CHAMPAIGN — Illinois fans might need a program to identify the members of the 2013-14 edition of the Fighting Illini men’s basketball team.
Head coach John Groce showcased his second squad on Thursday evening at the State Farm Center in the annual Orange and Blue Scrimmage, and judging by the quality of play on the floor, there is still quite a bit of work left to do.
The Blue squad defeated the Orange team 59-51 in a game that consisted of four eight minute quarters, and all players took turns playing on each team throughout the evening.
Nine new faces are on the Illini roster this season, including five freshmen, three transfers, and one that sat out last season after transferring into the program from another school.
That player, Rayvonte Rice, spent the 2012-13 season learning the offense and getting stronger physically.
Judging from the way Rice played in the scrimmage, that year on the sidelines was very beneficial. Rice scored 17 points on the night, shooting 6-of-8 from the field, and a perfect 4-of-4 from the free throw line.
“It felt good to get out there and show people how hard we have been working, and most of all, to get on the floor and compete,” Rice said after the game.
Junior Nnanna Egwu also scored 17 points and looks as if he has gained some strength in the post, something that he will need to do to compete in the rough and rugged Big Ten Conference.
“I obviously have a bigger role this year, and I need to take advantage of it,” Egwu said of his performance after the game.
Sophomore Mike LaTulip looks to be running the floor much better this season, and scored 15 points on the night, going 10-of-10 from the free throw line.
“With nine new guys on the roster, I feel like I am a veteran even though I am only a sophomore,” LaTulp said of the youth on the team. “I know how those guys are feeling being new to the program, because I was in that position last season.”
Jon Ekey, a transfer from Illinois State, scored six points on the night with both of his shots coming from long range. Ekey will fill the role that Tyler Griffey had last season and Ekey’s body style and shooting touch are reminiscent of Griffey as well.
True freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill both had impressive starts, each scoring six points. Maverick Morgan, who will spell Egwu at the center position, had a rough debut, but with some added practice, should be ready to go once the regular season begins.
Groce was impressed with what he saw, even though this was the first time that his team played in front of a crowd.
“I thought we did some good things, and I was especially pleased with the conditioning of the team,” Groce said of his team’s overall effort. “We still need to work on some things, and above all, we shared the ball and made some good decisions.”
The Fighting Illini will play the first of two exhibition games next Thursday, when they welcome Division II McKendree College to the State Farm Center. Game time is set for 7 p.m.
Jim Cotter is a freelance writer for the Commercial-News, and can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org