Tisdale Continues Play vs. Pros In New York

Mike Tisdale has returned from his week practicing with the USA team a new man. His improved confidence is obvious as he reflects on his special week playing against pro basketball players in Las Vegas. It is helped even more knowing he made the cut to practice another week with the USA team in early August.

Mike Tisdale is traveling to New York for the next phase of his involvement with the USA Select Team. After practicing with and against some of the best professional players in the world last week, he was chosen to continue his involvement next month.

"I was invited to back to New York for this team for five days in August. I'm going to keep preparing for that. It's too good an experience to pass up. It's gonna be a little shorter, but I think it will be a lot more intense.

"They cut guys from both teams. They cut the NBA thing (USA team) down to 15, and they cut the college guys down to 10. I think I'll be going out to New York August 9th. It's gonna be a lot of the same. We'll probably work out an hour a day and then scrimmage against those guys for a half hour to 45 minutes.

"Mike Krzyzewski and Jerry Colangelo said this was solely to prepare the NBA guys. We are just doing what we need to do to make them better. They play an exhibition game against one of the international teams, maybe China, on Saturday."

Playing as cannon fodder for the pros may not sound special, but Tisdale has enjoyed a surge of confidence from the experience. In many of his previous interviews, he has provided concise but brief answers that lasted only a few minutes. But when confronted by a media horde Wednesday, he spoke at length.

"It was a neat experience. I felt that I held my own, so I'm not as far away as you would think from that level. I still have a lot of improvements to make, a lot of things to do. But it's given me confidence coming back here.

"The game was a lot faster over there, so when I got back it seemed slowed down a little bit. I'm just hoping that will help during the season."

The Illinois big man named the inside players he battled all week in Las Vegas.

"Brooke Lopez, Lamar Odom, Kevin Love, and Javelle McGee. And Kevin Durant played a little bit at the four position. It was a pretty good lineup, I have to admit.

"We went against them five days last week about a half hour every day. We went against those guys and then an hour and a half against the college guys. It was definitely good basketball."

Tisdale singled out one NBA player for special praise.

"Kevin Durant I thought was the best player out there by far. He's so versatile. He can score anyway possible, and he's athletic as can be. It was definitely interesting."

Kevin Love is a brute down low, but Tisdale found ways to compete.

"You've got to be strong. He's a pretty big boy. And you have to move your feet pretty quick to box him out. He's a tough guy to go against."

Did he block any shots?

"Yeah, I blocked a few. Rajon Rondo was a pretty good one. He tried a little quick move, and for some reason I just read it right. He flipped up a shot, and I just happened to get a hand on it. We both laughed after, it was kind of funny.

"I had a few dunks the first day, just wide open nothing special. The best memory is just playing against those guys. It's pretty amazing to be on that level with them."

Tisdale learned plenty.

"The speed of the game is different. Everybody's athletic, everybody can jump, everybody can play. Just keep moving up and down the court quicker and being strong. I learned certain things you have to do to get around those guys. A lot of times, you can't just go over the top. You have to be a little more crafty."

Tisdale has worked diligently to increase his weight and strength. He discovered he is now better equipped to handle the inside banging.

"Yeah, it definitely helps to hold my position with those guys, playing defense and rebounding. Rebounding against Kevin Love's not easy, you know. He's the best, so that helped me use it to my advantage.

"You've got to be strong. He's a pretty big boy. And you have to move your feet pretty quick to box him out. He's a tough guy to go against."

Tisdale is finally reaping the rewards of four years of eating and working his body. The first three years were frustrating in that regard, but now he is gaining good weight.

"Everything was a little bit easier, holding my position in the post, rebounding. It takes energy to push against those guys, and this gave me extra energy to move up and down the floor.

"For some reason, I've hit a point where I've started to put weight on. I don't know if it's age, but it seems now the more I work the more I put on. Hopefully I can get up to 260-265 before conditioning. Obviously, that's gonna take a little bit off. As long as I put muscle on, that's gonna help a lot."

The Riverton product now is optimistic he can continue to gain weight and strength, something he thought would never happen. At what weight does he expect to be in another year or two?

