Friday, October 28, 2005

 

O&B Scrimmage: What to Watch

Tonight is the annual O& B scrimmage at Assembly Hall, where Illini players get their last opportunity to play a public game-style contest before taking on actual opponents. Much has been written about the impressive practice performances so far by Shaun Pruitt and Jamar Smith, it will be interesting to see if that continues in the scrimmage tonight. Things Illini fans should watch for:

1) Has Dee Brown diversified his game? For three years, Brown has primarily played shooting guard and scored via three pointers and fast break layups. To impress the pro scouts this season, Brown will need to showcase his point guard abilities while also displaying different ways of scoring the ball. Brown will have to carry this team offensively, and I'm on record expecting 18 points and 5-7 assists per game from the senior leader.

2) Is James Augustine healthy? Augie has had foot and ankle issues this offseason, and early word from C-U is that he is not yet 100%. For the Illini to be successful come conference season, Augustine will need to establish himself as a presence in the post.

3) Is Shaun Pruitt capable of being a starter? Pruitt has the best basketball body of any big man on the Illini roster. At 6'10" and chiseled, he's a prototype Big Ten power player. Can he convert that base into a starting position and 20+ minutes per night?

4) Can we expect a different Rich McBride this season? McBride, who was relegated to being a three-point bomber in his first two seasons, will need to play up to his potential as the #28 player (RSCI) in the nation coming out of high school. McBride has not shown the ability to drive and finish offensively, a dimension of his game that will need to be there if he expects to win a starting position. McBride missed Thursday's practice, so another factor to watch is whether he'll even play tonight.

5) Can Brian Randle shoot? Randle is the Illini's best defender and most active player. But he has yet to prove he can consistently make a jump shot. Two years ago, before last season's redshirt, opponents that scouted Illinois would instantly switch their defense to a zone when Randle entered the game. Will that continue this season?

6) Can Chester Frazier spell Dee Brown for 5-10 minutes/night? Based on his play at Midnight Madness, it appears that Frazier at least can come in and provide solid defense off the bench. Will he be able to lead a team and score? How much of a drop-off can Illinois fans expect when Frazier subs in for Brown?

7) Will Warren Carter reach his potential? For two years, Illini fans have drooled at the athleticism and shooting ability seen in spurts by the 6'10" athletic Texan. But opposing coaches have likely noted that, when in the game, it was uncertain if Carter actually defended anybody. If Carter's defense catches up to his offense, he could be a dynamic contributor either in a starting role or off the bench.

8) Is Marcus Arnold a mid-major or high-major player? Arnold got rave reviews for his play in practice last season, and many had penciled him in as a starter in 2005-2006. However, from the sounds of practice reports, Pruitt and Carter may be ahead of Arnold in the rotation. The Illinois State transfer will have his first extended opportunity to play in front of the C-U home crowd tonight, who will be looking to see if his game against the Illini two years ago was a mirage or something the Illini faitfhul can expect more of.

9) Can Jamar Smith contribute this season? Smith, who is slight of build, has a smooth outside shooting stroke. He may be the best pure shooter on the team. While many thought he would redshirt this season to gain strength and work on his guard skills, Smith's shooting ability and the uncertainty of the Illini's scoring options this season make the redshirt option unlikely. Smith will need to prove himself defensively before he can expect big minutes. But don't be suprised to see the Peoria Richwoods freshman log 10-20 minutes per game, especially if teams try to zone the Illini.

10) Can Calvin Brock shoot? See Brian Randle section, subtract three inches, and you've got Calvin Brock. Great athlete, solid defender, but can he shoot well enough to see the floor? If you could combine the attributes of Calvin Brock and Jamar Smith, you'd have one of the best shooting guards in the country.

11) Will Charles Jackson contribute this season? My guess is no. After watching him at Midnight Madness, Jackson appeared to be far from the rest of the pack in terms of readiness to play. A great kid with an outstanding attitude, expect Jackson to jump at the opportunity to redshirt, much as Calvin Brock did last season.

12) Will Trent Meacham bring something to the table in the next few years? Meacham, who is sitting out this season as a transfer from Dayton, will be in the point guard mix with Frazier and hopefully some top flight recruits starting in 2006-2007. Meacham did not show much athleticism or ability to take anybody off the dribble during Midnight Madness, but his outside shooting is ahead of Frazier's. It's unclear if Meacham can play at the Illinois level, but tonight will be an opportunity for Meacham to show what he's made of.

