Illinois is hoping to see an improvement in chemistry, an issue that likely hurt them down the stretch last season when they failed to make the NCAA tournament after ending the season in blowout losses.
But according to a report from Marcus Jackson of the Champaign News-Gazette, the team has a renewed focus on cleaning up locker-room issues this offseason and the new freshmen also seemed to have acclimated nicely. Since a pair of shot-happy seniors in Rayvonte Rice and Ahmad Starks are gone from the program — as well as transfer guard Aaron Cosby at midseason — there are also more looks to go around on the offensive end.
Illinois head coach John Groce also had a colorful quote on how much this team has grown:
“I always use the quote ‘Some people learn by listening, some people learn by seeing, some people learn by peeing on the electric fence.’ I think some of those guys have peed a lot on the electric fence,” Groce said. “(They’re) starting to figure some things out, and they value what we want to be about more. And they should; they’ve been here two years now, a lot of them.”
With two senior guards in Tracy Abrams and Mike LaTulip and a junior class that returns Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate, Illinois has plenty of experience in the locker room this season.
When I attended the Big Ten tournament last season, I sat behind the Illinois bench and they looked completely disinterested in cheering for teammates or staying engaged in the game. The Illini were eliminated in a blowout loss to Michigan and later lost by 21 to Alabama in the NIT to end the 2014-15 season.