John Groce has nabbed his first Illini recruit! Drake shooting guard, and Champaign native, Rayvonte Rice announced today that he will transfer to Illinois. He had the option to transfer to Xavier as well, but he attended Champaign Centennial High School and decided to return to his roots.
There are actually three open scholarships for next season: Michael Orris bowed out of his scholly before setting foot on campus, Meyers Leonard is heading to the NBA, and Crandall Head transferred abruptly in the middle of the season. Groce filled one spot, and now has two to play with.
Rice, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound guard, will sit out next season, and then will have two years of eligibility with Illinois. He averaged 16.5 points and 5.7 rebounds last season for Drake.
Since Rice has some collegiate experience, he could be able to jump in immediately and take over the guard duties for Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson after they graduate at the end of next year. While he doesn’t necessarily have B1G experience, he will have a year of practice to get with the program. Seems like a good nab, and I live it when the local kids get to come home and play for the fans (ala another Centennial transfer – from Dayton – Trent Meacham).
Groce now has two more spots to fill before the season begins, and will most likely focus on another point guard position and center to fill the more immediate holes left by Leonard and Maniscalco.
Crandall Head has reportedly left the Illini; Photo by Cary Frye
This post was supposed to simply be a preview to tonight’s B1G Conference opener for the Illini against Minnesota, but news is circulating that Crandall Head has left the program.
First things first, the Illini will welcome the Golden Gophers to the Assembly Hall tonight to kickoff conference play for both teams. While this seems like an easy start to the conference season, Minnesota might be tougher than we originally thought.
True, Minnesota wasn’t really supposed to have a great year, but at least they had Trevor Mbakwe, the leading rebounder in the Big Ten last season and pre-season All Big Ten player. However, at the end of November the school reported that after the team’s first loss to Dayton, Mbakwe had torn his ACL and would be out for the season.
Clearly losing Mbakwe is a huge blow to Minnesota, though they’ve gone on to win 6 more games, including beating Virginia Tech at home for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge in the first game after the loss. However, aside from VT, the teams are nothing really to write home about. USC is the only team from a major conference, and they’re not really having the best season. Then, of course, there is the fact that Minnesota hasn’t won on the road since losing Mbakwe.
So basically, I expect a win tonight, and I expect it to be big. Minnesota has played on the road once this year on Nov. 24 against DePaul (so really it doesn’t count). They’re going to be nervous, and blinded by the height that the Illini can boast. Additionally, Illinois will still be smarting from that really close game against Missouri last week.
Obviously the Illini are no longer ranked, and nor do they deserve to be. A win tonight is going to be expected, so the team won’t get any props for pulling it off, unless it’s a big one with a wide margin (at least from me.) A loss, however, would be rather detrimental to their morale, image, and RPI. No one wants to lose the conference opener, at home, against a team that isn’t supposed to be that great anyway and recently lost their best player. Add that all up and the Illini should be ready to dominate.
Minus a Head
It has now been confirmed that Crandall Head has left the Illini program and will look to transfer. More on this disappointing news later today. Luther Head was one of my all-time favorite players from Illinois, which can be seen from the fact that my dog is named Luther.
I had high hopes for Crandall, but he hasn’t seen a lot of playing time, and when he is in he makes a lot of mistakes. He also missed some time early on in the season for “not doing what he’s supposed to,” according to Bruce Weber.
Luther made a lot of mistakes early on, but he matured and grew into his role with the Illini, and led them to a championship game. Perhaps Crandall just doesn’t have the drive, or he just wants to play more.
As more news come, look for another post on Crandall. Sad to see him go, but honestly it might not make too much of a difference to the team right now in terms of on the court, though who knows what it does for them off the court.
I wish him nothing but the best of luck in his future endeavors.
Joseph Bertrand is doing his "thang" this year; Photo by Cary Frye
Coach Bruce Weber warned the Illini not to overlook Lipscomb on the schedule, and they took his advisc to heart with a 79-64 win tonight.
As is now tradition for the 2011-2012 Illini, the game was a bit too close in the first half with a sloppy Illini start, only to have them safely run away with the game in the second half.
