Weber Pleased With First Look At Illini

The Fighting Illini basketball team is hungry. The players know how hard they have to work to prepare for the upcoming season, but they wanted to get an early start. Head coach Bruce Weber spoke on that subject and the general progress of the team over the summer in a recent media gathering.

Illinois coach Bruce Weber discussed several subjects on the occasion of the first fall workouts for his basketball team on the second day of school. After the first workout, handled in groups of four, Weber was pleased with the overall status of his players after a summer apart.

"We had a great spring and summer. Great experiences from (Mike) Tisdale, that was probably the ultimate. Demetri (McCamey) had some opportunities, Joe (Bertrand) went to Europe, and then Brandon (Paul) and Tyler (Griffey). Even the other guys that were here did a great job and put the time into it."

The Illini normally start their fall workouts a little later, but the team wanted to get going.

"When we met at the end of summer, the older guys said, 'We want to be successful, be a champion. We should get going right away.' Normally we probably wouldn't start this early, but I think they're hungry for it so we got going.

"They had 25 days off from summer to now, so there's no doubt they're a little rusty. But hopefully by next week, the week after they're getting in a little better condition and understand what we're saying. We'll go two times this week, two times weights, and then next week two of each, and then after Labor Day get into a full schedule."

The prize of the incoming freshman class is Jereme Richmond. Weber has special interest in monitoring the progress of the 6'-7" All-American.

"It'll be interesting to see how he picks things up. My observations from all the camps through the years, whether it's been the guys that worked with him at Nike like Jay Bilas and Fran Franchilla, he has a good feel for the game, good footwork, good fundamentals.

"When we talked to him on the phone, just conversations, he understands things pretty well. He has a good feel. So this will be fun to watch him."

Weber understated what Illini fans already know. Meyers Leonard, the strapping 7'-0" center from Robinson may need time to learn the complexities of the college game and how to bang in the post, but he is big and physical and will help.

Weber spent more time talking about newcomer Crandall Head, who burst onto the scene as a high school sophomore but who came into fall a relative unknown after sitting out his senior season with knee surgery.

"I was in Peoria last week, and we had D.J. (Richardson) and Billy (Cole) there. Some people asked them about the freshmen, and they said Crandall surprised them.

"And he has surprised me so far, just because he hasn't played for a year, and he hurt his leg. He has pretty good athleticism; he's worked to get the leg back. But also, some of his fundamentals are a little better than I thought. His athleticism is better."

The freshmen were told to expect the worst when facing the coaches in drills. Weber smiled at their nervousness the first day.

"Coaches were teasing them because they all came into the office today a little leary. It's one thing to come to school, it's one thing to go to class, and it's another thing to go through (workouts). Of course, the other players are gonna exaggerate.

"This is all new experiences. That's where we've got to help. And that's where Chester (Frazier) can help off the court, just talking to them and being positive with them."

With only 11 players on scholarship, it appears Weber has added a walkon, and he may add 1-2 more later. Drills are too fast-paced and practices too long without a couple extra bodies to share reps and provide rest time for the scholarship athletes.

"We have eleven after a couple guys decided to leave. We really made an effort to find some walkons. Kevin (Berardini) is from the Chicago suburbs, was at Loyola Marymount as a walkon there and wanted to come back home. He approached us and stayed pretty persistent once he got in school.

"We'll give him the opportunity to come here, try to go through it and see if it works out. Just the feedback from the Loyola coaches out in California that he was a great kid and worked his butt off and was good for the team.

"I think he understands that. His brother was a walkon at Missouri, so the family has a feel for what it's about. It gives us a 12th guy, which is positive. I think we'll still look for at least one more guy and maybe two if we can find them.

"We never put out any guarantee, but we're letting him be here now and work out. You can't have a true walkon tryout until practice starts. Once you're there, you've missed all conditioning. This gives him a little bit of an advantage. If we can find somebody else here, we'll give them a go too."

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