MJ: On Meacham, Langford and Paul

MJ: On Meacham, Langford and Paul

On Sundays during the offseason, basketball beat writer Marcus Jackson weighs in on the sport he loves:

A year ago, Trent Meacham thought his professional basketball days were over. Having played three seasons in Austria, Germany and France, the Champaign native and former Illini decided with his wife Theresa that it was time to hang up the shoes and begin a normal life in the States.

A change of heart and an opportunity to play for JSF Nanterre in France led the Centennial grad back to the game — and he’s experienced a season to remember.

Nanterre, with the 6-foot-2 Meacham in the starting lineup, recently won a best-of-three semifinal series against Chalon in France’s ProA League and on Wednesday will begin a best-of-five championship series against Strasbourg.

“I was planning on being retired for good from professional basketball, so I didn’t even prepare much going into this year,” Meacham said. “I joined Nanterre a few games into the season. It took me a while to find my rhythm and establish my role on the team, but I feel like I’ve made some big strides throughout the year and have played some of the best basketball of my life.”

Meacham leads the team in scoring at 12.9 points per game, is shooting 43.8 percent from behind the three-point line and is averaging a team-best 3.1 assists.
“I’m having a lot of fun playing,” he said. “It was good for me to get away from the game for a little while. I appreciate this opportunity more now than I did in the past, and my passion for the game has been reignited.”

Meacham is one of four Americans on Nanterre’s roster, including former Ohio State star David Lighty.

“I have a great group of guys on my team this year as well, and that’s big because we spend so much time together,” Meacham said.

This is the first time the club has reached the postseason while playing in the first division in the ProA League, and the response from the fan base, Meacham said, has been overwhelming.

“It’s almost like they’re in disbelief that we’ve made it all the way to the finals,” he said. “It’s cool to be a part of something like this. It would be monumental for the club to win the championship.”

Nanterre is about 7 miles west of Paris. Meacham and his wife Theresa (Lisch), a former basketball star at Saint Louis, have taken advantage of the off days to explore the city.

“We’ve been really blessed to have found a church here, and we’ve met some great people there as well,” Meacham said.

Meacham said he and his wife will return to Illinois as soon as the season ends to spend time with family and friends. As far as his future, planning for that is on hold for now.

“I always feel like that stuff will take care of itself, and my focus is on winning the championship,” he said.

Former Rantoul star excelling overseas
In reaching the championship series, Meacham and his Nanterre team knocked off the league’s defending champion Chalon. Chalon is led by former Rantoul star Blake Schilb, a 6-7 swingman who starred collegiately at Loyola.

Schilb led Chalon in scoring (15.9), assists (5.2) and three-point shooting (38 percent) during the season.

“He’s had a very good career overseas,” Meacham said of the 2011-12 French ProA League MVP. “I’ve played against him dating back to my freshman year in high school. He’s one of those guys that makes the game look easy and can do a little bit of everything.”

Kentucky Wesleyan excited about Langford
When first-year Kentucky Wesleyan coach Happy Osborne was an assistant coach at Tennessee Tech, he developed a relationship with Huntsville (Ala.) Lee coach Greg Brown. Brown coached Devin Langford, who transferred out of the Illinois program in March, at Lee.

So when Osborne got the job at Kentucky Wesleyan five weeks ago, he heard from Brown, who told him Langford was on the market.

“I really have a lot of respect for his high school coach, and at our level you recruit high school, you recruit junior college and Division I transfers,” Osborne said. “He’s one of the better D-I transfers out there.”

Kentucky Wesleyan announced last week that Langford would continue his collegiate career at the Division II power. The Panthers have won eight NCAA championships, the last in 2001, and reached the title game in 2003.

 “Devin played for two great coaches in Coach (Bruce) Weber and Coach (John) Groce. We’re excited to have him. We think he can be a difference-maker at our level,” Osborne said.

The 6-7 Langford, who played in 22 games as a redshirt freshman last season, averaged 0.5 point in 4.3 minutes per game for the Illini. He will be eligible immediately after moving to a lower division and will have three years of eligibility remaining.

“I think Devin, at our level, is a mismatch problem. If you play him at the 3 he can post. If you play him at the 4 he can drive it,” Osborne said. “He’s got to work on his ball handling; he’s got to get his shoulders over the ball.

“But we just want him to cut loose and play with a lot of confidence and have fun and go play as hard as you can play.”

Camp season approaching
For once, Mark Morris won’t take orders from Groce.

