Bill Cole, who answers both to Bill or Billy, has struggled with injuries his first two seasons at Illinois. He was showing signs of helping as a freshman when he suffered his first injury. His timing was even worse last year as he sprained an ankle at the beginning of formal practices and wasn't able to compete for a position until much later in the year.
He has been healthy throughout workouts this season, and his understanding of the offense and defense are giving him the opportunity he needed.
"Yeah, definitely. In our team workouts, and running the court I just feel so much more comfortable in this offense. Especially playing a guard."
Yes, the slender 6'-8" Cole is practicing at a wing position. He has always seen himself as a guard, but his size forced coaches to post him up down low.
"When I was a young kid, I was so tall they stuck me down in the block. So growing up I played inside, but I also displayed outside skills too. So when I got here, the coaches saw that too. Early on in my freshman year, they switched me to a guard."
Cole's lack of strength and bulk, coupled with his outside shooting touch, made him a better fit on the wing. It has taken awhile to adjust.
"When I moved to guard, I didn't really know what was going on. I just feel so much more comfortable in the offense now."
He hopes to fulfill the promise Illinois coach Bruce Weber envisioned when preferring him over Purdue star Robbie Hummel.
"We worked on a lot of motion in high school. One of the reasons I came here was because Coach told me I could be a good fit in the offense. I think it's worked out for the best, and I'm just excited to get out there and show it."
Cole is known for his three point shooting, but he realizes the need to expand his arsenal.
"Definitely. If all you can do is shoot the three, people are gonna sit on that. You're not gonna be very effective. I've been working on pump fakes, getting into the lane, maybe drive and dish, getting other people some shots."
It can be difficult for a tall player to develop ball handling and defensive skills necessary to compete successfully with shorter, quicker players. Cole has worked especially hard on his defense.
"I think I can guard some three in the Big 10. You've gotta be quick and physical, and I think I can do those things. I hope to show the coaching staff this year."
He lacks the lateral quickness of some guards, so he must use his intelligence to compensate. Knowing where to go is a must.
"Yeah, that's part of it. That just takes time. That gets back to understanding the defense. I think I understand and have mastered our defensive principles. Now it's a matter of getting out there and doing it without thinking about it all the time."
When freshman guard Joseph Bertrand went down with knee surgery, it gave Cole a chance to show what he could do.
"I hate to see an injury, and I'm not even sure where they're planning to play Joseph at and what they have in mind for me. We'll figure that stuff out in the upcoming practices."
Cole is versatile and will play wherever Weber wants him. He just wants to play.
"I'm one of those kids that will play anywhere. All Coach has to do is tell me to go play the 1or 5, I don't care. I'll go play it.
"I think a lot of people have trouble seeing me as a guard because I'm so tall. But that's stuff I've been working on the last two years here. So I think this year I'm going to get my chance to show I can stick with the guards in the Big 10."