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Weber seeks spark for next year's team

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Illini's offense focused too often on Brown this season.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Its NCAA tournament run ended by Washington last weekend, Illinois is looking ahead to life without Dee Brown and James Augustine.

The Illini return 10 players next season and will bring in a couple of promising recruits, but replacing Brown's quickness and Augustine's rebounding and scoring consistency won't be easy.

The remaining Illini need to improve their skills on several levels, but their biggest need is someone who can create scoring chances, coach Bruce Weber said.

"I thought the thing that hurt us, and it was pretty obvious down the stretch, was just having somebody create," he said. "Whether they created for themselves or created for a teammate to get open, we didn't have that quite as much as we'd like."

Illinois had three of those "creators" during its Final Four run a year ago. Deron Williams, Luther Head and Brown created for themselves and each other and kept opposing defenses guessing, but teams were able to key on Brown more this season because other players weren't as adept at making creative plays.

Weber will be watching over the summer to see whether any of his returning players can develop that skill.

"I think Brian Randle has to improve his skill level to be able to do that. He has the athleticism to do it and we might have to get him in positions where he can do it around the basket a little more," Weber said. "I think Jamar Smith can get to that point."

Smith, who scored in double figures 10 times this season, told reporters after the 67-64 loss to Washington last Saturday that he will lean on Brown's and Augustine's legacy as he prepares for his sophomore season.

"They showed us the ropes. They showed everybody how to play, how to play hard," he said. "The biggest thing they did, they showed us how to be a family. Next year, everybody will go out there like we're a family."

Brown and Augustine will be replaced, numerically at least, by incoming freshmen Richard Semrau and Brian Carlwell, each expected to bring size and promise to the frontcourt. Transfer player Trent Meacham also becomes eligible, as does C.J. Jackson, who took a redshirt this season.

Only Brown, Augustine and Rich McBride averaged in double figures for the season, leaving Weber with an offensive void to fill. He plans to work on improving his team's fundamentals -- things like dribbling, passing and shooting -- when spring workouts begin next month, and he said the players' commitment to improvement over the summer "is going to be huge."

"When we get to the fall, if we have to start over again with skill development, it's just going to put us way behind," Weber said.

Randle, a co-captain with Brown and Augustine this season, averaged 8.5 points per game and will be a key player on next year's squad. Though a junior in eligibility, he will be in his fourth season with the team and -- along with seniors-to-be McBride, Warren Carter and Marcus Arnold -- will have to fill a major leadership role, Weber said.

"It's going to be important that they want more and they're hungry," Weber said. "The seniors are not real vocal guys. How they develop as leaders, how demanding they are, how hard they compete in the workouts and the practices will be key."

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