"Hopefully a lot bigger. Those guys, 280 is a pretty good weight for their size. Obviously right now I'm not there, but if I continue to work and my body keeps cooperating, I can be there. That would be good for me.

"My freshman year I was working my butt off. Doing a lot of the same stuff, eating a lot of the same stuff. It just wasn't happening. It seems now when I'm doing stuff, it gets results.

"I'm eating everything I can. Weights are getting more difficult, but I'm lifting more and more. I wish I could tell you what it was. I wish I could have found it three years ago.

"I feel much better about it. I was thinking I would never put on weight, but I'm finally getting to the point where it's starting to work. Obviously I'm not gonna settle for it, but it definitely makes me more motivated to do more when I see results."

Banging bodies was therapy for the young giant, who won't turn 21 until September.

"Yeah. It's been good to bang with Meyers (Leonard), he's pretty big. But those guys out there are just another level of big. I think I held my own in terms of posting up, things like that."

Tisdale knew he was gaining weight, but it helped to compare himself with established stars.

"Yeah. I'm not thinking I've got to hold my position against this guy. I got out there and was surprised that I'm closer to them (in size) than I was. That gives me more confidence to go up against them."

Surprisingly, Tisdale has not become sluggish and slow with the extra weight. To the contrary.

"Actually, I feel a little quicker. Even Jimmy (Price) the strength coach has been saying I look quicker and am jumping higher and moving faster."

He received some positive feedback from the principals in Las Vegas.

"They said I played well and had skill. It's just a little bit of a weight thing. They said I looked much bigger than I did last year with USA basketball, and they were happy about that.

"Everybody including the kids were saying, 'This guy's put on a lot of weight just since the season.' That gives me a little confidence, and hopefully it will keep going."

Does this experience enhance his pro potential?

"I'm hoping so. I think it can only help. As long as I continue to gain weight and get stronger, it's going to get better."

Tisdale didn't only work on his inside game. His select team had to mimic a European style, so he found himself at the three point line on occasion. He is gaining confidence in that part of his game as well.

"The style they wanted us to play was the European style because we're helping them to win against the other teams. They wanted some skilled big men who could shoot outside and inside. So that's what we worked a lot on.

"Last year I shot threes right on the line. And Coach is talking about giving me the green light. I'm not gonna go out of my way to shoot a three, but if I'm open I'm not gonna hesitate to shoot it.

"I shot quite a few (out there). I was actually pretty accurate with it. Using that FIBA basketball was a little different, but once we got used to it everybody started shooting.

"The international line is like an inch and a half behind the college line. I think I hit like 50-55%. You don't have time to set the shot (out there), but it was good though."

Overall, the Las Vegas experience was vastly superior to Tisdale's first exposure to USA basketball in Colorado Springs tryouts last summer. It helped to let go of his need to perform well and just play his game.

"The first time, when I went to Colorado Springs for the tryout, there was a little nerves at first. This year I felt like I was supposed to be there, so go out and have fun. That's what I did. I was much more comfortable playing against those guys, playing with the college players and the coaches.

"This year wasn't that bad. I just was going out there to have fun. I wasn't trying out to make a team. That attitude helped me a lot with my confidence, and I played well."

Tisdale also benefitted from the notoriety of being a talented basketball player in a busy city crowded with people.

"The casino we were in, there were huge groups around all the gambling tables. There were quite a few Illini fans. I was surprised. Everywhere I looked, there were people from Chicago saying, 'Go Illini!'

Illinois coach Bruce Weber intended to watch Tisdale in between recruiting trips. A comedy of errors prevented it.

"He heard that he couldn't. And then he was on an airplane when they said that he could. He didn't get the text until we were done for the day. His schedule was a little rough.

"Coach (Jerrance) Howard came and watched a couple days, so that was good support. And Coach Howard and them were at the game, so that was cool."

Tisdale played with and against Big 10 players Jon Shurna, Jon Leuer and JaJuan Johnson, and they also noticed his weight gain. Of course, they had gained weight also.

And he had a chance for some early trash talk with a star for this year's Illini Big Ten/ACC Challenge opponent.

"I roomed with Tyler Zeller from North Carolina. It was pretty interesting. We did a little preview of the game this year. It should be a lot of fun."

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