The basketball season for the Fighting Illini this year was amusing. It was definitely something we were not expecting.
There were times were they performed at their highest ability, and they had moments where they came crashing down.
It all came to and end with a loss to the Dayton Flyers in the quarterfinals of the NIT.
I have now started to get my mind set on what Illinois has coming in the future, and it is a future to look forward to.
From what I can analyze, we have a great future ahead of us. We keep a lot of experienced players and add plenty of talent with recruiting.
With all five starters returning and with the sixth ranked recruiting class coming in, Illinois has the potential to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
They will need to do specific things thoroughly to keep this dream alive. If they can execute these things they will be a threat to beat any team, anywhere, at anytime.
I will give you five things I believe Illinois needs to key in on to have a successful season next year!
Energy was something this team lacked enormously this year. They looked uninterested and unexcited, which lead to poor work ethic.
A classic example was against Dayton. They came out flat, and Dayton controlled them from beginning to end.
You would think with the possibility of getting to play at Madison Square Garden, they would come out ready to play and fight.
That was not the case though; Dayton controlled the tempo of the game the whole time and beat the Illini 77-71.
So, who is to blame for this?
The blame can be directed at both the coach and players.
It's the coach's duty to have the players ready for every single game. But it's the players duty to have the mindset that no game is a guaranteed victory, so effort and enthusiasm every practice and game is necessary.
From what I have seen so far this off-season, Bruce Weber and his players are determined to turn this dull attitude around.
When they had excitement and a strong work ethic this year they played at an extraordinary level. If they can do that on a consistent basis next year they will be an extremely dangerous team.
McCamey had a year full of ups and down. He had some terrific games and some games were he played horrible.
He was the sole-leader of this team. He was a main factor in keeping the Illini in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament birth.
He was a premiere player in the Big Ten. He was second in assists for college basketball, averaging 10.3 per game. He then was named First Team All-Big Ten.
Even though he was an outstanding player, he had flaws just like everyone else. He did some very unpleasant things that upset Illinois fans this year.
Here is one example of something disturbing McCamey did this year to stir up trouble:
As you can see, McCamey has some problems that he needs to clean up. Luckily, his stellar performance overshadowed his unappealing attitude.
If he can continue to 'dish the rock' and shoot the way he did this year, along with a change in his attitude, McCamey has the potential to be a top NBA prospect.
Illinois was full of young, prospering talent this year. A lot of them showed flashes throughout the year of what they are capable of.
Along with the players returning, Illinois will be adding three highly praised recruits: Jereme Richmond, Meyers Leonard, and Crandall Head.
That is the number six recruiting class in the country, via scout. It is something that all Illinois fans have been waiting in anticipation for. Well, we will finally get to see them in action next year.
So, how affective can these players be?
I think they can all play a key role next year in helping Illinois strive. They all have specific things they are good at executing.
Brandon Paul is primarily a shooting guard. He is extremely athletic and can do whatever the coach asks for. He is a great rebounded, defender, and can shoot when he needs to.
D.J. Richardson is another shooting guard. He was a starter throughout most of the season. His main asset to this team was shooting. When he gets hot, he's one of the best shooters on this team.
Tyler Griffey is a player a lot of people may not recognize. He plays the small forward/power forward position. He did not get to see much playing time this year but took full advantage of it when he did. His best game was against Ohio State where he dropped 13 points.
Jereme Richmond is the top prospect for Illinois' recruiting class. He is 6'8" and can play anywhere on the court. His favorite spot is small forward, but he can play shooting guard as well. He was invited to try out for the USA 18u Basketball Team. If he can build up some muscle, he will be a player to watch out for in the future.
Meyers Leonard is a seven-foot monster they have coming in. He is a better built version of Tisdale. He has a nice jumper but can also deliver down low. He is freakishly athletic for a kid seven feet tall. He was also invited to try out for the 18u USA Basketball Team, and has the potential to be a NBA prospect in the future according to many analysts.
Last but not least is Crandall Head. Many may recall his brother, Luther Head, who is now in the NBA. I do not know what to expect from him. He sat out his whole senior year with a torn ACL. I do know that he has had a great career besides up to that point though. Only time will tell how he will recover from his injury, but he could definitely be a surprise player.
Sometimes too much inexperience can plague teams. This Illinois team will have experienced players along with these young kids, so it will be interesting to see how they mesh.
One thing is for certain though, if the young players step up Illinois will be able to hang with the best.
A post presence was something that Illinois needed this year to stretch out the defense. When they did not involve the post in the game, the offense looked horrid.
Actually, it was difficult to tell if they were running an offense in the first place when they did not feed it down low.
The go-to-guy was Mike Tisdale. When he was getting touches in the paint Illinois' offense was unstoppable. There were several games where they did get him the ball continuously, and Illinois was victorious in all of them.
The game that sticks out to me the most was against Northwestern. He had 31 points, and Illinois won an OT thriller.
Mike Davis and Tyler Griffey were two other posts. These two will be battling it out during the off-season to determine who gets the starting spot at power forward.
The one thing that I did not like this year was how often the post players shot outside. They all have great outside shots, but they did not focus enough on getting in done inside.
I think that the addition of Meyers Leonard will help with this problem. He is a very highly touted center. He reminds me of Tyler Hansborough.
He is tall, strong, and loves to dunk the ball. He takes the ball up strong and goes through contact to get points for his team.
He will definitely add a new dimension to this team with his size and athletic ability. Check out this amazing dunk he threw down:
Now that is amazing for someone seven feet tall. Not only was the dunk impressive, but it's unbelievable that a 7' tall player can dribble that well.
If Tisdale, Davis, Griffey, and Leonard all work hard and hit the weight room, most teams will have trouble getting anything in the lane against them.
For so many years Illinois Basketball has been supported by one of the best students sections in college basketball.
The Orange Krush!
It has been extremely helpful to Illinois players. They are loyal, respectful fans that share a love for the game of basketball.
They understand that these basketball players are playing for them, so they went to help them by supporting them every single game.
They made Assembly Hall so respected it is now being called, 'The House of Paign.'
But things have really started to calm down there. They are missing the spark they used to have, and I know exactly what it is.
They are missing the all-great Chief Illiniwek.
Ever since the NCAA forced Illinois to remove him as their mascot, Assembly Hall has never been the same. His dancing at halftime kept everyone excited and wild.
Assembly Hall was a place where Illinois never lost at while they had Illiniwek. This year, they struggled a lot at home going 12-4. All four losses came in conference games which proved to be detrimental.
Things cannot continue to be this way at 'The Hall.' It's time for the Orange Krush to stand up and be the supporting cast Illinois Basketball needs.
If Illinois' Basketball program can get the support, along with the four other things I mentioned, they will have a dream season next year.