CHAMPAIGN — Mike LaTulip played last season at about 153 pounds. The sophomore walk-on guard looks noticeably bigger these days, having added muscle to his 6-foot-1 frame. LaTulip said he’s up to 173 pounds and dedicated himself to strengthening his body during the offseason in an effort to earn more playing time and to set an example for the newcomers.
“It’s just the way I’m wired, really. I try to bring that to the table with the guys, especially with nine newcomers, I tried to set a precedent that’s what we do around here; we work hard," he said. “All the veterans with Nnanna, Tracy, Ray and Joe, before the new guys came, we sat down and said we were going to go to work and show them what Illinois basketball was all about. It’s something I take pride in and something I was progressing at and there’s room for improvement.
“I felt like at 153 pounds, I wasn’t going to be able to sustain good time on the court at that weight. I made the commitment after the season to put on as much weight as possible without negatively impacting my game and it’s made a huge difference.”
With Ahmad Starks not eligible this season, LaTulip is in line to earn playing time at the point guard position, a spot coach John Groce said he’s still learning.
“He’s improved, his handle’s improved, he’s shooting the ball better. He’s done what you should do from one year in our program to the next,” Groce said.
Being labeled a walk-on hasn’t deterred the Arlington Heights native from doing whatever he can to crack the regular rotation and earn meaningful playing time. He played meaningful minutes early last season.
“I see the term ‘walk-on,’ it’s just a name to me. These guys treat me the same and I really feel like I’m a part of this team and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to help any way I can,” LaTulip said. “Most people look at me as a shooter, but I don’t think I’ve shown enough to the fans, they haven’t really seen me showcase my game. This year, given the opportunity, I can show not only can I show I can shoot the ball and score, I can show I can run the team a little bit.”