13) What will Bruce Weber have in his bag of tricks? This year's team will play differently than last year's, which had most of its firepower in the three-guard rotation. He will need to find different ways for this team to score, and will work to utilize a 4-big man rotation in the post. Will this team play any zone? How will the Illini react when other teams play zone? Can the Illini survive when Dee Brown goes to the bench for a rest? Will Weber slow the game down to take advantage of his post scorers? Can the Illini find different scoring options outside of Brown and Augustine. Plenty of questions, hopefully there will be at least somewhat of an answer to them tonight.

Notes: Robbie Hummel is visiting NC State, Charlotte and Duke this weekend. Still no offer from the Illini, who appear to have put JUCO forward Shang Ping as their priority at that position in the class of 2007...Mark Tupper seems to be backtracking from his accusations toward Anthony Longstreet and Kansas in his most recent blog http://www.herald-review.com/blogs/marktupper/?m=20051026. I guess he didn't have much in the way of actual evidence when he posted his original comments...The Illini are ranked #17 in the first ESPN/USA Today Coaches' poll that came out. Probably a fair place to put the Illini. Other teams of note include Duke at #1, Michigan State (#5), Iowa (#20) and Indiana (#22). For the Bill Self fans, Kansas is unranked...Rumors are circulating that Illinois may be early leaders for both Eric Gordon and Derrick Rose. While I agree with that assessment on Gordon, I would strongly disagree on Rose. Rose will go to North Carolina if the Tar Heels offer. If Roy Williams does not offer, expect Rose to look hard at Kansas, Arizona, DePaul and Virginia as well as Illinois. And Marquette is trying to make a push as well. Location from home will play a factor in Rose's recruitment if UNC does not offer...St. Joseph junior Evan Turner is expected to take an unofficial visit to Illinois this weekend...Rumors are circulating that DePaul and Illinois are close to working out an annual game at the United Center, potentially to start as early as the 2006-2007 season.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

 

2006 Illini Have Questions.....Here Are My Answers

My how times change. Going into the 2005 season, there were very few questions about the Illini. Starting lineup was set....and, for the most part, so was the rotation. Randle breaking his hand was the only issue. This year, there are more questions than answers. Dee and Augie are the only certainties....after that, alot of unproven players. Who plays? Who sits? Who redshirts? Only Weber knows for sure, but here are my guesses:

Let's start with the obvious.....Dee, I hope you are healthy and in shape because you aren't going to leave the floor very often. Not only will Brown be the Illini's leader and PG, he will also be there best scorer. Depending on how everyone performs, Dee will have to spend time at both the PG position as well as SG. When he is out, I see the offense sputtering as Weber will be forced to play so many unproven players. As a result, I expect to see Dee on the floor 35+ mpg.

Augie is clearly our best all-around big man....the question is if he has improved his offense around the basket. My guess is that he will be better.....but still not a dominating, consistent scorer. But, he will play hard, defend and rebound regularly. Hopefully, he can find 12-14 PPG by running the floor, getting some putbacks and hitting the occasional jumper. James....I've seen you shoot....you can do it....stop thinking and shoot the damn ball. I'm guessing 30 MPG for James if he can stay away from the dumb fouls.

Rich McBride may be the key to how well this season goes for Illinois. They need another scorer desperately.....Rich has the skills to be this guy. He has gotten into shape....and the minutes will be there for him this year. When he plays with confidence (see Memphis freshman year), Rich can shoot it with anyone. Unfortunately for Rich, with 3 future NBA players at the guard position, his minutes have been limited up until this point.....and that definitely affected his confidence. No excuses this year....in shape, available minutes, and the team looking for some points from anywhere. My advice for Rich.....I know you can shoot....but you need to attack the basket occasionally....show the mid-range game that you showed in high school. If you do that, there will be that many more opportunities to shoot the 3.

Brian Randle can do alot of things.....right now, shooting the ball isn't one of them...and that's OK. Randle can guard almost every position on the court. He can fill the lane as well as anyone in the country on the fast break. He can attack the basket and rebound in the half court. And, occasionally, he may knock down a 15 ft. jump shot. His defense will be his biggest contribution....as I expect Weber to have him guard the other team's best offensive player on most nights. Being the athlete that he is, with the way he runs the court and can hit the glass, he can get 10 PPG just by hustling.

Who fills out the starting five? Tough call.....but I am going to go with Shawn Pruitt. He's far from a finished product, but he has alot of upside....and reports have him working very hard on his game. Why do I start him? Because I think, given the minutes, Shawn can be a consistent scorer down low. He has some good post moves....has a nice little jumper....and he is BIG. I would love to see him apply himself more on the defensive end....and I would like to see better rebounding....but I think alot of that will come with more minutes.