Fouls were a bit of a problem all around, and Meyers Leonard sat out for most of the first half after earning two quick fouls in the first few minutes. No matter, the Illini adjusted to life without Leonard and did what they had to do. Nnanna Egwu filled in nicely with 4 blocks, 4 rebounds, and 4 points (and 3 fouls but who’s counting).
The winner again tonight was DJ Richardson, who had 17 points. Joseph Bertrand contributed quietly as always, and was just 2 points shy of a double double with a game-high 8 rebounds and 11 points. Sam Maniscalco and Brandon Paul also were in double figures in points with 15 and 12, respectively. Tyler Griffey also stepped in for Leonard with 6 rebounds and 5 points.
Though he wasn’t in the game long, Leonard still made his presence known with 8 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Crandall Head made his season debut and brought 4 turnovers to the table, along with 3 points and 2 fouls. He did have 2 assists, but is it wrong for me to expect more from him? I know he needs to adjust, but sadly these stats might be typical for him this season.
I have to say I’m pumped about this team and ready to see what they can really do. They will finally head out on the road next week, but the court probably won’t be very hostile in Cancun. However, it’s still going to be far from the comforts in Champaign. Technically the last two games against Lipscomb and SIUe were part of the Cancun challenge, and thank goodness they won so they can face some higher caliber teams at the next step.
First on the Cancun list is Richmond, a respectable Tournament team last year. This could be the first true challenge for Illinois, and on the road nonetheless. I’m ready to see how they can truly handle the pressure, and if they can overcome their sloppiness in the same way they have in the first three games of the season.
The bad news? Illinois had 21 turnovers. The better news, they were 17-22 for free throws. More bad news? 28.6 percent from behind the arc. We’ve got a few things to work on.
Oh, and I have to say it was quite exciting to see the game on a proper TV channel and in HD no less. It was strange not to have the Facebook and Twitter buttons on the top as I’ve gotten used to on BTN.com, and it was weird to actually see the faces of the guys through a crystal clear lens. Didn’t realize quite how bad the footage was online until I saw how it was supposed to be.
Here's hoping DJ Richardson continues to have solid games; photo by Cary Frye
Bruce Weber took a quick moment speak with the press today about the upcoming game tomorrow against Lipscomb, who he thinks might be the toughest opponent for Illinois yet.
Word is that Lipscomb’s best player was out in their 3-point loss to Gardner-Webb on Sunday, and it isn’t clear if he will be in the game tomorrow.
As for the ailing Illini, Weber reported that Devin Langford saw the doctor yesterday, and is not ready to play just yet with that broken finger. Weber thinks that Langford won’t be cleared until they return from Cancun late next week.
Crandall Head has sat out his required four games and should be involved tomorrow, though it’s not clear how. Weber said that Head has had a pretty good attitude on the bench, but what he needs on the court and off, is discipline. His brother Luther had issues as a youngster, and straightened himself out quite nicely. I hope Crandall can do the same.
I don’t expect Lipscomb to be a huge challenge, though they do have a 6’10 center in Stephen Hurt and a couple of 6’8 guys in Marvin Williams and Justin Glenn. The Illini aren’t used to dealing with taller/bigger guys, but they’re going to need to get adjusted before playing teams in major conferences. Weber said he’d like to see Meyers Leonard get more involved in terms of defense, so we’ll see if that comes together for them tomorrow.
The game is finally on an actual TV station for the first time this year, but I don’t think it will truly rattle the guys until they are on ESPN or something of the like.
The Illini face Lipscomb at home on Thursday, Nov. 17 at 8pm on the BTN.
Tyler Griffey and D.J. Richardson each had career highs tonight in the Illini 66-46 win over Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville. Griffey had his first career double double with 10 points and 14 rebounds, which was also a career high. Richardson had 20 points, which didn’t surpass his career high, but at least tied that number. He was just one missed free throw away from having a new high this evening, but it’s still an impressive feat.
Richardson and Griffey, both starters, were the only Illini with double digits in scoring. Joining them in the starting lineup were Meyers Leonard with 8, Brandon Paul with 8, and Tracy Abrams with 5. Abrams was a bit off tonight, with just 1 assist and 5 turnovers, though he had three steals.
As far as rebounding, everyone got into the action. Leonard had 11, Paul had 6 and Sam Maniscalco, Mike Shaw, and Nnanna Egwu each had 3. Total, the Illini had 45 rebounds to SIUE’s 25.
