MJ: Scrimmage storylines (w/video)

MJ: Scrimmage storylines (w/video)

Getting their day on court

Here are three things to keep an eye on at tonight’s Orange and Blue Scrimmage (7 p.m., State Farm Center, 1400-AM and online via Illinois All Access/BTDN), courtesy beat writer Marcus Jackson:


We’re talkin’ about practice
Most will term tonight’s Orange and Blue Scrimmage as a game, but not Illinois coach John Groce. As the great philosopher Allen Iverson once said: “We’re talking about practice, man.” And Illinois will treat tonight’s event as such with the Orange and Blue squads mixing and matching through four eight-minute sessions. The team will lift weights prior to the scrimmage and watch film beforehand, things they wouldn’t typically do on a regular game day. “It’s more of a day where we’re trying to get better,” Groce said. “I’m also anxious to gauge a little bit our conditioning level. We have yet to go three or four eight-minute scrimmages, so I’m anxious to see. We’re healthy right now, the Lord’s blessed us with that. We’ve got two teams of seven and we’ll see if guys can hold up for the duration.”

Strange venue
Not only does the former Assembly Hall go by a new name — State Farm Center, for those unfamiliar — but many of the players taking the floor for the first public performance by the 2013-14 squad are new to the place. Before Tuesday’s workout, the only time eight of the newcomers had ever been in the building with a basketball court set up was to watch an Illinois game from the stands. When Kendrick Nunn and Jon Ekey toured the building for their campus visits as recruits, it was set up for a concert. “It’s nice in here with the court down,” Ekey said. “It takes a little (getting used to). I tried to get in here early (Tuesday) and get some shots up. It’s a different background, it’s a little bit bigger, so there’s nothing directly behind the goal like there is at Ubben.”

Keeping it basic
Don’t expect to see a lot of secret plays or even a full representation of what Illinois will show on the court once the season begins on Nov. 8. They’re not going vanilla for the Orange and Blue Scrimmage to hide anything from rival spies. It’s just that with so many new players in the program, there hasn’t been enough of an opportunity through three weeks to implement enough of the systems at both ends of the floor — or simply how to sit on the bench — to show a whole lot. “We have to be basic right now, we haven’t mastered anything yet,” Groce said. “Yesterday I noticed (assistant coach) Dustin (Ford) spent about five minutes on the bench telling guys, ‘The 5 sits here. The 1 sits here. The 4 sits here.’ In some regards it’s like elementary school. You’re trying to pass kindergarten to get to first grade, first grade to get to second grade. That’s OK because it makes it fun, too. Challenging, but fun.”