Team Previews: Illinois State Redbirds
Intro - With the loss of four year star Osiris Eldridge, prize big man Dinma Odiakosa, starting guard Lloyd Phillips, and the surprising departure of key reserve Kellen Thornton you would think the Redbirds would begin a rebuilding year this season. However, though they look drastically different, this could be one of ISU’s better years with the talent they possess.
Returners - Jackie Carmichael showed the potential of a budding star last season. With the experienced talent lost from last year’s team expect him to be one of the go to scorers. He’s good with his back to the basket, is very physical, and can also score from the midrange area. Defenses have to honor his scoring ability which will make good for ISU’s perimeter shooters which includes, but is not limited to, Justin Clark and Alex Rubin. Clark didn’t have a very good freshman campaign but, hopefully, he’s gotten over his slump. He’s got the ability to be a darn good player in the Missouri Valley Conference as he combines good size, length, and a nice shooting touch. He can knock in 3′s but his midrange game is just as deadly if opponents crowd him. Alex Rubin is a steady guard that doesn’t do anything great but does a lot well. He is a vocal leader that will help the newcomers’ transition to the Division-I level. Senior guard Austin Hill set the tone for the Redbirds defensively in his first season and is expected to play a similar role this year. He can get to the basket on the offensive end but his energy is one of his main assets to the team. At the 4-spot Tony Lewis brings strength and power. He is a bruiser around the rim and finishes well. He can also step out and knock down jumpers. In addition he’s very good on the glass. He’ll bring a steady force on the interior.
Newcomers – John Wilkins is seen as the star of this recruiting class and for good reason. At 6-foot-9-inches he’s a very skilled perimeter oriented player that can also make things happen on the interior. After sitting out at Southeastern (IA) CC this past season he retains three years of eligibility with the Redbirds after sitting out his first five games of the coming season. John could turn out to be the biggest key for Coach Jank and company down the stretch as he has the potential to create big time mismatches in the Missouri Valley. He’s still getting adjusted defensively but he’s got natural ability on the offensive end and just knows how to score the rock. Junior college transfer Anthony Cousins isn’t as known as the other recruits around the Normal, Illinois campus but he could have a big impact as well. He’s a quick guard with good point guard skills and can shoot the ball with consistency from deep. He’s reminiscent of former Redbird combo Lloyd Phillips but his IQ seems to be stronger. Fellow junior college transfer Kenyon Smith is a proven winner. He’s won multiple high school state championships and was the unquestioned leader for last year’s Lincoln College team who won the Division II NJCAA national title. He’s an aggressive player that gets into his opponent defensively and, though he took a lot of shots at the junior college level, he’s very unselfish and will look to get his teammates involved. He’s got an edge and a toughness about him that will hopefully be passed on to the rest of his teammates. Fordham transfer Trey Blue is finally eligible. He may be the team’s most consistent shooter. He can knock it in from three and is a high IQ player. He plays at a slower pace but he’s a very quick and is a playmaker that sees the floor well. He’s also got good strength which will help him on both ends of the floor. He will be a big time contributor this coming year. DeKalb High School prodigy Jordan Threloff will back Carmichael up inside. He’s a tough kid and skilled around the rim. He’ll be a great reserve at the 5-spot. Redshirt freshman Jon Ekey is said to be very improved. He’s added strength and his confidence has risen tremendously after a productive summer and fall. With his size and his stroke he’s sure to see some minutes here and there. Fellow redshirt freshman Zeke Upshaw may have to wait a bit to see the floor but he’s got the potential to be a good player in the Redbirds’ system, especially defensively.
Outlook - Coach Jankovich has a schedule that steadily builds which should help the newcomers transition to this level. By Missouri Valley play they should have enough experience to be able to compete with the conference’s best. While they normally only goes about 8 deep look for the staff to extend their rotation as they are deeper than they previously have been.
PG – Cousins*, Smith*
SG – Rubin*, Hill*
SF – Wilkins*, Blue*, Clark*
PF – Lewis*, Ekey*, Upshaw
C – Carmichael*, Threloff*, Mishler
Players marked with asterisks are expected to see the majority of the minutes played