CHAMPAIGN — The Kendrick Nunn who was playing less than eight minutes per game and averaging 3.0 points through six games wasn’t the player most had expected entering Illinois’ program after a storied career at Simeon.
The consensus Top 100 recruit wasn’t producing at a high-enough clip. A few folks, in a world expecting instant results all the time, were throwing around that dreaded “B” word early in his career: Bust.
The Kendrick Nunn wearing No. 25 for the Illini three months later, the one who’s averaging 13 points in four games as a starter, the newly minted Big Ten Freshman of the Week, that’s the four-star guard about whom people got excited when he committed in September 2012.
“It’s a great honor for him because he started out as the most highly acclaimed of the group, and he wasn’t playing as much early,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “I’m happy for him. It’s a heck of an honor after being that guy that wasn’t playing a whole lot to being the Freshman of the Week. I hope that speaks volumes about him and the other guys on the team about being poised and kind of sticking with it.”
Nunn picked up the honor from the league office Monday after tying his career high with 19 points in a win Wednesday at Minnesota in which he buried five three-pointers. He’s the first Illinois player to be named the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Week since the award was instituted during the 2010-11 season.
The Simeon product is the second Illini to be honored by the conference this season. Junior guard Rayvonte Rice twice has been named the Big Ten’s Player of the Week.
As a rule, when freshmen have success on a wide scale, most have to be reminded to keep doing the things that got them there, according to Groce. Illinois’ second-year coach isn’t too worried about Nunn swallowing the poison of success.
“He’s not a guy that loses his mind and gets self-absorbed in his success,” Groce said. “He just kind of plays. One of his gifts is he has amnesia in terms of what happened on the last play. He’s got that ability to kind of move on throughout the course of the game. I don’t expect this to be anything that changes that.”
When the Illini next take the court Wednesday against Nebraska at State Farm Center, he won’t catch the Huskers off guard. Nebraska coach Tim Miles became familiar with Nunn on the AAU circuit during the left-hander’s high school days and knew he’d be a factor at the collegiate level.
“Kendrick is a big-time player. He’s going to be a big-time player in this league. It’s just a matter of time for him to bust out. It just takes a period of acclimation,” Miles said. “Coach Groce, I thought, made a good move putting him in the starting lineup because it’s really allowed him to flourish. He was really a key to our game plan and will be again; there’s no doubt about it.”