During the John Groce basketball camps in June, the director of basketball operations, who serves as the camp director, will tell his boss what to do.

“Coach Groce is doing the parent-child camp with his son Conner, so I get to boss him around for once,” Morris said.

The parent-child camp, where the group of parents and their children play games against members of the Illinois team, is one of five camps Morris and the Illinois staff will oversee in June. A sixth camp, the junior high team camp, is July 12-14.

Groce and his staff, along with the Illinois players, all will be regulars at all the camps this summer.

“Coach will be in town this year, so he and the staff will be more present for all of it,” Morris said. “When the players aren’t in class, they’ll be there. They’re really good at all that stuff. They play one-on-one with the kids, and they’re helping them in drills and at stations.”

In addition to the parent-child camp (June 7-8, June 8-9) and the junior high team camp, Morris will oversee the day camp (June 10-12), senior high school team camp (June 14-16), individual camp (June 19-22, June 23-26) and practice camp (June 27).

“The individual camp, that’s all the meat and potatoes. That’s basketball all day every day; it’s hoops 24/7. That targets a very wide age range but probably the best as far as development,” Morris said. “The team camp is three days round-robin, and we’re going to have 65-plus teams in there. We’ve got teams from Wisconsin, Ohio, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois so far.”

For registration information and more details for each camp, visit www.fightingillini.com/camps or call 217-244-7278.

Brandon Paul putting his best foot forward
Former Illini Brandon Paul participated last week at the NBA combine in Chicago as one of 60 potential draftees invited to the event. Paul’s standing vertical jump (33.5 inches) and his max vertical (39.5) were among the best in the group of shooting guards.

After his performance in Chicago, Paul’s place in mock drafts hasn’t shifted much. He’s still projected to go anywhere from the end of the first round to the bottom of the second round. Some projections have the 6-4 shooting guard falling out of the draft.

Paul was one of 40 players invited to attend the Brooklyn Nets’ combine late last week, the NBA’s only sanctioned 5-on-5 predraft workouts. Personnel from all 30 NBA teams were in attendance to evaluate the prospects.

Paul also has workouts upcoming with the Spurs, Suns, Pistons, Bulls, Jazz, Clippers, Rockets and Knicks.

What’s happening outside Champaign-Urbana:

1 It’s been a remarkable two weeks for Bill Self’s program at Kansas. Last week, the Jayhawks pulled a bit of a recruiting stunner by landing swingman Andrew Wiggins, the top-rated player in the Class of 2013. Most figured Kentucky or Florida State were the two likely destinations for the Canadian, but Self rallied late. Wiggins took Kansas from a fringe Top 20 team to a legitimate Final Four contender. He’s that good and likely will be the top pick in next year’s NBA draft. This past week, Self added depth by beating out Duke and Oregon for Memphis fifth-year transfer Tarik Black, a 6-foot-9, 260-pound big man. What this means: Kansas will be really good. And the former Illini coach still can recruit.

2 Typically when the name Pearl is brought up — especially around these parts — good news doesn’t follow. And this time, though the family meant well and tried to draw a few laughs, problems arose for another institution’s compliance department. Steven Pearl, the son of former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, appears in a Tennessee radio commercial lauding his family’s penchant for throwing great backyard barbecues. You’ll remember in 2010 when the Vols were recruiting Aaron Craft the guard was photographed at a barbecue at Pearl’s house. He wasn’t supposed to be there, and it ultimately led to Pearl’s dismissal. In the spot, Steven Pearl quips that “absolutely no photography” is allowed and at the end says, “Offer not available to Aaron Craft.” It’s actually funny stuff, but Ohio State’s compliance office was forced to issue a cease-and-desist letter in order to protect Craft’s eligibility. The point guard will be eligible this season, in case you got a little bit hopeful.

3 Those wondering when Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski might retire shouldn’t expect any movement on that front until at least 2016. The all-time winningest coach in men’s college basketball is returning to coach Team USA in the 2016 Olympics. He said Friday on “The Dan Patrick Show” that as long as he’s the coach for the national team, he will remain at Duke. There was speculation his longtime Duke assistant, Chris Collins, was the heir apparent, even after Collins took the job at Northwestern last month. What that means, if Collins is next in line at Duke, is that he’ll be in Evanston for at least three seasons. The most likely scenario for the Blue Devils, however, would be for another longtime assistant and former Duke guard Steve Wojciechowski to replace Coach K, if and when he decides to call it quits.

— Marcus Jackson