While the game started off a little sloppy, by the end everyone calmed down and contributed in their own special way. Leonard had 5 blocks, just one behind his career-high 6 on Friday, and Egwu and Paul each had 2 blocks. While Richardson was the high scorer, Paul had impressive numbers everywhere else, including a game-high four assists.
Also the Illini were strong on the defensive end, holding the Cougars to under 50 points, Mark Yelovich had 13 points, and Corey Wickware had 12. No one else on SIUE broke into double digits.
Twelve different guys made an appearance tonight, and each added a little something to the game. This success came though Myke Henry, Devon Langford and Crandall Head were all still unable to play. Speaking of Head, tonight was the last of his four-game suspension, and it will interesting to see what he contributes come Thursday against Lipscomb. Abrams is having no trouble running the point, and Maniscalco is right in there to help out when needed. Not to mention that Paul had the most assists out of anyone.
What the Illini do need is someone besides Richardson to put up some major points. Head probably isn’t the guy to do that, so it’s not clear where those points come from as the season continues.
I’m still wary of what the Illini will do this year, because they’re still young and they make a lot of mistakes. They had a whopping 22 turnovers tonight, compared to SIUE’s 15. However, they did have 45 rebounds, 7 steals, and 11 blocks, which is nothing to sneeze at. Despite my apprehension, I’m ready to see what they can do against a serious opponent. That won’t be happening Thursday, but Richmond could be the first true test on Nov. 22. They’ve showed impressive moves so far, but they’re also a foot taller and a lot stronger than all of their opponents, which won’t be the case as the season continues.
Up next, the Illini play Lipscomb on Thursday at 8pm. This game will finally actually air on the Big Ten Network, instead of online.
Leonard led the Illini with 18 points; Photo by Cary Frye
When halftime finally rolled around during the first exhibition for the Illini basketball team tonight, fans had every right to be a wee bit nervous. The Illini led DII Wayne State by just three points at 35-32, and the guys were looking sloppy to say the least. Wayne State shot 50% and Illinois had just one shot from Tracy Abrams that fell from behind the 3-point line. Luckily, all that changed once the Illini came out for the second half, and the Illini ending up winning by almost 30 points, 79-51.
Nerves are to be expected for the Illini in this first game in front of a large crowd against an actual opponent. The night started off with some confusion as announcements were made that Crandall Head would be missing two exhibition games and two regular games for violating team rules. Then, Myke Henry – who was reported to maybe get a starting gig – was out with a quad injury. Word is the injury shouldn’t keep him on the bench for long.
The starting lineup looked like this: Brandon Paul, DJ Richardson, Joseph Bertrand (who was supposed to not be playing do to a hip problem) and then Tyler Griffey and Nnanna Egwu, who were both rewarded for playing hard in practice. There was some confusion for a few of them who had never started before, and Coach Weber stated after the game that the newbies didn’t know what to do.
I say we just pretend the first half didn’t happen. The Illini total for the second half was almost double the first half score as they found a groove and began to enjoy the game. They also took over on defense and made an actual appearance at the glass. They figured out how to stop Wayne State and used their obvious height to get things done.
In the end, four Illini were in double-figures tonight, led by Meyers Leonard with 18. Brandon Paul had 16, DJ Richardson finally got his 3′s to fall with a total of 11, and Nnanna Egwu had 10 points in his Illini debut. All told, the Illini shot 49% from the field. Abrams and Paul took over PG duties, as Sam Maniscalco is resting to be ready for games that matter. Abrams had 5 assists and no turnovers, and though he led the team in assists, they all came in the first half.
Another discovery: free throws are an issue. Ibby Djimde was just 2-8 from the free throw line, and the team total was 23-36; nice job getting to the line, now make the baskets. Also, the Illini have to remember that they’re tall. The leading scorer of the night was Wayne State’s Amry Shelby, who stands just 5’11 and had 22 points. My favorite little guy was probably Vontrell Seroyer, who at 5’7″ looked like he was about my height next to the towering players like the 7’1″ Leonard (hint, I’m nowhere near 5’7″). In the first half the Illini were outrebounded 16-12, but in the end won the battle 34-27. Mike Shaw was impressive in that realm, with a game-high 8 rebounds to go with his 6 points and 3 steals.
