February 7, 2010

Close discusses Illinois matchup

MADISON - With its recent win over Michigan State, Illinois has made things very interesting in the Big Ten conference. Currently MSU holds the edge by one game in the standings over four other league teams. With Wisconsin and Illinois being two of those teams trying to reel in the Spartans, Tuesday's matchup is one of major importance.

At the conclusion of Sunday's practice BadgerBlitz.com was there to chat with assistant coach Gary Close. During the brief meeting with reporters, Close discussed the play of Demetri McCamey, how well Illinois is playing and provided a bit of an update on Jon Leuer.

The following is a question and answer with Close. Audio of the interview is linked at the end of the story.

You hear a lot of talk about the Kalin Lucas's, the Chris Kramer's and Robbie Hummel's, but McCamey is right up there and he kind of showed that last night.

Close: He's playing great. He's playing under control, he's shooting over 40 percent from three, he's finding people, he's a leader in the league in assists, he can score taking it to the hoop, he can shoot three's and he's very strong. He's playing really well. I think he accounts for almost half of their offense in terms of scoring and getting people open and finding people. There is not a guard in the league that is playing any better right now.

He makes a presence defensively, too. You can tell.

Close: Yup. He's strong, has quick hands and he's physical. They play defense a lot like Purdue does. They're physical and their guards are long and athletic. That's one reason that teams are not shooting very well from the outside against them.

Has his body control gotten better over the years?

Close: Oh yeah. He's very quick and he's low. He's explosive and has got all the dribbles. He's got a great crossover and he's got hesitation. You can tell he's played a lot and he just keeps getting better.

Is he maybe one of the strongest guards in the Big Ten?

Close: I don't think there is any doubt.

How formidable is that?

Close: Well he's just really strong with the ball. I mean he takes that thing in there and he just doesn't lose it. It helps him posting up and it helps him guarding people. That is one of his strengths. He's playing really well. He's a big reason why they're hot right now.

You see with your strong guards with Trevon Hughes and Jordan Taylor how they exert their will on people. I've got to believe McCamey does the same thing. That's should be a pretty good…

Close: Well just ask Michigan State. It happened to them last night (Saturday). He was dynamite. He's made big shots and he's made big plays. He's really good.

Everybody is better. Their freshmen are really playing like freshmen are they?

Close: Well D.J. Richardson has been a star for most of the year and he's knocking down shots. Brandon Paul gives them a great, long athlete off the bench. They inserted Tyler Griffey into the line up and haven't lose since they did. There is good chemistry there. Bill Cole kind of came out of nowhere. He didn't play much up to this year. Injuries have bothered him, but he's a good, active player around the ball a lot. He knocks down three's when he's got them. So they've got a lot of weapons.

When you look at the strength of Mike Davis and what Mike Tisdale can do, that's got to be one of the most unique matchups you've faced all year.

Close: They can score inside, they can score out, they can take it to the hoop and that's why they're shooting a real high percentage. They're shooting a high percentage from three, they're shooting a high percentage from two because they get some inside baskets. McCamey just finds people.

Can you talk about their improved defense? Is it just maybe more of a 40 minute type of focus now?

Close: I think any time you're incorporating younger players that's where they struggle the most is on the defensive end. You're playing Paul, you're playing Richardson, you're playing Cole and you're playing Griffey. Those four guys haven't played a lot so that's probably understandable how their defense might have lacked a little early. It's been more consistent now.

What kind of an advantage is it when Keaton Nankivil is making shots the way he has the past few games to pull their big men up and out of the lane which allows penetration for the guards?

Close: It helps. There's no question. If he can stretch defenses out, it's a positive. Just as if you got guys that can score inside, then they have to worry about that. Maybe some guys from the outside can get open. We like to play that way. We like to be able to score in a variety of ways and I think we've done a good job of finding the open guy and knocking down the shots that the defense gives us.

It seems Jon is progressing nicely for you guys. You spent a lot of time with him. Is he on track with what you've seen from him?

Close: He's able to do some conditioning things and a little bit of shooting. I know he's anxious to get going, but we're bringing him along slowly.

You don't want to rush him back in and have him do something that's really going to hurt himself, right?

Close: Yeah, you just got to listen to what the doctors are saying and follow their guidelines with what (the trainers) are doing with him. He's anxious to get going, but he's got to be smart about it.

Super bowl prediction?

Close: Eagles. (Laughing)

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