That's my starting five. My biggest concern defensively is Pruitt...he is raw. Offensively, with Randle at SF, we only have 2 perimeter shooters on the court. But, you have to have Randle's all-around game on the court at the start. Where do we go from there??

Marcus Arnold will see plenty of minutes because he has a big body and can score down low. Not particularly quick....and not as tall as Pruitt...it will be interesting to see him defend in the Big 10. If Pruitt doesn't perform, Arnold could be a starter.

Chester Frazier....boy has he been hyped by the Champaign media. If he is 1/2 as good as they seem to think he is, he will get plenty of minutes. The one thing that I like......he seems to know how/and be willing to play defense. Right off the bat, I'm sure weber loves that about him. Can he shoot when it counts? That will be a question....but he is the only PG on the roster other than Dee...so he will get some minutes. If he plays well, then Weber has options...sliding Dee to the SG slot for minutes....or going with more 3 guard offense with Dee and Rich.

Warren Carter.....instant offense. Warren is important because he is the only big man that can consistently hit the open shot. For that reason alone, he will play. If he has improved his defense, he may play alot. If his defense is still lacking, he will play in spurts when they need points.

Calvin Brock is a phenomenal athlete. Right now, his basketball skills are behind his athleticism. Needs to improve his shot and his ballhandling. Similar to Randle...not as big...not as good on the defensive end as Brian right now. Calvin will see the court....just not sure how much at this point.

Jamar Smith.....my personal favorite. Why? I like guys that can shoot the ball as well as create their own shot...Jamar can do that. Might be the best offensive player on the team....and that includes Dee. Needs to get stronger and learn to play defense....like alot of freshmen. Initially, didn't think he would play. However, because Illinois is lacking in shooters/scorers, I think that Jamar will play more than I initially thought. There will be games that Jamar plays significant minutes....there will be others that he doesn't play at all. By his junior year, watch out. Jamar can be a big scorer at the college level.

Charles Jackson......my redshirt candidate. No knock on harles at all. Right now, we have big guys in front of him...and Charles needs to get his body in basketball condition...as opposed to football. On of those guys that could be a great rebounder down the road.


I think you will see less of a defined rotation this year. Certain guys will play in certain situations. Frazier/Smith could platoon depending on the need...offense or defense.

If you pinned me down right now, these 8 will see the most minutes this year:

Brown
Augie
McBride
Randle
Pruitt
Arnold
Carter
Frazier


I see 22+ wins, top3 in the conference, and a Sweet 16 showing in the tourny. Good luck players and coaches.


butts

 

Shaun Pruitt Day!!

Well, looks like the Central Illinois beat writer posse has come out in full force on Shaun Pruitt's behalf. First, we had Tupper's blog yesterday http://www.herald-review.com/blogs/marktupper/?p=133 followed by Tupper's article rehashing his blog (where have we seen that before?) http://www.jg-tc.com/articles/2005/10/26/sports/sports%20007.txt and now Brett Dawson's blog http://www.news-gazette.com/ngweblog/index.cfm?post=243&blog=1. For this great work, we at Hoops Guys declare October 26, 2005 to officially be "Shaun Pruitt Day", to be celebrated by all Illini fans nationwide.

To be fair, Brett and Mark are both great guys whose livelihood depends on having a good relationship with the Illinois basketball staff. They both wrote books on the Illini's magical 2004-2005 run that culminated in the program's first-ever appearance in the national title game. I just tend to find it humorous that Brett and Mark write essentially the same piece the day after it becomes public that Shaun Pruitt has considered transferring out of Illinois (per a DePaul website that mentioned Jerry Wainwright's program as a potential transfer destination).

Back to Mr. Pruitt, since this is his big day. Shaun is the highest-rated Bruce Weber recruit on the Illini roster, and a player who showed immense potential in high school. He was asked to redshirt last season by the Illinois coaching staff, and he refused. On a team loaded with upperclass big men, Pruitt played very little as a freshman. After a summer growing (he's now up to 6'10"), getting stronger and attending big man camp, Pruitt has come ready to play in the 2005-2006 season. While rumors have circulated this fall regarding Pruitt's standing with the Illinois coaching staff, Shaun has worked his tail off and he looked as good as any big man in the program during Midnight Madness. It will be interesting to follow what happens with Shaun this season, as he potentially could emerge as the 3rd scorer the Illini are looking for after Dee Brown and James Augustine.

