Mike Tisdale has been working out hard ever since the end of the basketball season. The Illinois center has played pickup games with his teammates, but he's eager for some new faces. He gets that opportunity next week as he travels to Las Vegas to practice with the USA Basketball National Team.
"Yeah, it's been awhile since I've played someone else. It'll be interesting going against the best in the world."
His group of twenty players includes four competitors from the Big 10 conference: William Buford (OSU), JaJuan Johnson (Purdue), Jon Leuer (Wisconsin) and Jon Shurna (Northwestern).
"Yeah, it'll be good. I'm pretty good friends with those guys from playing them, so I think it'll be fun. And any NBA guys will be fun to play with."
Those NBA players should provide plenty of lessons for Tisdale and his temporary teammates.
"We'll basically be playing against the guys that went to the Olympics, plus a few more. I don't think LeBron (James) and Kobe (Bryant) will be out there this time. But Dwight Howard, Deron (Williams), Chris Paul might be there.
"I'm ready to learn. Those guys are good at what they do, so anything I can learn from them is gonna help me."
Tisdale will miss some summer classes, but he doesn't feel this opportunity will harm his academic work.
"It's Sunday to Sunday. I'll miss a few days, but I only have class three days a week I talked to my teachers and got the okay."
This is Tisdale's second experience with USA basketball. He tried out for the World University Games last summer. In both cases, his selection may have been aided by his coach Bruce Weber, who is involved with USA basketball himself.
"It helps a little bit. Hopefully that wasn't all of it, but it definitely helps."
Regardless, he is eager to test his heavier, stronger body against top competition. He has made a big improvement since last year.
"About 25 pounds of muscle. I've just been working out, getting stronger. It helps with confidence. I went from 228 to 252. I've just been working out in the weight room. Most of it is muscle, not fat.
"It makes me more confident out there, stronger. I don't have to use as much energy to push guys. I let my weight do that. The extra weight helps me lean against guys."
Tisdale was asked what he learned from his first experience that will help him next week.
"My shot didn't fall out there, which made it kind of tough. Just being aggressive, being confident and having fun. That's what it's about."
"Pretty good so far. I'm really impressed with some of the guys like Jereme and Meyers. They're both competitive, and Crandall as well. It's gonna be interesting."
The 7 foot Leonard has recently returned to action after a stress fracture in his foot. Tisdale was asked if the youngster has been giving him any grief in practice.
"A little bit. He's still getting used to it. It's a little different from high school. You're not gonna get the same looks as you're gonna get in high school. He's getting it, I think."
Some fans wonder whether Tisdale and Leonard might play together at some point.
"I'm asked that question a lot. I'd say yeah. He's athletic, he can guard the four and I think I can guard the five. It's gonna be a tough call, but we'll see. It makes me pretty happy to think about that. He's a pretty good player. It would be fun."
Tisdale feels the upcoming sophomore class is improving and will help the team more this year. In particular, he's pleased with Joseph Bertrand, who redshirted last year with knee surgery.
"Joseph didn't get to play last year, but he's getting a lot better. He's been doing well in open gym, he's been getting stronger in the weight room. D.J. (Richardson) has been more of a leader, more vocal and stuff like that. Brandon (Paul) has calmed down a little bit."