Five things basketball beat writer Marcus Jackson learned during Illinois’ third full week of practice
While the veterans are working on becoming vocal leaders on and off the court, a youngster could emerge as a guy the Illini can turn to in that category if needed. Freshman point guard Jaylon Tate, coach John Groce said, has natural leadership qualities. “I think Tate is really gifted with communication, so I’ve encouraged him to continue to communicate,” Groce said. “The other guys are starting to figure things out a little bit more each day. I think in order to communicate, you have to have a system of talk. You have to have a desire to speak, to open your mouth. The second thing is you’ve got to have meaningful communication. For some of the younger guys, as they start to learn more and start to grasp our system at both ends, they’ll be able to communicate in a meaningful way.”
Though Maverick Morgan struggled on the offensive end during Thursday’s Orange and Blue Scrimmage, don’t expect the freshman to let that performance kill his confidence. Junior big man Nnanna Egwu, who stood out Thursday, matches up with the 6-foot-10 freshman daily. “The one thing about Mav, he started out rough, but he picked it up overall and late in the game. That’s how he is,” Egwu said. “Nothing bothers him at all, no matter how bad things start off, he’s going to come back and keep attacking. He’s always aggressive; he’s not going to back off. That’s the one thing I like about him.” Morgan went 3 for 11 from the floor with three rebounds in the scrimmage, with the majority of his missed shots being blocked.
Illinois players better not find themselves loafing at the end of practices. One of the things that impressed the coaching staff after Thursday’s event at State Farm Center was the team’s fitness level in the last of the four eight-minute sessions. That showed the coaches the players are in good enough shape to grind things out. It also took away fatigue as an excuse. “It was better than I thought, and what that tells me is I’m not going to put up with them at the end of practice not pushing through things, because they did it today with people in the stands,” Groce said. “We’ve got to do that all the time. We’ve got to be more consistent.”
Get used to seeing 2015 guard Aaron Jordan in orange and blue. No, the Plainfield East product hasn’t made a commitment to Illinois, but he intends on being a regular at State Farm Center if his schedule allows. Like he did for the Illini Street Jam last month, Jordan showed up to the Orange and Blue Scrimmage wearing an Illinois pullover and orange shoes. “(Illinois) is close to home and I can get down here quick,” Jordan said. “Any time there’s something going on, I like to be down here.” The 6-foot-4 Jordan has also made recent visits to Indiana and Northwestern.
Kendrick Nunn can take a punch. Well, we don’t know that for sure, but we know he can take an accidental head butt from Joseph Bertrand. The two collided during Tuesday’s practice, resulting in stitches for both. Other than the cut above his left eye, Bertrand was OK. Nunn was cut on his left brow and suffered swelling that nearly shut his eye. He was limited Wednesday, but the swelling went down enough to allow him to fully participate in Thursday’s scrimmage. “It’s not really that bad,” Nunn said. His vision didn’t appear to be affected Thursday. The freshman guard went 2 for 3 from the floor, including a three-pointer with two assists and two rebounds in the scrimmage.