On the whole, once the second half got going the Illini looked pretty exciting. Still a bit of sloppy play, but they are still getting their bearings and Weber is figuring out what’s what. A valiant effort by the Wayne State Wildcats, but in the second half the Illini figured out how to play basketball – and then it was over. Just imagine what the team will look like with Maniscalco back, not to mention Henry, Head and even Langford (assuming he doesn’t redshirt).
Also, shout out to the BTN.com crew who called the game, except please note that Illinois does not start with an “e.”
One more exhibition game to go on Mon., Nov. 7 at 7:30pm against Quincy, then the real season begins.
Illinois defeated West Virginia 47-26 in an exhibition scrimmage held yesterday in front of about 500 military personnel and their families at the Aviano Air Base in Italy.
The 20-minute game was played after the two teams held a youth clinic for children of the Airmen. Also, the Illini and Mountaineers participated in a 10-minute scrimmage against the Aviano varsity unit. In those games, Illinois defeated Aviano 26-12, while West Virginia topped Aviano 25-7.
The three squads also held a dunk contest for the crowd with Illini junior Joseph Bertrand claiming the victory. Bertrand also nabbed this title in his first Illini scrimmage ever as a freshmen. Can’t wait to see him ues that dunking prowess in an actual game!!
Illinois started strong against West Virginia, scoring the first seven points and opening up a double-digit lead three minutes into the scrimmage. The Illini finished with the same intensity, scoring the final seven points on breakaway dunks by Meyers Leonard and D.J. Richardson and a 3-pointer by Sam Maniscalco to take a 27-8 lead into intermission.
The Illini led by at least 16 points the entire second half, and led by as much as 26 before the Mountaineer’s tallied the final five points of the scrimmage.
The Illini shot an admirable 62.5 percent, hitting 20-of-32 from the field and 5-of-8 from 3-point range. Illinois tallied 15 assists on 20 baskets and its pressure defense caused 15 Mountaineer turnovers.
Richardson led the Illini with 11 points and made all five of his shots. Myke Henry scored seven on 3-of-5 shooting while Maniscalco added six points on a pair of 3-pointers and had a game-high four assists. A total of 11 UI players entered the scoring column in the brief scrimmage, with Leonard, Nnanna Egwu and Tyler Griffey registering four points apiece, Brandon Paul adding three, and Bertrand, Crandall Head, Tracy Abrams and Mike Shaw all adding two.
Again, we’ve got a new Illini taking over with Richardson, who scored zero point in Tuesday’s game, making an impression with 11 points. Again, I’ve got no problem with someone new being a star in each game, but there needs to be some consistency. That’s where the Illini failed last year and really the year before. Let’s hope these games are really sinking in as a lesson to the young team. However, of course I’m happy for a solid win! Especially since even though this was a scrimmage, it was a game against another college team rather than a national team. Sounds like the Illini really showed up to play, as they should in every game – scrimmage or regulation.
No real stinker award today, which is a definite improvement.
Illinois travels to Como on Thursday and will face Castellanze Select at Noon Central Time.
Illinois fell to the New Zealand National Team in overtime Tuesday night, 85-84. The was the second game of the team’s whirlwind Italy Tour.
The game was exteremely competitive, with 22 lead changes and 13 ties. New Zealand eventually prevailed after scoring on an offensive rebound with 2.8 seconds left in overtime. Prior to the game-winning putback, Brandon Paul had put the Illini on top by landing a driving bank shot in traffic with 9.7 seconds left. Paul’s basket capped a rally that brought the Illini back from a 4-point deficit with less than two minutes remaining. Too bad it just wasn’t enough.
The Illini made a similar comeback at the end of regulation. Trailing 73-69 with 45 seconds left, Illinois forced the extra period after scoring on each of its last two possessions and harassing its opponent into a pair of turnovers. Sam Maniscalco hit two free throws with :28 left to bring the Illini within two, then the defense forced a 5-second call on New Zealand’s inbounds pass to regain possession. Paul drove to the basket and drew a foul, making both free throws to tie the game at 73-all with just 18 seconds left. New Zealand tried to play for the last shot and the win, but Meyers Leonard grabbed a steal just before time ran out.
