Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber likes to mold a team. That's one reason why he's so excited about working with a roster loaded with seven newcomers, including six freshmen. But there's one thing he doesn't like to do. That's coach attitude.
CHAMPAIGN -- Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber likes to mold a team.
That's one reason why he's so excited about working with a roster loaded with seven newcomers, including six freshmen. But there's one thing he doesn't like to do.
That's coach attitude.
"I don't think anyone does,'' he said, ''as a parent, teacher or a boss if you have to (do it) every day.''
Perhaps those freshmen don't know any better than to listen to Weber and his staff. Maybe the upperclassmen who want to take on a bigger role are intent on listening to Weber. If so, that's a turn in the right direction for a program that had trouble connecting with last year's senior class and touted freshman Jereme Richmond.
Demetri McCamey and Mike Davis were difficult for Weber to reach, before Davis proved to be the most consistent player last season while becoming the team MVP. Richmond became a nuisance, twice earning suspensions and sitting out the NCAA tournament because of one of them. He left the program last spring and found himself in jail by August on weapons and assault charges.
"We weren't really connecting as a team,'' said Illini junior guard D.J. Richardson. "We weren't locked in every game. Now that I'm an upperclassman and see the mistakes our upperclassmen made, Brandon and I are trying to correct that.''
With the Orange and Blue scrimmage Sunday (4 p.m.) at Assembly Hall serving as the first dress rehearsal, the Illini will unveil a young team built on athleticism and chemistry, said Weber and the Illini.
"We'll play hard, we'll listen to coach and we'll bring a lot of energy,'' said sophomore center Meyers Leonard.
That's likely a product of the competition for minutes. The lineup appears likely filled by guards Sam Maniscalco, D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul with Tyler Griffey and Leonard inside, yet there's little guaranteed this season.
"The desire to compete is good, so far,'' Weber said. "The thing you'll find from this team is they'll play hard. They know no other way.''
Stealing a line from Illini football coach Ron Zook during the spring Illini caravan swing through the state, Weber said his counterpart "always talked about player driven vs. coach driven. There's no secret why they're having success. You have guys like (quarterback Nathan) Scheelhaase, certain guys in the group. Even after losing three pretty high-profile guys (to the NFL), those guys felt like they had something to prove. That's what they're doing.''
Weber isn't the only one to see a big difference.
"We've got good chemistry,'' said assistant coach Jerrance Howard. "We haven't had that in a while, to be honest. These guys are close. That's a good feeling.''
The Illini have so many guys who play hard, overshadowing the need for more skill development. According to Weber, the Illini took more charges in the first four days of practice than all of last season's workouts combined.
"We'll make some mistakes as we go,'' he said. "I hope the intensity and relentlessness are things that carry us through early as we get to Christmas.
"I've talked about mastering the basics. Right now, the basics are taking care of the basketball, rebounding and becoming more mature as a group. We can overcome our flaws if we have a good attitude, good maturity and stay focused as a team. We have enough athleticism.''
Heading into the weekend scrimmage, Maniscalco gained confidence as a leader of a different roster, and Weber was looking to find a spot for Devin Langford, the native of Alabama who could play any position but center, Weber said. With freshman Tracy Abrams limited because of a hamstring injury, Langford was set to get more minutes at point guard this week.
Weber already called Langford the team's best passer.
NOTES: Seating to the scrimmage is general admission. The Illini will play four eight-minute quarters with a running clock likely in the last period. ... Weber pulled Maniscalco from practice early Sunday and kept him out of some drills Saturday to reduce the abuse on Maniscalco's painful left ankle.
John Supinie can be reached at JohnSupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnSupinie.