UI notes: Nunn in the house
Illinois recruiting target Kendrick Nunn attended Friday's season opener with his dad, Melvin. Nunn had microphones and voice recorders in his face prior to tipoff, but it's nothing he's not used to. His high school team, Simeon, hosted a media day earlier in the week and the turnout would rival that of most collegiate programs.
"There were a lot of people, everybody gave interviews," the 6-foot-3 shooting guard said. "It was a pretty cool day. "(Simeon coach Robert Smith) let us play around that day."
The Wolverines enter the season as the top-ranked team in the country. In addition to Nunn, a four-star recruit in the Class of 2013, they feature five-star forward Jabari Parker, another Illinois target.
Nunn, who lists Florida State, Providence, Memphis and DePaul as other programs he's hearing from, says he's taking his time making a decision after decommitting from Texas A&M.
"It's awesome to take visits to schools," he said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
Melvin Nunn says his son is enjoying the process and hasn't let all the attention get to him.
"He's a humble kid, he's just taking it all as it comes," said Melvin Nunn, who sported an Illinois baseball cap Friday. "He can pretty much handle it himself."
The Nunns have developed a close relationship with Illinois assistant coach Jerrance Howard.
"Coach Jerrance, he's real cool. We're like brothers," Kendrick Nunn said. "He tells me the fans are outstanding."
Said Melvin Nunn: "Me and Jerrance go way back to when he was at Kentucky. We're kind of like family right now, Illinois love."
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Looking at the stat sheet, Illinois' leading rebounder had seven boards. It's normally safe to assume that figure belongs to 7-foot-1 center Meyers Leonard, or fellow big men Mike Shaw and Nnanna Egwu. You don't assume it's Tracy Abrams, the 6-1 freshman point guard making his first career start.
"Sometimes big guys maybe get pushed out and still hold their block out and sometimes, maybe the guards don't crash and they'll get a loose rebound, whereas when we have guards that come in and help us rebound if we're holding our blockout and can't get to it," Leonard said. "It's nice, Brandon (Paul) is very athletic. He can rebound, Tracy can rebound. We have other guys, Myke Henry, he's a good rebounding guard. It definitely helps."
Abrams added eight points and two steals to go along with his seven boards and he's the first true freshman point guard to start an opener for Illinois since Dee Brown in 2002-03.
"I thought Tracy was very good, he really pushed the ball. He gave us great energy," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said.
It was the first time Weber started two true freshmen in an opener since Paul and D.J. Richardson did it in 2009-10.
"He's still learning," Paul said of Abrams. "Through the exhibition games you saw the talent that he has. He plays like a bulldog. He really hustles and he loves to guard."
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Has Leonard taken the next step to become a daily factor for Illinois?
It has appeared that way in practice — and teammates are taking notice.
Everybody knows Meyers is an X factor for us," senior Sam Maniscalco said. "He's had a really great focus about himself the last 7-10 days. He's really brought it on a daily basis."
To be considered one of the better centers in the Big Ten — let alone the country — the Robinson product will have to perform on a consistent basis. He's getting there.
"I hate to even say it, but he's made a big step in the last week or 10 days," Weber said.
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Friday's game against the Illini was the first of the Porter Moser era at Loyola. It's the third stop for the 43-year-old, who last coached at Illinois State. He was 51-69 in four seasons with the Redbirds from 2003 to '07 and went 54-34 in three seasons at Arkansas-Little Rock.
"He brings a lot of energy," said Loyola radio analyst Stephond Robinson, a member of the Ramblers' 1986 Sweet 16 team. "He's looking to recruit more guards, that's an area they've had some shortcomings."
Moser's tenure didn't get off to the smoothest of starts at Loyola. Former Indiana star Michael Lewis was hired away from Eastern Illinois as an assistant coach, but he left the Ramblers shortly after being hired to take a job on Brad Stevens' staff at Butler.
"Every administration and coaching staff has a coach that brings in his own staff," Robinson said. "There were some people he brought on that exited early. But the new group he's brought on, they've done a fine job."
It's a rebuilding year for the Ramblers, who were picked to finish near the bottom of the Horizon League.
"They're picked to finish eighth in the conference and if they finish somewhere in the middle, that'll be a good year for them," Robinson said.
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Moser had a point guard on his bench Friday with extensive experience at the Division I level, but he'll have to wait until next season to use him. Cully Payne, a former starter at Iowa, transferred to Loyola during the offseason but has to sit out the season per NCAA transfer rules.
"Porter is always talking about guards that can manage the shot clock well, those guards that can take the clock all the way down and create something in the last few seconds, and Cully Payne is one of those types of players," Robinson said.
Payne started all 32 games as a freshman at Iowa in 2009-10, averaging 8.7 points and a team-high 3.8 assists. He started the five games last year before sitting out the remainder of the season with a sports hernia.
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Why was Illinois Wolves director Mike Mullins smiling at tipoff?
He could have fielded a starting lineup with five of his alums in Friday's game.
There were five — count 'em, five — former Wolves players who took the court. The Illinois rotation featured Abrams, Joseph Bertrand, Egwu and Maniscalco. Joe Crisman represented Loyola.
"I'm hoping they're all on the court together (at some point)," Mullins said at tipoff.
Egwu's rise was most impressive. Roughly four years after he started playing basketball, the St. Ignatius grad was in the starting lineup for his first college game.
"I don't know how many guys could say that," Mullins said. "But it's not many."
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In addition to the Illinois Wolves flavor, there was some Chicago Mount Carmel connections, too. Abrams, the freshman who started at point guard for the Illini, prepped at the South Side Catholic school. Loyola sophomores Jonathan Gac and Bill Clark were teammates of Abrams in high school with the Caravan.