Illinios notebook: Who will be backup point guard?
He knew it's the burning issue with a team loaded with talent and expectations heading into the basketball season, so Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber was the first to bring it up. Who is the backup point guard?
"It's the million-dollar question,'' Weber said. "It's the first thing I asked the coaches (in a preseason meeting).''
Senior guard Demetri McCamey carried a big load last season. A first-team all-Big Ten pick last winter, McCamey led the Illini in scoring (15.1 points per game) and also led the Big Ten with 7.1 assists per game. He logged 34.5 minutes a game, in part because the Illini didn't have a solid backup.
With the transfer of Jeff Jordan to Central Florida, Weber looked at several options, but there's already a leading candidate:
-- Freshman forward Jereme Richmond, the state's reigning Mr. Basketball from Waukegan, is a multi-talented prospect who is the best bet to become the team's other point guard. The smooth 6-foot-7, 205-pounder possesses the intangibles like toughness, instincts and skills, and Richmond may develop into another Evan Turner style of point guard.
"I don't have a lot of moves, but coach can trust me making the right decisions, making the right reads on different plays,'' Richmond said. "I don't get the ball stolen, and he can trust me with the ball in my hands.
"Coach has Demetri and D.J. (Richardson) guard me, just to get my decision-making where it needs to be. I like the challenge. As long as (Weber) thinks I know the right plays, the proper spacing and where my teammates like the ball, he will trust me out there.''
-- Richardson wasn't comfortable as the backup last season, but he spent time during the summer break working on his ballhandling. Perhaps Richardson should take a hint, Weber said, from former Illini guard Jamar Smith, a hot shooter at Division II Southern Indiana the last two seasons. Smith learned there's not much interest from the NBA for 6-3 shooting guards.
"Through the whole summer, I was told I needed to develop my game into more of a point guard,'' Richardson said. "I started working on it. After Jamar came back from Boston (preseason camp), I saw how it was. I feel a lot more comfortable. I've been pushing the ball, and I haven't been scared to put the ball on the ground. It's going to be good for me with this team and good for me in the future.''
-- Redshirt freshman Joseph Bertrand began a crash course in the spring after the 6-5, 195-pounder bounced back from knee surgery that sidelined him a year ago, but Weber felt like Bertrand is more of a wing prospect, a defender and runner who can create on the fastbreak.
-- Sophomore guard Brandon Paul scored 42 points in the first two games last season, then saw his minutes dwindle when his scoring dried up. Maybe Weber's idea is Paul would be shooting less if he was trying to create for his teammates.
The orange and blue scrimmage is Sunday (4 p.m.) at Assembly Hall.
BASKETBALL: This is a story of center Mike Tisdale, forward Bill Cole and a Notorious Cardshark. Before the NCAA calls about a violation, Notorious Cardshark is a yearling under the care of Tisdale and Cole in a horse management class. The elective is part of the general studies hours needed by the seniors. Tisdale is nearly finished with hours needed for a degree in communication. Cole is an agricultural and consumer economics major.
The school's horse barn is just down the road from the Ubben Basketball Complex. While the farm manager is in charge of feeding and daily care, Tisdale and Cole work on training the the standardbred colt.
"We have to teach it to run, walk, walk it backwards,'' Tisdale said. "They put us together as partners. It's the biggest horse on the farm. They gave it to the biggest guys.''
Chicago De La Salle senior forward Mike Shaw will make an official visit this weekend, according to a tweet by Mike Irvin. Chicago Orr senior guard Mycheal Henry, who committed to Illinois during the summer, will also make his official visit. Chicago Bulls GM John Paxson attended the Illini practice Monday.
FOOTBALL: Illinois (3-3 overall, 1-2 in the Big Ten) is a 14-point favorite against visiting Indiana (4-2, 0-2) when the two teams meet Saturday (11 a.m., BTN). The key challenge for the Illini is stopping quarterback Ben Chappell, who leads the Big Ten with 1,858 yards passing. One of the final four quarterbacks in the nation to throw an interception this season, Chappell has 16 touchddowns and three interceptions.
"They throw the ball as well as anybody in the country,'' Illini defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said. "He's extremely accurate. Some of his throws are somewhat unconventional. When he throws fades, he's a back shoulder guy, which are impossible to defend. He doesn't make bad decision.''
Illinois' game against Purdue on Oct. 30 has been set for an 11 a.m. kickoff. ESPN or ESPN2 will televise, but the network designation won't be made until after games Saturday.
IN OTHER NEWS: Illinois moved up two spots to No. 6 in the volleyball coaches poll. The Illini (15-3, 7-1) share the league lead with Michigan. ... Illinois senior Scott Langley, the defending NCAA golf champ, will represent the U.S. and freshman Thomas Pieters will play for Belgium in the World Amateur Team Championships Oct. 28-31. The Illini leave Thursday for Buenos Aires, Argentina.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.