When you're coming off a trip to the final of the Big Ten
tournament, have all five starters back and add three McDonald's
All-America newcomers, it's hard not to have Champaign wishes and
caviar dreams. But expectations among Illinois fans are so
outrageously high--namely, that the Illini could be this year's
Ohio State and vault from the Big Ten cellar to the Final
Four--that coach Lon Kruger has to chuckle. "It's natural to think
about, but it's not realistic," he says. "Ohio State added a
fourth-year junior in Scoonie Penn, whereas Frank Williams hasn't
played a college game yet."
Williams, a master passer and penetrator from Peoria's Manual
High who beat out DePaul star Quentin Richardson for Illinois's
1998 Mr. Basketball award, is the newcomer everyone is buzzing
about. After sitting out last season as a partial qualifier,
Williams averaged 14.4 points a game during the Illini's 7-0
summer tour of Australia and brought to a quick end Kruger's
search for a playmaker. "From the first time I saw him in
practice, Frank was making moves I've never seen before," raves
6'11" forward Robert (Tiny) Archibald.
Yet Williams is merely one headliner on a team full of young
talent. Cory Bradford, last year's Big Ten freshman of the year,
will switch from the point to his natural shooting guard spot.
The Illini also have the conference's deepest frontcourt, where
Marcus Griffin, last year's top juco player, and 6'9" freshman
sensation Brian Cook join junior Sergio McClain and sophomore
Kruger may fret about Illinois's inexperience, but he has the
talent to avoid a repeat of last season's 14-18 showing. "A lot
hinges on Frank being able to step in quickly at the point," says
Kruger. "You don't want to put too much on the guy's shoulders,
but that's what we need to have happen."
POS. HT. CLASS KEY STAT
SF Brian Cook 6'9" Fr. 21.7 ppg*
PF Marcus Griffin 6'9" Jr. 20.8 ppg
C Damir Krupalija 6'9" So. 5.5 rpg
SG Cory Bradford 6'3" So. 15.4 ppg
PG Frank Williams 6'3" Fr. 24.0 ppg*
1998-99 record: 14-18 Final rank (coaches' poll): unranked
Returning starter *As high school senior in '97-98
As junior college soph.