On the recruiting trail, it appears that Illinois is making a push for unranked New Jersey point guard Eugene Harvey. The Illini coaching staff reportedly will visit Harvey and watch him play this week. Harvey is coached at St. Benedict's High School by Danny Hurley. The Illini are also actively pursuing JUCO point guard Kevin Bridgewaters of Wabash Valley Community College. More on that later. Bruce Weber has been quoted as saying he plans to use one more scholarship on a class of 2006 player.

One last note on Dawson's blog. Wasn't this the same guy who was predicting Calvin Brock would be starting for the Illini earlier this spring/summer? Interesting that he's now got McBride and Randle slated for the 2/3 as pretty much locks to start. Personally, I don't think you can have Randle and Brock on the court at the same time, so they need to sub for one another, and Randle is clearly the better player at this point. Illinois may be susceptible to zone defenses this season, especially if Rich McBride does not improve on his outside shooting from previous seasons. Right now, Dee and Jamar Smith appear to be the only consistent threats from beyond the arc.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

 

What Have I Got Myself Into??

That's the question that several people have asked me over the last couple of days. Why are you doing a blog with IllinoisHoopsNut? Are you crazy? He hates Weber! He loves Self! He's trying to sabotage Illinois' recruiting! He's way too negative about our recruits! Hell, you disagree with him more than you agree with him!

Well....some answers. I maybe crazy. But, I think Hoopsnut delivers what a lot of basketball fans/recruiting nuts want...information. He doesn't hate Weber.....he just doesn't think he can recruit. He very well may love Self....he loves the way he recruits.....and who doesn't love the rug on Bill's head? He isn't trying to sabotage Illinois' recruiting....he just gives you more of his opinion than you want to hear.....sometimes more than I want to hear. He can be too negative about our recruits......I have a steak dinner wager with him concerning the career performance of Jamar Smith....one that I think I will win. And, yes, I probably do disagree with him more than I agree....but that's OK. That is what generates interest, discussion.

While many of you may not agree....Nut is as big a fan of Illinois as you or I. You don't put in the time following this stuff like he does if you don't care. He packages his information a little differently than you do....and you don't like it. But, he does create interest....he does create discussion......and he does provide information. Whether you believe it or not is up to you.....but he has no reason to make it up.

What I think you will find if you visit this site is a couple of fans sitting at a bar talking about sports....mostly Illinois hoops. Expressing opinions.....and arguing. Isn't that what sports fans do? Pull up a chair... express your opinion.....we will hear you out. I'll be the one keeping Nut in check.....he will be the one pissing you off.



butts

Thursday, October 20, 2005

 

Anthony Longstreet Speaks

Sherron Collins Update (10/19/05)

Ryan Christie recently spoke to Chicago (IL) Crane High School Basketball Coach Anthony Longstreet about class of 2006 point guard prospect Sherron Collins. Collins, considered by Rivals.com to be the #31 prospect in the class of 2006, recently pledged his services to Kansas University. Kansas Head Coach Bill Self, who got into the Collins recruitment relatively late compared to Illinois and Iowa, secured a commitment from Collins following the dynamic guard’s weekend trip for Midnight Madness.

“This stuff has just been mind-boggling,” said Coach Longstreet, about the constant press coverage of Collins’ commitment. “From both sides, the Kansas side, the Illinois side, my phone is ringing off the hook.”

Despite having recruited him the longest, Illinois and Iowa lost out after Collins’ first trip to visit the Lawrence, Kansas campus.

“It really wasn’t Kansas versus Illinois,” Coach Longstreet mentioned. “I know Sherron liked Illinois. He was probably leaning to Illinois before he visited Kansas. But the visit for Midnight Madness just absolutely blew him away.”

Collins had previously visited Iowa and Illinois unofficially, but his only official visit was to Kansas.

“The players convinced him to go there,” noted Coach Longstreet. “They embraced him the minute he walked in the door. Mario Chalmers was the first guy that came up to Sherron and he gave him a big hug right away.”

Longstreet continued, “Sherron interacted with the Kansas fans after the scrimmage, and that was just an unbelievable experience. They were in the lobby afterward and they were taking pictures, videotaping him, he was signing autographs. He’s never seen anything like that and he was overwhelmed with how great the fans were.”

Longstreet then pointed to the recruits that Self has recently brought in as a factor in Collins’ decision.

