would like Paul to penetrate and use his athleticm to get easy shots and draw fouls. He has a naturally aggressive personality, but he needs to improve his ball handling so he can penetrate without losing the ball.
"I definitely think ball handling is one of the areas I have to work on. I just want to keep improving so I won't have any weaknesses on the court."
Weber is also working his team hard on team defense.
"Our main emphasis in practice is defense. We just want to keep working hard in practice. If I keep working hard, I'll get some valuable minutes."
That work ethic will take him far. Paul has an exciting game, one the fans will enjoy watching through the years. With the Orange and Blue Scrimmage coming up this Sunday, he is looking forward to having a large crowd for whom he can perform.
"I'm really excited to see all the fans come out. I can't wait to get to that point."