While play was sloppy at times – the teams combined for 49 turnovers and 40 percent shooting – the intensity and physicality was palpable.
The competitiveness the Illini showed in making a number of comebacks down the stretch pleased Coach Bruce Weber and was just the type of challenge he expected his team would face against New Zealand’s national team, which will face Australia in September for 2012 Olympic qualifying.
Illinois continued to substitute players in waves and apply constant defensive pressure. That resulted in the Fighting Illini accumulating 21 steals and forcing 29 New Zealand turnovers. Those turnovers helped to offset New Zealand’s 52-39 advantage on the boards.
Paul led the Illini with 18 points. He hit just four field goals but made his way to the free throw line repeatedly, connecting on 9-of-13 from the stripe. Paul also had team highs of four steals and three assists while adding three rebounds. Maniscalco shot 5-of-8 from the field and tallied 14 points, while Tyler Griffey also reached double figures, adding 13 points.
Tracy Abrams had nine points, Leonard totaled seven, and Joseph Bertrand and Crandall Head added six apiece. Rounding out the scoring, Nnanna Egwu had five, Mike Shawscored four, and Myke Henry added two.
Egwu and Abrams led the Illini in rebounding, with five boards apiece. Maniscalco, Griffey, Shaw, Head and Bertrand added four rebounds each.
You can’t be too upset about this loss, seeing as how they were facing a country’s national team. However, close-call losses have been plaguing the Illini in the past couple of years, and I’d like to see Weber find an answer for this problem. Of course this game didn’t count and it’s better in Italy in the last second than fall in a game that actually counts, but I hope the guys learned from the result. It’s also nice to see that Paul decided to show up for the game, as both he and D.J. Richardson were virtually absent in the last Italian face-off.
Unfortunately, Richardson is the winner of the stinker award this time around (last game it went to Crandall Head), as he finished with 0 points on 0-7 shooting. His 5 turnovers matched Head’s previous outing. I see a similar pattern to last year in that the guys don’t want to all play well across the board. Stay tuned to see who wins the stinker award in the next game.
Illinois will visit the Aviano Air Base near Venice on Wednesday, where they will team up with West Virginia to hold a joint clinic for children of the troops and take turns scrimmaging against select military personnel. The visit will conclude with the Illini and Mountaineers facing each other in an exhibition scrimmage consisting of two 10-minute halves.
After spending two and a half days sightseeing throughout Rome, the Fighting Illini finally got down to business on the basketball court. Jetlag didn’t seem to be an issue, as they defeated Roma Selezione 78-68.
This was the first look that coaches (and fans who were able to make the trip- which is pretty hardcore I might had) got in terms of seeing the team play together as a whole. With seven new guys on the team, it’s understandable that the guys were a bit rusty and had to work to get into the groove and find some chemistry. It was in the third quarter (I guess overseas they play quarters?) that they got going and pulled away one and for all.
The starting lineup consisted of San Maniscalco, Crandall Head, Joseph Bertrand, Tyler Griffey and Nnanna Egwu. This isn’t necessarily what one would’ve expected in a starting lineup, as veterans Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson are noticeably absent from this list. However, the lineup was based on the players who won the most games in last Saturday’s scrimmage at the Assembly Hall. The overall plan was to distribute minutes, and in the end 11 players logged at least 13 minutes, with no one tipping over 21.
Neither team shot well, but Illinois was strong on defense with 13 steals, 22 forced turnovers and a rebounding dominance of 43-22. The Illini also had 20 offensive rebounds.
Bertrand led the team in scoring with 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting. He also had the most assists with five and grabbed four rebounds. Griffey had the most rebounds with 8, and also hit double with digits in shooting with 11 points. It’s good to see these guys doing well, but I can’t forget the fact that Bertrand was a standout before the season started last year, and then barely made an appearance once the season began. Griffey has some pressure on him to step up this year, so perhaps he is responding?
Freshmen Egwu and Tracy Abrams each had 8 points, while Ibby Djimde had 5. Upperclassmen Maniscalco, Richardson, Paul and Meyers Leonard each had 4, while Mike Shaw added just one. Shaw and Djimde were effective on the glass, with 6 and 5 boards respectively. Sadly, the real stinker of the game appears to be Head, who had 0 points and 5 turnovers in 15 minutes, with just one assist.
