Asmussen: Meacham showing he fits in
CHAMPAIGN – He put up 19 against Georgia Southern and 24 against Florida A&M. Still, some had their doubts about Trent Mea-cham's ability to play top-of-the-line basketball for Illinois.
In a six-point, three-turnover night, the former Centennial star proved he could play with the big guys. In the uniform of the big guys.
The statistics lie. At least in Meacham's case Tuesday. Playing against revitalized Maryland, which left the Assembly Hall 8-0 and looking like a sure bet for the NCAA field, Meacham was the best Illini guard on the court.
Never mind that he went 1 for 7 from the field. Doesn't mean anything. His points, which he will score plenty of, are a bonus. He's on the court to keep things moving smoothly. To make sure the ball goes from Point A to B to C without a bad shot in between.
He started the second half against undefeated Maryland. That's a sign of the faith the coaches have in Meacham. He'll get more important minutes in the coming months. And coming years.
"It was definitely fun playing in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, ESPN, we had the place going crazy," Meacham said. "It hurts to come away with a loss when we have our fans here."
He had a sure thing going at Dayton and pitched it to walk on at Illinois. Now on scholarship, it looks like Illinois got a bargain. Even when he misses 6 of 7 shots.
Meacham got some postgame words of approval from Maryland assistant Michael Adams. He knows a thing or two about playing guard, having spent 11 years in the NBA, most of them hoisting three-balls at a record pace.
"The fans love him, and he got the fans into it a little more when they were down," Adams said. "He did a solid job."
Meacham is becoming the basketball version of Illinois linebacker J Leman. Minus the tackling. Like Leman, Meacham is playing for the school he grew up rooting for. Unlike Leman, he took a one-year detour to the east.
His parents, Susan and Stu, watched Tuesday's game from the floor seats behind the north basket. Mom was nervous. Dad, not as much.
"To me, all that work that he did all through his young years, he's where he wanted to be," Stu Meacham said. "Now, I'm worried about my sixth-grader."
They are thrilled to see their son on the court, making a contribution.
"I think he settled down the team," Stu Meacham said. "I think he did a nice job. I think (Bruce Weber) had a lot of confidence in him. He took care of the ball and got everybody involved."
Meacham was on the court as Illinois rallied from a 15-point deficit in the first half.
Being the hometown guy isn't a problem for Meacham.
"I think he's handling it well," Stu Meacham said. "His teammates are helping him out. I think the fact that he got to play a lot of minutes early made a big difference. Playing 35, 40 minutes is a lot easier to get into the flow of the game than playing 10 or 15. I think he's going to be an asset to the team long-term."
"I love it," Trent Meacham said. "It's not weird at all. I've been coming to games here my whole life. I don't want to lose many more here."
Of course, Trent Meacham understands there's a difference between Florida A&M and Maryland. He gets that he had an important role in a big game.
"Basically, I just want to win," Meacham said. "Whatever I can do. Whether it's making plays. Whether it's scoring. Whether it's playing defense. Whatever I can do.
"Today, I didn't really score. But I felt I helped the team by hustling and playing 'D.' "
After a day off, the local guy will be back at work in Thursday's practice. His team's got its first long road trip Saturday to play Arizona in Phoenix.
He'll be the one diving on the floor, moving the ball, looking to pass first.
You can reach News-Gazette staff writer Bob Asmussen at 217-351-5233 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.