C-U native Wallen dons new colors, brings cheering section

C-U native Wallen dons new colors, brings cheering section

CHAMPAIGN —Doug Wallen is counting on a fairly sizable group of fans at State Farm Center. Perhaps a little hometown edge instead of home court advantage for the former St. Thomas More and Champaign Central standout.  

The 7 p.m. tipoff in the exhibition game between Illinois and Wallen’s Illinois Wesleyan squad gives the 6-foot-5 wing a chance to live out a childhood dream of playing on Lou Henson Court. That he’ll have his own cheering section — rocking Illinois Wesleyan green and white — is a bonus.

“I know I have a couple buddies that go to U of I that are going to be wearing all green as well as my family and girlfriend,” Wallen said. “I’m excited to see that. Hopefully some friends I haven’t talked to that know the game is on the schedule will rep some green. Besides that, we’re ready to go and ready to showcase our talents.”

Wallen appeared in 15 games off the bench last season for Illinois Wesleyan as a true freshman.

The one-time Champaign-Urbana scoring leader — former Central teammate Tim Finke passed him last season — averaged just 1.3 points and 1.3 rebounds for the Titans as he made the transition from high school to college basketball in 2017-18.

That year was important to Wallen’s growth, though. More of a power forward in high school, Wallen shifted to the wing at Illinois Wesleyan. It was an entirely different skill set to hone.

“It was an adjustment, for sure, coming from high school where I was the go-to guy,” Wallen said, adding his freshman season humbled him as a basketball player. “I had to take a step back and see there’s some really good players at this school and I could learn a lot from them. That’s transformed me into a better player — into a Wesleyan player.”

Wallen’s focus this season is to continue improving his ball handling and wing-specific skills. His future at Illinois Wesleyan could include the occasional return to a small-ball 4, but he said Titans’ coach Ron Rose wants him to get down the basics of playing the wing first since he didn’t have that experience in high school.

What Wallen learned in his first season at Illinois Wesleyan is what he’s trying to pass on to fellow former area standout Cory Noe. The Mahomet-Seymour grad is a Titans’ freshman this year.

“It’s basically high school on steroids,” Wallen said. “The mental aspect is the biggest change. Obviously, there’s going to be people that are bigger, faster and stronger, but everybody is also a lot smarter. In high school, maybe you’ll have one or two guys on the team that are going to play after high school. Everyone in college is playing because they love it and want to keep on learning it.”

While Wallen has some individual growth in mind this season, he said the Titans feel like they have some unfinished business after bowing out in the first round of the Division III NCAA tournament last year. Getting a chance to show what they can do against Illinois is an opportunity the Titans are all excited for today.

“We’re ready to show maybe some people that don’t know what or who Wesleyan is about how we play and how we can compete,” Wallen said. “We have some really good players and good experience. We have four of the five starters returning and then everyone is obviously one year older, so we have a lot of experience.

“The first couple weeks of practice, we’re miles ahead of what they were last year in terms of everyone knowing the offense and having that team chemistry already down. Depth is going to be something big for us, too. We have a lot of guys that can come in and out, and I think everybody is just a little bit closer than they were last year, which is really huge.”