To be honest, I'm not sure what I expected. But whatever it was, it
was a far cry from what I witnessed Saturday night in the Assembly
Coach John Groce's first Illini basketball team came flying
out of the gate in an explosive fashion and on a 17-2 run. That is
not a misprint. And yes, I know that they were playing Lewis
University, a D-II ballclub. But I also know how many fits Lewis
gave Illinois and other teams in the past. This Illinois edition
came out and made a statement. They came out and took care of
They did this by making six of their first nine 3-point baskets.
They did this by getting up in Lewis' grill on defense. So much so,
that they not only contested shots, they choked them so intensely
that Lewis could barely even get off a shot.
So then, what were our impressions?
So far, we like what we see. And of course, there is a long way
to go. But you have to be happy to see that at least some of
Illinois' confidence has been restored. The brutal end to the season
last year and ultimately the demise of the Bruce Weber era left this
ballclub in disarray. A tip of the cap to this new John Groce regime
for seemingly restoring it before the season begins.
Playing a mid- to long rotation, the Illini seemed to be
comfortable in their roles and not worried about coming out right
after an errant miscue. Court vision seemed to be good, and extra
passes were made on several possessions, enabling better shots --
wide-open shots in some cases.
Leading the way for the Illini was D.J. Richardson, who had 12
points and four steals on the night. I personally was very excited
to see what they have done with Myke Henry. He was posting up
several Lewis defenders, and they had no answer for him. Henry
finished with 11 points on only seven shots, had six rebounds, and
he played only 16 minutes.
[to top of second column]
Illini newcomer Sam McLaurin also had a nice outing as he went
for 11 and four in only 19 minutes of action. He was a beast inside,
and his presence was felt on both ends of the court. Tyler Griffey
showed what he has been displaying in practice -- production. He
tallied seven points and hauled down a game-high nine rebounds.
We didn't get to see much from Nnanna Egwu because he spent most
of the night mired in foul trouble. Brandon Paul, Tracy Abrams and a
host of others made solid contributions, but the emphasis on the
night was on teamwork and team play.
Judging by these next two statistics, consider it mission
accomplished at least for one night -- the Illini outscored Lewis in
the paint 30-18 and led them in points off turnovers 29-13.
We believe the paid crowd was 14,299, but there were a few
thousand less in the actual seats. However, we didn't see very many
unhappy campers regarding the outcome of this one. Especially when
you consider how unhappy most fans are with Illinois football.
We're holding out hope that this Illini basketball team will
bring some much-needed victories.
Illinois will take on West Chester
Sunday afternoon at 3.
[By JEFF MAYFIELD]
Respond to the writer at