Honk if you've seen this before. Illinois guard Brandon Paul goes off in the basketball season opener, scoring points in bunches and leading the Illini to a lopsided win. Even Paul admitted to a little deja vu. But as a sophomore after a summer of "lab'' work at the Ubben Basketball Complex, Paul is ready to contribute on nights when he can't find the basket with his shot, he said. If so, the Illini just might have found the backup point guard behind senior Demetri McCamey.
Honk if you've seen this before.
Illinois guard Brandon Paul goes off in the basketball season opener, scoring points in bunches and leading the Illini to a lopsided win. Even Paul admitted to a little deja vu.
But as a sophomore after a summer of "lab'' work at the Ubben Basketball Complex, Paul is ready to contribute on nights when he can't find the basket with his shot, he said. If so, the Illini just might have found the backup point guard behind senior Demetri McCamey.
"I bring a lot of things other than shooting,'' Paul said Tuesday, before the Illini hosts Toledo Wednesday in 2K Sports Classic action. "I don't want to rely on threes. I know I was hot (in the opener).''
Paul hit his first five 3-pointers, including threes on three consecutive Illinois possessions, and scored 18 points on 6-for-8 shooting from the 3-point line in the 79-65 win over California-Irvine Monday. If Paul can handle the ball, initiate offense and affect the game defensively, he could overcome any bad shooting nights. It's just one game, but it was a good start for Paul, who also had two assists, two steals, two rebounds and one block in 21 minutes.
Overshadowed by the hot shooting against Cal-Irvine, he also scored well on the Matto play hard chart, coach Bruce Weber said. That kind of versatility at both ends of the court can keep a guy on the floor, so Paul's frohawk might get plenty of prime time.
One NBA scout compared Paul's upside of Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook.
"He can dominate the game without scoring,'' Weber said, "by rebounding, defending, getting deflections and steals. Brandon had 12 on the play hard chart. Besides the 3-point shots, that's pretty good. That means he was very active. He can be a player that does a lot of versatile things that helps your team.''
An athletic freak, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Paul is a former Mr. Basketball from Gurnee Warren High School who scored 42 points in the first two games last season, then played his way to the bench when his shooting went bad. He averaged 7.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists while shooting 33.3 percent and 27.9 percent from the 3-point line.
"I went back to the lab and worked on a lot of things on my game,'' Paul said. "I worked on ballhandling, shooting, footwork, defense and intensity. I want to rebound more than I did last year. My goal is to get four steals per game. I want to stay consistent.''
Paul took a step forward, Weber said, after hitting jumpers on three consecutive possessions to give the Illini an early 17-5 lead. On the next possession, Paul pump faked, forced help with a dribble and fed forward Tyler Griffey for a basket in the paint. Paul also worked to eliminate a hitch in his shooting form .
"We've got to get him where he gets to the paint,'' Weber said. "He's got a nice pull-up. He's a pretty good passer. He's pretty good on ball screens. He's a little different than Demetri, who is a little quicker. Brandon is more deliberate, but he sees things sometimes when he goes slower.''
While Weber dropped hints about others, such as freshman Jereme Richmond, as a backup point guard, Paul handled the bulk of the duty in the exhibitions and the season opener.
McCamey nursed a sore hip after a collision with Meyers Leonard on the second day of practice, and he's just now getting the bruised and swollen hip back into shape, he said.
Paul and freshman Crandall Head are the best possibilities to rest McCamey, Weber said.
"Brandon is going to be a more conservative point guard, a solid guy,'' Weber said. "Crandall gives us that quickness and a zipper. If we get Demetri to play as hard as we want on defense, and maybe if we get a little more comfortable with Brandon and Crandall as the season goes, we can rest (McCamey). Demetri takes off on the defensive end. We demand so much of him (on offense).''
Scoring is nice, but the Illini demand more from Paul.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.
No. 13 Illinois (1-0) vs. Toledo (0-0)
7 p.m., Assembly Hall, Champaign (no TV, Illini Sports Network)
ILLINOIS (1-0) ppg rpg
F Mike Davis Sr. 6-9 11.0 8.0
F Bill Cole Sr. 6-9 4.0 5.0
C Mike Tisdale Sr. 7-1 12.0 8.0
G D.J. Richardson So. 6-3 8.0 1.0
G Demetri McCamey Sr. 6-3 13.0 4.0
TOLEDO (0-0) ppg rpg
F Justin Anyijong Sr. 6.9 9.4 5.3
C Delino Dear Fr. 6-9
G Zack Leahy Fr. 6-0
G Malcolm Griffin So. 6-4 7.1 3.2
G Reese Holliday Fr. 6-4
(NOTE: Toledo stats from last season, where available.)
Noteworthy: The game can be seen online at espn3.com. ... The contest is part of the 2k Sports Classic, but Illinois, Texas, Pittsburgh and Maryland advance to the semifinals in Madison Square Garden even no matter their records. ... Tod Kowalczyk, a former Marquette assistant under Tom Crean, coaches his first game at Toledo after posting a 136-112 mark in eight seasons at Wisconsin-Green Bay, including a pair of 44 wins over the last two seasons. He took over after Toledo fired former Illini guard Gene Cross, who posted an 11-53 record in two seasons. Toledo was 4-28 last season. ... The Rockets have lost 32 consecutive games on the road.
Key for Illini: Keep the intensity up for 40 minutes.
Key for Rockets: Work the set plays efficiently and make the Illini play defense.
Key quote: "I don't think we ever had that intensity and pride in fundamentals (on defense last year). Now, the key is can we bottle it? Can we keep bringing it to the table?'' -- Illinois coach Bruce Weber.
Prediction: Illinois 75, Toledo 59