Illinois coach Bruce Weber spoke with the media via teleconference on the progress of his team as it continues preparations for the upcoming season. Practice can become drudgery this time of year.
"I think we've hit the grind-out part of this early practice. The first week you have some excitement leading into Orange/Blue. That excitement continues into the second week for the first exhibition game. Now, it's trying to find the light at the end of the tunnel to get to your first game of the regular nonconference season."
The battle for playing time is becoming intense as there are more quality players than there are minutes available. This is a complicated process for Weber.
"The problem is we have a lot of older guys changing roles, and we have a lot of young guys just trying to get in the mix. This practice time is important for setting a rotation. I don't want to say we'll have to fight them but to encourage them to continue giving a great effort in practice. We've probably had a little bit of slippage.
"Some of it is we had a couple cases of the flu. Joseph Bertrand is probably gonna be out another day or two. His knee has kind of reacted with a lot of swelling. And then some other little injuries, bumps and bruises that you get through the long grind of practices. This is a time where we need mental toughness and consistency, which will really benefit us later in the season.
"I think also you always worry about the second exhibition game because the first one, they're pretty excited. But the second one, you don't quite have the motivation or energy boost."
Weber tried to give equal playing time to every team member scheduled to play in the first exhibition. For the second game, time must be earned.
"We have an advantage in we have so many guys who can play that we can keep rotating them. I told them this time is not gonna be preplanned minutes, it's gonna be on going out there and performing some of the things we asked. Or, we're gonna put somebody else in.
"I still want to get as many people as we can in and give them a lot of solid minutes, especially the young guys. But I need to have guys fight to earn minutes by their production."
Weber is nowhere near ready to name a starting lineup.
"I can't figure out the starters yet from just the practice. It's gonna take us awhile. Whether it's Thanksgiving or Christmas, hopefully we'll figure it out sooner rather than later.
"I think we're still feeling it out, who fits where. I think one of the biggest things we have is a change of roles with the older guys. And then trying to mix in with some young, talented guys.
"We've got to figure how everybody fits in. Who are the best starters, who are the best guys coming off the bench? But I guess it's a good thing because we have some guys available that we think can be productive on a daily basis. There is some competition there."
"I think Alex struggled maybe the first week or so, but he picked it up a little bit. He's shooting the ball much better even in practice on a daily basis. He's making some threes. If I'm right, I think he was four for four or five from three in our 20 minutes of scrimmaging the other night. That's a positive thing for him to be showing some consistency.
"Brandon was the leading scorer in the scrimmage. He's shown some signs of maybe being the best player on our team at times. He's explosive, can get to the basket, can create his own shot. But at the same time, he's a freshman and is fighting through some of these tough times. So you have both of those guys fighting for that swing man spot, the 2-3 spot."
Dominique Keller is the lone senior on scholarship. He started the first exhibition at the three but is primarily an inside player. He will have trouble beating out juniors Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis for a starting berth.
"He really wants to start. I hate to do one of those token starting things and then have somebody at the scorer's table. In my meeting with him the other day, I tried to convince him, whether you start or not, it's who finishes the game.
"He's very active. He was effective in the first exhibition game. He did some nice things in the Orange/Blue game. He's scoring in a lot of ways, getting a lot of things done. His first couple baskets in the exhibition were a tipin, a runout, he had another dunk.
"If he can just do all those things for us, whether he starts or not he's gonna play a lot of minutes. It could be from the four spot, it could be from the five spot, it could be from the three. It just depends on how everyone else progresses."
Davis is an excellent rebounder on the defensive glass and is much more active on the offensive boards in practice. Tisdale will never be a great rebounder but works hard. Graduated senior guard Chester Frazier helped greatly last year by attacking the glass. Is there a wing player who can replace Frazier's contributions?
"Brandon Paul kind of goes to the boards naturally. He played a lot of positions in high school, and he's so long and athletic. D.J (Richardson) has a nose for the ball. Chester never really jumped. He just had a nose for it and went to the glass. A lot of guards just kind of sit out there.
"And then if you go back to his stats in China, Alex Legion had one 15 rebound game. He joked they didn't have much athleticism, but he has a little bit of length. It would be a nice addition to his game if he would get 4-5 rebounds a game. It would help his resume with the coaches and would definitely help our team."
Weber is still looking for more leadership from upperclassmen Demetri McCamey, Keller, Davis and Tisdale.
"Last year, they did some nice things for us. But they didn't have to be the leaders, they didn't have to be the defensive stoppers. Now they have to change roles, accept their roles and take pride in their roles. That's were the whole "Rise Up" thing came about."
Quincy University will be fired up to play the top school in Illinois. Not much is known about them as they had to cancel their intrasquad game due to the flu.
"They have four of their five starters back. Their coach is Marty Bell. He was an assistant at Drake and is a good guy. I knew him when he was at Drake. He does a good job and has had them very competitive. I think they'll be well coached, they'll have a system.
"I don't think they'll press like Missouri Southern, but I thought that was really good for us. This will probably be more straight-up defense. Man mixed with some zone. I think they'll be very competitive Sunday."
Tiny LeMoyne upset ranked Syracuse recently, giving the Illini a reminder they can't take anyone lightly.
"I think it could happen anytime. It's a bad time in the exhibition games. In their case, it was a local team with a lot of motivation. They must have played pretty good and made some shots to beat a top preseason 25 team.
"We might remind them of it, but everybody was talking about it. It's been a lead in a lot of stories. The kids are very worldly now with all the technology. Hopefully, it will add a little extra motivation to watch someone else have a failure."