Illini Basketball Motto for This Year: Wait ‘Til Next Year?

This season, the University of Illinois basketball team will likely take the phrase so often uttered by their woolly neighbors just three hours to the north, “Wait ‘Til Next Year”, to a whole new level.

That’s because many Illini fans may have been saying it before this season even began. In case you hadn’t heard, 2009 is when Bruce Weber’s first crop of prize recruits since becoming the head coach of the Illini five years ago, start strolling into Chambana.

Four players, guards D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul, and Joseph Bertrand, along with forward Tyler Griffey are all ranked in the top 100 nationally and currently give the Illini the 8th-ranked recruiting class in the nation according to Rivals.com.

Throw in five-star verbal commitments from small forward Jereme Richmond and shooting guard Crandall Head for 2010 and all of a sudden the Illini, who started to take on the look of a mid-major program Weber supposedly left behind, might again start to resemble the national power we were hoping “Bail” Self was going to build before bolting for the only place where the Earth’s crust is flatter and more boring to look at than Central Illinois – that being Kansas.

Of course, this is all assuming that Kelvin Sampson doesn’t somehow worm his way back into college basketball and give all these guys’ fathers cushy jobs.

In any event, Illini fans still have to make it through this season. So what can be expected from a team that finished 13-18 (5-13 in the Big Ten) and lost two of its supposedly better players in bruiser Shaun Pruitt and the “Human Enigma” Brian Randle?

Well, probably not a whole lot, although Thursday night’s 69-63 win at Vanderbilt, an NCAA tournament team a season ago, offers some hope.

The main problem is, at least according to the hoops experts here at Grubb Hub – some of the finest in the world by the way – is that this year’s team will continue to rely heavily on seniors Trent Meacham and Chester Frazier in the backcourt, and that can’t be a good thing.

Both of these guys are marginal Division I players at best. On a good team, one that might make the NCAA tournament and have a chance to advance a round or two, Frazier would fill a backup point guard role, a guy who can come in for maybe 5-10 minutes a game and spell the starting point guard, play good defense, run the set offense, and pass the ball getting others involved.

Similarly, Meacham would be a three-point specialist on a better team, the kind of role filled by Sean Harrington during three NCAA tournament runs by the Illini.

Plain and simple, the more minutes these guys get, the worse off the Illini will be. Grubb Hub’s most optimistic hope coming into this season was that troubled guard Jamar Smith would come back and play like he did as a freshman, that University of Kentucky transfer Alex Legion, a 6-5 shooting guard, would be anywhere close to as good as advertised, and that freshman standout Demetri McCamey would establish himself as the clear starter at point guard and the go-to guy, leaving backup roles to Frazier and Meacham.

With Jamar Smith out of the picture, this idealistic hope is obviously no longer possible. However, if senior guard Calvin Brock’s level of dedication really has been holding him back – as has been reported in the media – we’d like to see him play while giving 100 percent because he’s shown himself to be a fairly gifted player both offensively and defensively.

All I know at this point is if Weber wants to use the games against scrub teams such as Eastern Washington and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi to make a point to McCamey by leaving him out of the starting five, fine. But when the Illini start playing real competition, McCamey better be in there starting and playing 30-plus minutes.

And Grubb Hub doesn’t give a flying rat turd who’s a senior and who’s a sophomore or whatever. All we care about is who is better. We have given Chester Frazier all the credit in the world for being a hustler and a scrapper, but let’s face it the talent just isn’t there. And Meacham is a good catch-and-shoot guy from the beyond the arc – and that’s pretty much it.

As for the frontcourt, at least the sophomore Mikes – Davis and Tisdale – have shown some real promise as well as the ability to actually make a free throw, which may or may not make them instantly better than the guys they replaced, the aforementioned Randle and Pruitt.

With all the promise of seasons to come contrasted with the present, “Wait ‘Til Next Year” might prove to be pretty tough to do.

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5 Responses to Illini Basketball Motto for This Year: Wait ‘Til Next Year?

  1. Gary Hall says:

    Interesting article, but if the first 4 games are any indication, “wait until this year” may be a better mantra. I am impreseed by the cohesiveness and hustle of this years team…not to mention they can shoot freethrows (Bill Cole does need some work there).
    Chester has had great games in the terms of overall performance…assists, rebounds, steals, points and most importantly, leadership. Trent has taken the ball to the hoop with authority and Demtri just needs consistency…and we haven’t even talked about AL yet! Mike davis appears to be the real thing too and Semrau is better than expectec]d. Granted, we haven’t played the stellar competition yet and there’s a long way to go…but this years team sure appears heads above what we saw last year. GO ILLINI!

