Fighting Illini guard Paul looks to increase his focus on the court
Freshman Brandon Paul could be special at Illinois. How special you ask?
Illinois Midnight Madness
Illinois is hosting Spike the Record at Illini Madness, a combined event of a women's volleyball match with the Illini facing Minnesota at 6:30 p.m., which will be followed by the men's and women's basketball teams taking the Assembly Hall floor. The event is trying to set the attendance record of a women's volleyball match held in conjunction with a special promotion. The record is held by North Carolina, which had 16,126 fans in 2003.
"When people want to know an example of someone who he's similar to, I always say Dwyane Wade," Illini coach Bruce Weber said. "He has that length, that ability to get to the hoop, get shots off. Again, that's a mouthful. That's one of the best players ever. When he goes, he has a chance."
Yep, that special.
The word "chance" is the key, though.
Paul, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, has dazzled his teammates and Weber at times during open gyms and workouts with his high-flying dunks, shooting range and all-around ability to fill up the net.
"He's an athletic freak," Illinois junior Demetri McCamey explained. "He dunked on [7-1 Mike] Tisdale, [6-10 Richard] Semrau and [6-10] Stan [Simpson] like they were 6-2, 6-3."
Then there have also been plenty of other times where Paul has disappeared in those same settings. Weber has yet to coach Paul in a true practice, but he's already found a way of being frustrated with him.
"He doesn't play as hard as we would like him to," Weber said. "I know it's something his parents have talked about. When he turns it on, like last year in the state tournament when he turned it on, I saw him get 28-30 points in the second half in a game they were in trouble. He just said, 'I'm not going to lose.' He has that ability. Hopefully he can take that another step.
"Potential is a dangerous word. You have to live up to it, but you have a guy with that athletic ability and body type. He's intelligent, too. He's got a lot of things going for him."
At Warren High School in Gurnee, Paul was unstoppable whenever he wanted to be. He had plenty of games like the Waukegan Sectional semifinal where he scored 24 of his game-high 32 points in the second half to lead his team to a comeback win. For the season, he averaged 19.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.0 steals and was voted 2009 Illinois Mr. Basketball.
What Paul is adjusting to is he no longer is that high school star who could get away with some things he once did.
"It's a lot faster paced," Paul said of college basketball. "You got to keep moving all the time. You can't stand around as I did in high school. [Coach has] talked to me. I feel sometimes I'm not as focused as I should be on the court. There are times where I don't get after it. I just need to push myself to the next level and compete."
Weber used as an example a story Matt Painter once told him.
"Matt Painter a long time ago when I recruited him, he said, 'I can shoot nine shots in high school and not make any, and my high school coach had to leave me in because I was the best player,'" Weber recounted. "'Now I make five out of the next six, now I'm shooting decent.' But in college, I can't let him miss nine shots to get going.
"There's days where [Paul's] the best player on our team. It's not even close. There are also days where, 'Hey, you got to get going.' He can get a shot off every time. He's that physical, his length and everything, but they're not always good shots. That's where he has to learn it's a little different than high school."
Paul knows his upside. Weber isn't the first person he has heard use Wade as a reference point. Wade is someone Paul has studied plenty.
"I love his game," Paul said. "He's a great slasher, he gets to the basket when he needs to, he shoots a jumper when he needs to. He's not afraid to play defense, too."
He was special.
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at email@example.com.