Kane, Higgs learning ropes; Fisher star added to roster

Kane, Higgs learning ropes; Fisher star added to roster

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CHAMPAIGN — Illinois got a one-hour team workout during the day on Monday. It was the 10th for the Illini since the team returned to campus late last month for the start of the school year with official practices

Assistant coach Orlando Antigua was headed back to Ubben Basketball Complex on Monday evening — after filling in for an under the weather Brad Underwood for a radio appearance on Monday Night Sports Talk — to work some more with Samba Kane. The freshman center wasn't on campus this summer, like fellow freshman Anthony Higgs, and is in catch up mode with the rest of his new teammates.

"Samba, he's learning a brand new language right now," Antigua said. "Not literally, but figuratively in what we ask for in a big — just the positioning, the level of quickness (and) the athleticism. He's working extremely hard. He's been like a sponge."

Antigua likes what Kane brings to the court. The 7-footer from Dakar, Senegela, via Denver and Melbourne, Fla., has some serious length with a 7-5 wingspan, runs the floor well and has good vertical lift off the floor.

"He's got to continue to get stronger and learn how to hit bodies and not just think because of his athleticism and how long he is that he's going to be able to rebound," Antigua said. "He can get away with that some, but consistently, as we prepare for those December (Big Ten) games, he's going to need to be able to use leverage as well."

Kane and Higgins are only part of a brand new frontcourt for Illinois heading into the 2018-19 season. The Illini also added another freshman in Giorgi Bezhanishvili, a graduate transfer in Adonis De La Rosa and recently added former Fisher standout and News-Gazette All-Area pick Zach Griffith as a sophomore walk-on.

"They're going to make mistakes early on, but we're simplifying things for them," Antigua said about his new big man group. "We've just got to get them in great shape, get them playing extremely hard and understanding that you rest when you're sitting down and not when you're on the court.

"That's always the biggest adjustment when you go from high school to college. The game is so much quicker and so much more athletic."

Antigua said the Illinois coaches have been able to install quite a bit of the offensive and defensive systems through 10 practices in the last month. But that's really only scratching the surface. That the players are in what Antigua called "phenomenal shape" has helped.

"What we're really happy about is how quickly they're developing individually and collectively," Antigua said. "They look great. We're in a great frame of mind and in really good shape at this point. Two of the MVPs so far this year I would have to say are (strength and conditioning coach) Adam Fletcher and (athletic trainer) Paul Schmidt.

"They're starting to get our guys healthy and in great physical shape. Right now the practices are an hour long to get them prepared for the 2 1 / 2- to 3-hour practices that are coming."