  2. The artist formerly known as "The Rube" says:

    I won’t disagree with “wait ‘Til next year,” only with a twist. With Alex Legion becoming eligible at the end of the semester and probably getting really in the swing of things probably in early 2009, we could do very well assuming we can keep the chemistry thing right.

    I agree with everything Gary says as well. They’ve been a pleasant surprise and a welcome diversion to a hideous football season. Davis avergaing almost a double-double, McCamey finally playing like he should instead of pouting and readying himself for his NBA debut, Chet being a leader, Meacham finally fully healthy and our other bigs taking up space like they should. Its been fun to watch so far anyway. I’m not ready to crown them national champs by any stretch of the imagination. I would however, go in for a buck on them finishing in the top three or four in the Big Ten, instead of 6 or 7 like most “experts” thought. I think its very possible that Wisky and MSU both have some problems (did you watch MSU get their arses handed to them by an unranked Maryland team last night?). I never believe Wisky is a good as everyone says, ever.

    Add 6’10” 220# Meyers Leonard to that group with Richmond and Head as well. He’s the 7th ranked center in the country and will be a nice fill in as well with that class. Keep in mind also that 2011 is shaping up to be “the best recruiting class in the history of the state of Illinois,” according once again to the “experts.” Currently 3 of the top 6 kids in the country reside here in the Land of Lincoln (well actually Chicago), and they all “like Illinois.” Its crazy to think we could get all of them (There are actually two more that are in the top 25), but if we could land three of those kids that would be incredible. Remember these names:
    Wayne Blackshear 6’4″ #2 ranked SG Curie High School Chicago
    Mike Shaw 6’8″ #2 ranked PF De La Salle
    Sam Thompson 6’6″ SG Whitney Young
    Tracey Abrams 6’1″ PG Mt. Carmel

    Add to those kids two kids from Indiana who have at least some interest in Illinois,
    6’1″ Marques Teague #2 ranked PG from Pike, In.
    6’10” Michael Chandler #4 ranked C from Lawrence, In. (yes the same school Eric Gordon went to), if we could land three of these kids we’d have another top 5 recruiting class like we’ll have in 2010. Lots of “if’s” I realize, but its fun to talk about. Kind of like “what would you do if you won the lottery.”

  3. Grubb says:

    Looks like we got a few answers on Tuesday:

    1) I am fully ready to join the Mike Davis fan club. This kid is fun to watch. He is already everything Brian Randle should have been and then some. He is so athletic, and has a great touch on his shot from anywhere in the lane. And he makes free throws! A true godsend!

    2) While the Illini may not be world beaters this year, it’s a no-brainer to say that this team will be better than last year’s, plus much more enjoyable to watch in the process. I don’t see why they couldn’t finish .500 in the Big Ten.

    3) That said, what a disappointing loss on Tuesday. It was shocking to see that defense was the main culprit. It also seemed like the Illini gave up some crucial offensive rebounds. Some of these were due to the weird double-teaming going on in the post. A few times the Illini post defender left his man to kind of half-ass double team the other post player with the ball. This left his man wide open for a pass or to rebound a miss. Just seemed odd.

    4) Who was the annoying ass announcer that kept saying how McCamey was “strickly a jump shooter” and “cannot handle the ball or penetrate the lane off the dribble?” I think it was that stupid spikey-haired red-headed dude, whoever he was.

    Did this guy watch the 4 or 5 great drives to the hoop by McCamey against Vanderbilt? He is A POINT GUARD BY NATURE you stupid idiot. Spend less time gunking up your hair and more time doing research on the team you’re covering. (Actually, I am just jealous I can no longer gunk up my once beautiful red hair that is now dying.)

    Having said that, McCamey did nothing to shut him up against Clemson. I kept waiting for him to take it to the rim, but for some reason he did not.

  4. beals says:

    But Weber can’t recruit!! Can we please never mention Brian Randle’s name on here again? Thanks.

  5. The artist formerly known as "The Rube" says:

    McCamey didn’t take it to the rim because he couldn’t get around Stitt. That guy may be the quickest guy we’ll see short of MSU’s sophomore PG. I agree with Beals, Brian Randle and Shaun Pruitt should never again be mentioned here or anywhere else, where an Illini fan may be within ear or eye shot. Punishment can be up to and including removal of finger and toe nails with pliers or the snipping in half of teeth with Fingernail clippers!

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