Next up, the Illini are heading out of Rome sunday morning and driving to Florence, where they will stay for two nights. Their next game is on Tuesday in Forli against the New Zealand National Team.
The Illini Athletic Department spent this past weekend honoring the greats of the basketball program. The attendees ranged from recent graduates Demetri McCamey and Mike Davis to great names of the past like Dee Brown and Deron Williams of the 2005 Final Four Team, and Kendall Gill from the 1989 Flyin’ Illini.
It was a great weekend for Illini basketball fans, even if the absence of air conditioning left the Assembly Hall hotter than the 90-degree weather outside. Regardless of the heat, the crowd was excited for the event and fans overflowed from the A and B section of the Hall.
The festivities on Saturday began with this year’s basketball team playing a scrimmage that served as their last practice before heading off to Italy. The scrimmage followed FIBA rules to prepare them for the trip, such as a 24-second shot clock and an 8-second time limit to get the ball over half court.
Each quarter acted as its own game and players rotated. Everyone looked sloppy at one point or another, but what can really expect from a scrimmage this early in the year? There were some promising moments, and one highlight was a follow-up dunk put in by Crandall Head after a Tyler Griffey miss. Head jumped over 7-foot Myers Leonard to make that dunk possible.
Another standout was incoming freshman Nnanna Egwu. He is 6’11 and 245 pounds, but can run the floor and beat his man out to follow through with a strong dunk. He isn’t the typical player that the Illini have had in the past few years, making him a welcome sight for Illini fans. Egwu led all scorers with 16 points in the scrimmage, while Joseph Bertrand had 12, and Head had 11 points.
The main event of the night was undoubtedly the Alumni game. First came the introductions of each of the alumni in attendance, and a few of them paused to say a few words. Most kept their time at the mic short and sweet, thanking the Illini fans for the fandom and support. Williams was welcomed with a standing ovation, and Gill had the most unique words giving a shot out to all of the 40-year-olds in attendance and got a good chuckle.
The Blue team’s big name players consisted of Gill, Williams, Brown, Brian Cook, Mike Tisdale, Briand Randle, and current assistant coach Jerrance Howard. The Blue team was coached by Kenny Battle and Levi Cobb. The White team’s big name players were James Augustine, Roger Powell, Cory Bradford, Robert Archibald, Demetri McCamey, Chester Frazier, and Jack Ingram. Lon Kruger, who coached the Illini from 1996-2000 and currently coaches Oklahoma, served as the coach for the White team.
The game was made up of four 8-minute quarters. The Blue team started strong with Gill scoring a quick 7 points and the team lead 14-0. However, McCamey broke that streak and put the White team on the board with a big 3. Williams originally told his honorary coaches Battle and Cobb that he did not want to come off the floor of the Assembly Hall once, but he sat to start the second quarter to give all the alumni a chance to be play at the Hall again.
At halftime, the 2001 and 2002 Big Ten Championship teams were honored and a highlight video was played that put a tear in many of the eyes in the audience and on the court. Bradford was choked up as he addressed the crowd and commented that to this day he is still great friends with many of these players.
To start the third quarter, the 2005 Final Four players Williams, Brown, Powell, Augustine, and Ingram took the floor together. Brown hit back-to-back threes, and the crowd responded with shouts of “Dee for three!” After the quarter ended, Brown addressed the crowd with a follow-up from Coach Bruce Weber, who once again thanked all the fans for coming out.
The alumni game ended with the Blue team winning, 70 to 64. Gill led all scorers with 13 points and 5 rebounds, and Williams ended up with 11 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. D-Will also had the highlight of the night when he bounce passed alley-oop to himself:
The event put on by the Athletic Department was a great experience for all who attended, giving them a chance to see their favorite players of all time. Fans were also treated to a glimpse of how next season’s team is shaping up. Here’s hoping that this event will be a staple for years to come in the Illini basketball program.
Watch more higlights of the game here:
Contributing writer Samantha Vanis is studying sports management at the University of Illinois. She is a member of the class of 2013.
Born and raised in Champaign, Ill., Zipporah Porton has been bleeding Orange & Blue her whole life. She currently lives in the Roscoe Village hood of Chicago with her Illini-loving man. Their dog Luther is proof that they live and breathe Illini.