Stan Simpson came to Illinois from Chicago Simeon as a project. He has athleticism and a soft shooting touch, but he hasn't played basketball a long time and is still rather slender. It has taken him awhile to acclimate to the college game.
He was not ready to play last year as a freshman, so he redshirted. As the only rookie, he had no one his age with whom to share his experiences and talk out his problems.
"Last year, I was in the dorms by myself," Simpson remembers. "It was hard, but the older guys helped me."
He feels sitting out was beneficial in the long run.
"I feel like I learned a lot about the game sitting out a year and watching Big 10 play. The players in the Big 10 are high-powered, and it's more of a defensive-oriented game."
Growing to 6'-10", Simpson still has problems holding his position in the post. He has the ability to add strength and weight over time, but his long legs lack mechanical advantage at this point. He has been working hard to correct that.
"I've been working on my legs and lower body strength. It's way better than it was before. I'm not a scrawny freshman no more. We're starting to use football pads, moving and going through contact. So we'll be ready for the guys from Michigan State, teams like that.
"Coach wants me to rebound more and go to the offensive glass. He wants me to post up and be an inside presence. Last year we barely went to the free throw line."
After sitting out, he is eager to see game action. He got his first two minutes against SIU-Edwardsville.
"Oh yeah, I'm real excited. I've been waiting all year. Now I'm confident I can go in there. I know what the coaches expect from me on the court."
Simpson is conscious of what is happening around him and is a team player. He finds ways of blending with his teammates. And he has a good heart.
Last year, a teammate was ordered to run a suicide for poor play. Simpson volunteered to run the difficult exercise with him. He is humble when describing the event.
"When I was little, I liked helping people and making everybody else happy."
He has needed to improve his academics. He sat out a couple weeks of practice last year to concentrate on his school work. He says he has made improvements along those lines.
"I got a 3.3 in the summer. And right now, I'm doing real good on my classes, A's and B's right now. I'm going to class. Your mom's not there to wake you up, so you have to get used to waking up to your alarm clock. I'm more independent now. More mature."
That may or may not be the case. Illinois coach Bruce Weber suspended him for the first exhibition game for failure to take care of his academic responsibilities. Now, Weber is reluctant to play Simpson until he can learn to trust him.
Simpson is an enigma at this point. Some days in practice he blocks shots, runs the floor, hits soft jumpers and battles for rebounds. Other days, he lacks energy and seems lost.
Weber knows the young man can provide strength inside for rebounding, defense and shot-blocking. He also knows he can be the center in a quality five man group that includes four true freshmen. But he needs to count on Simpson every day on the court and off.
When that happens, the young Chicagoan will see his playing time increase.