Illinois began last season with high expectations, a national ranking, and a 10-1 start that seemed to signal that it might have been its year in the Big 10. Things didn't work out that way, as the Illini played unevenly in conference games and endured frustrations with senior Demetri McCamey along with the eventual departure of McDonald's All-American Jereme Richmond.
This preseason, the team is trying to wash away what happened last season and starting off by openly discussing what happened. Center Meyers Leonard, coming off his freshman season and a summer spent with the USA Under-19 team in Latvia, even pointed the finger at himself, according to ESPN Chicago.
Leonard's first season didn't go as he hoped on the court, and he admitted he often allowed his anger to boil over.
"I got frustrated last year some with myself, some with the coaches," Leonard said on Tuesday. "I would talk back. I was pretty immature to be honest."
From Gatehouse News Service:
"It trickles down a lot," junior guard D.J. Richardson said Tuesday. "It messes up the team. We had problems last year. We were still able to win games. We were inconsistent.
"You couldn't really sense it until you go back and look at it at the end of the season. We were trying to win games. At the end of the season, that’s when you noticed how many problems you really had."
Consider those comments good news for Illinois coach Bruce Weber since the first step to correcting a problem is recognizing there was one in the first place and not shying away from it.
Illinois has plenty of talent returning in Leonard, Richardson and guard Brandon Paul. The 7-foot Leonard compiled a 63 percent shooting percentage in nine games in Latvia and was under the watchful eye of Weber during the team's training camp in Colorado Springs as the coach was on the USA selection committee.
Now it'll be up to Weber to rebuild a team with more of a winning attitude. He'll get a head start on it as the Illini head to Italy in August for a preseason tour and some much-needed bonding time.
Thus far, the signs have been positive.
"I think this whole group is coachable," Weber told ESPN Chicago. "I think the other guys ... it was misconstrued they weren't coachable. I think they had limitations. They could only do so much with strength and physicality.
"I think maybe that extra discipline, that extra toughness, that extra work ethic, maybe they learn from the others. I tell them all the time to learn from past experiences, from others' experiences, their failures, so you can have success."