Basketball writer Paul Klee’s take on Friday’s NBA game between the Bulls and Cavaliers at the Assembly Hall (7 p.m. tip)
Outside expectations for Meyers Leonard (above) are too low. The former Illini is going to impact with the Trail Blazers sooner than most anticipate. His preseason debut against the Lakers showed a line (10 points, five rebounds, 18 minutes) and natural ability that promises earlier-than-expected success. New coach Terry Stotts also is known to allow freedom on offense and players to play through mistakes. Clearly, the Assembly Hall would prefer an Illini presence when it hosts NBA preseason games. Deron Williams was the big draw for Bulls-Jazz in 2008. It’s tougher, however, when the only NBA players are on either coast — Leonard in Portland, Williams in Brooklyn. Kevin Ullestad, the Assembly Hall director, said the arena would continue to pursue NBA games in the future.
John Groce’s Illini are scheduled to open practice at 5 p.m. today. Some players said they are hoping to make the second half of the Bulls-Cavs game. Although the game features seven players from the Chicago area, several Illini said their interest was in Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving. “That’s who I want to see,” Chicago Orr product Myke Henry said. Their sentiment would be different if Derrick Rose (above) was able to play. The Bulls haven’t set a date on when the former league MVP will return from a knee injury. Rose played in a 2008 preseason game at the Assembly Hall — his second as a professional — and scored 14 points in 23 minutes. “I think once he works on his shot and gets his shot, he’s going to be so tough to defend,” counterpart Deron Williams said then. So for now, Irving, the former No. 1 pick, highlights tonight’s exhibition — at least for the Illini.
Illini in the NBA
While Meyers Leonard and Deron Williams are the only former Illini guaranteed spots on NBA rosters this season, several players are working to add to that number. Demetri McCamey is in camp with the Rockets. McCamey didn’t play in their exhibition opener and faces an uphill battle with five lead guards on the training camp roster, including headliner Jeremy Lin and former Peoria star Shaun Livingston. McCamey said Thursday he might sign with the Rockets’ team in the NBA Development League. Jamar Smith (above) is in his second stint with the Celtics and enjoyed a promising run in the summer league. The shooting guard scored two points in 12 minutes in Boston’s exhibition opener. Brian Cook signed a make-good contract with the Wizards and didn’t play in their first preseason game.