With last year’s leading scorer Rayvonte Rice out of eligibility and point guard Tracy Abrams lost to a season-ending injury for the second consecutive season, juniors Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn will once again be key players for Illinois in 2015-16. And while the points they produce will be key, so will the minutes they play.
Last season Hill and Nunn led the team in minutes played per game, with Hill averaging a team-high 30.6 mpg and Nunn not far off at 30.2 and it’s likely that they’ll meet (or exceed) those numbers this year. And when it comes to Hill, the Illinois coaching staff wants him to get ready for the upcoming workload by getting in a little more rest according to Marcus Jackson of the Champaign News-Gazette.
Hill’s had a busy summer, which included the team’s trip to Italy and time with USA Basketball in Colorado Springs, so the directive to spend some extra time on recovery is understandable. But given Hill’s work ethic, staying away has proven difficult for him even with the aid of the video game “Mario Party 2.”
The video game distraction is working, to a certain extent, but Hill still isn’t taking this time off very well. He’s itching to get back in the gym to get ready for what he hopes to be a big junior campaign.
“I kind of got yelled at by Coach Paris (Parham),” Hill said. “He yelled at me for working too much.”
The point of the Illinois coaches is for Hill to preserve his body now, so that he doesn’t wear down toward the end of the season. It’s a feeling, though, Hill said he has yet to experience in his collegiate career. As a freshman, he averaged 14 minutes per game and didn’t begin seeing major minutes until the final stretch of the season.
As was noted in the story it’s better to have to tell a player to dial things back than it is to have to light a fire under them to work harder. And that kind of work ethic can rub off on one’s teammates as well, which is key when considering the fact that of Illinois’ three scholarship seniors one (Abrams) is injured and two others (Khalid Lewis and Mike Thorne Jr.) weren’t even part of the program a season ago.
Hill can step forward as a leader for this group, both statistically and in the intangibles department, and that’s something that needs to happen if the Fighting Illini are to end their two-year NCAA tournament dry spell.