Point of emphasis: Te'Jon Lucas

Point of emphasis: Te'Jon Lucas

CHAMPAIGN — Illinois' coaching change created plenty of questions for the first season of the Brad Underwood era.

Namely, roster questions. As in, who might actually be on the roster?

That question compounded when Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett requested their release, and D.J. Williams and Jalen Coleman-Lands opted to transfer. Sandwiched in between was the addition of Mark Smith and Mark Alstork, with Greg Eboigbodin joining up afterward.

One other question has permeated the Illini fan base, raising some debate. Which of the returning players might benefit the most from Underwood's system and style of play?

Perhaps Michael Finke getting the chance to show off his passing skills in the high post and ability to stretch the floor offensively? One of the newcomers? Maybe Te'Jon Lucas?

Answers will begin to form today with the start of summer workouts.

"We had some team workouts, so we could get a little taste of the system," Lucas said about the team's spring with the new coaching staff. "I'm looking forward to starting (today) with the new system."

Underwood's system is defined by an uptempo offense looking to score in the first seven seconds of the shot clock and an aggressive brand of defense. Lucas has the quickness to run that offense — and the court vision to include others — and spearheaded Illinois' defensive efforts last season.

"I think Te'Jon could be very good in this system, the way he has a feel for the game and passes the ball so well," redshirt sophomore Kipper Nichols said. "He could excel."

"It's a fun way to play," Lucas added. "Who doesn't want their coach to tell them to get a good shot in seven seconds? I like what Coach Underwood does, I like what he says. I trust him, and I'm just ready to work."

Lucas played sparingly during the nonconference portion of the 2016-17 season. He drew three DNPs by mid-December and saw his best early stretch — double-digit minutes against West Virginia, Florida State and North Carolina State — followed by just 5 minutes against VCU in Miami.

The 6-foot point guard earned his first start on Jan. 25 in a home win against Iowa and stuck in the Illinois lineup the rest of the season. He averaged 4.8 points and 3.1 assists per game, but ranked in the top 10 in the Big Ten in assist rate and steal percentage.

Next for the Milwaukee, Wis., native is taking his scoring opportunities in the lane and at the rim and making more of them. Lucas didn't struggle in getting in position to score, but finishing was a concern.

"I want to be able to make sure I finish consistently around the rim and finish everywhere around the floor — twos and threes," Lucas said. "I want to be consistent. I don't want to be sub-par or have a good game here and there. I want to be solid and play my role."

Finding different ways to score at the rim is Lucas' summer focus. He learned during his freshman season it's different trying to finish around the basket against players like Minnesota's Reggie Lynch (the Big Ten's top shot blocker) or Central Florida's Tacko Fall (the tallest player in college basketball).

That's why Lucas has been spending time watching Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving and his dizzying array of runners, floaters and stepbacks.

"It's different type of angles, different type of shots," Lucas said. "It takes practice. If you want to be great, you've got to work at it. I feel like everybody wants to make the shots (Irving) takes. It's something I'm going to work on this summer."