Illinois freshman could see big playing time if Pruitt can't start

John Supinie

Illinois freshman Mike Tisdale didn't wait long for his first big chance.

If Illinois senior center Shaun Pruitt can't start or his minutes diminish because of a sprained ankle when Illinois (5-2) hosts No. 22 Arizona (5-2) on Saturday (11 a.m., ESPN) at the United Center in Chicago, Tisdale's role increases less than a month into his career.

Pruitt suffered the ankle sprain during practice Sunday. He went through light shooting drills Monday, then improved to light jogging Tuesday before he was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday.

"It might end up being a gametime decision with how much progress he could make in the next couple days,'' said Illini coach Bruce Weber. "We'll see how much he can do. Pain tolerance is different for everybody. He lost a little mobility and jumping.

"A lot of times you can come back in three or four days. I don't think he'll be perfect for another week. At least he can be involved and help us minutes wise.''

Tisdale, the former star at Riverton High School, is a 7-foot-1, 225-pounder who first surprised coaches by his ability and work ethic this fall and eventually earned the backup center spot ahead of sophomore Brian Carlwell.

"I just talked to coach,'' Tisdale said before practice Thursday. "I don't know anything yet. We'll see how Shaun feels Saturday. I might get more minutes. I've tried to work hard to get where I'm at now. It's unfortunate with Shaun's ankle. With the hard work, it will pay off. Now I get my chance.''

Redshirt freshman Richard Semrau would become the backup center if Pruitt is unable to play, because Carlwell isn't expected to return until January from a sprained knee.

"If Shaun can give you a little time, we can rotate those guys,'' Weber said. "If he can't, you have to see. (Tisdale) is fine for 3 or 4 minutes, then you get him out for a little bit. The endurance and the pounding takes a toll on him.''

Tisdale is averaging 3.7 points, 1.6 rebounds and 11 minutes a game. His eight points against Weber State matched his season high set earlier against Arizona State. While Tisdale is expected to give up size and experience, his offensive game is developing nicely. He even threw down an old-school hook shot against Weber State that hints at Tisdale's offensive skill package.

"He's done a great job of listening, really picking up his role in the system,'' said senior forward Brian Randle. "The coaches feel comfortable in him. We trust him.''

Arizona forwards Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill combine to average 29.8 points a game. The Wildcats list 6-11, 247-pound senior Kirk Walters as the starting center.

Semrau's 6 minutes played this season are better only than Carlwell's 5 minutes and walk-on Chris Hicks' 4. After showing promise early last season, Semrau midded the final 30 games because of surgery to remove an infection in his chest. He played 4 minutes against Weber State. While showing recent signs of improvement, Semrau also spent much at center. Semrau hasn't scored yet this season.

"The last couple weeks, Richard started to be a little more aggressive and trying to get more involved,'' Weber said. "With Carlwell going down, he got a little extra minutes in practice. He just has a tendency to try to do too much. He can't get it all connected. This might be his opportunity to get a chance to play, show a little bit and get some confidence.''

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. For more coverage, read Illini Talk blog at www.sj-r.com and www.pjstar.com.