“I mean, the kid had a bunch of McDonald’s All-Americans telling him they want him to go there and play with them. That has a pretty big effect on a 17-year old kid.”

Longstreet mentioned that, despite reports that Collins might officially visit Iowa and Illinois in October, it didn’t make sense following the Kansas visit.

“Stringing people along, that’s not the right thing to do,” said Coach Longstreet. “Up until he visited, he had no idea what Kansas was all about. And then he just fell in love with it. The fans, the tradition, the players on the team, all of those things were totally new to him.”

Longstreet was then asked how Collins felt about playing in Self’s high-low offense, as opposed to the motion offense that Bruce Weber’s Illini used.
“I don’t think Sherron even looked at the system,” Longstreet noted. “Kansas could have been playing a triangle offense, throw the ball around the perimeter 100 times, it doesn’t matter. He looked at the chemistry he had with the players, those guys made him feel loved and they wanted him a part of that team.”

The Crane coach suggested that Illinois did everything it could to secure Collins’ commitment.

“They did a fine job recruiting Sherron, they really did,” said Longstreet. “Dee Brown, Luther Head, Deron Williams, Sherron talked to all those guys and is tight with them. They did all they could do. But when he visited Kansas, it was just a totally different feeling. It’s like falling in love with a woman. You can’t help the feelings that you have for her, you can’t explain it, that’s what is was like for Sherron and Kansas.”

When it was mentioned that there are rumors and articles being written that suggest he played an overly influential role in his point guard’s recruitment, Longstreet turned defiant.

“I love the University of Illinois. I’ve lived here all my life. I’m going to have to live in Illinois after Sherron goes to college. That stuff is just crazy, who’s saying that,” Longstreet asked. “Before he went to Kansas, all Sherron knew was Illinois and Iowa. Those were the only schools he had seen. And it was like a totally different experience when he went to Kansas.”

Longstreet specifically refuted a recent blog by Illini beat writer Mark Tupper that stated a “silent verbal” commitment may have been given by Collins to the Illinois coaching staff earlier this year.

“I never heard Sherron tell the Illinois coaches that he was going there,” Longstreet said. “Who’s Mark Tupper? I can tell you that I never heard Sherron say that stuff. He may have said that he liked Illinois, and he did, but he never said ‘I’m going to Illinois.’ That never came out of his mouth.”

Tupper, who co-authored a book with Illinois Head Coach Bruce Weber this summer highlighting the Illini’s run to the 2005 national title game, stirred up a great deal of controversy with his recent blog.

“Is this the first time a kid has changed his mind when he was wowed by something? This is a 17-year old we’re talking about. What exactly does Mark Tupper know about relationships? I’m telling you, it’s like falling in love. Is Mark Tupper an expert on analyzing love and human relationships? If so, tell him I’d like to see his credentials,” Longstreet stated.

Longstreet then answered questions relating to allegations of impropriety in Collins’ recruitment that would enrich the Crane head coach. These rumors gained steam followed by publication of Tupper’s blog.

“It’s part of the territory, I guess, hearing stuff like this,” said Longstreet. “I know that I didn’t do anything wrong. I can’t help it if somebody falls in love with a school outside of Illinois. That’s not my problem. If somebody tries to tarnish my reputation like this, it could blow up in their face. I’ve never been accused of trying to get kids to transfer in from other schools, I’ve never been accused of tampering with kids and trying to get them in my program. I don’t have a bad name in Chicago, people around the Public League know that. I tell you what, you go tell Mark Tupper that if he thinks I’m getting paid, get the proof, produce the cancelled check.”

Longstreet stated that he took a difficult call from Weber after Collins made his decision.

“Coach Weber called the other night, either Sunday or Monday to check in,” Longstreet stated. “He was pretty upset with the news. That’s certainly understandable. He didn’t hang up or anything, but he let me know he was upset. It was probably a reaction like the one he had when Jonathan Scheyer chose Duke. It’s not like Illinois is losing these guys to Minnesota or Purdue. These are great programs the kids are choosing. Bruce and I talked about things and he told me he’d see me later.”

Longstreet also played phone tag on Tuesday with Illini assistant Tracy Webster. Despite a seemingly cordial end to the Collins recruitment, it appears that Longstreet will not be making a scheduled appearance in Champaign-Urbana for an upcoming coaches’ clinic.

“No, I probably won’t go down there for that,” said Longstreet. “The season’s coming up and I need to have some work done on my knee. I need to do that and have some time off to recover before the season, so probably won’t go to that event.”

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