CHAMPAIGN - Senior guard Brandon Paul served notice with his 43 point game against Ohio State -- when he's on, he can score at the rate of any player in the nation.
The team was riding high following that win over the Buckeyes, with a 15-3 record and sights set on winning the Big Ten.
From there, however, things went South. Paul led the team in scoring six more times, but the team managed only two wins to finish out the slate.
IlliniPlaybook caught up with Paul to discuss what he learned from last season, how he improved in spring and summer and what he thinks about this year's squad...
What did you specially work on this offseason to get better?
PAUL: “I mean, I’ve worked on a lot of things. Trying to just get my point guard skills better because I know they told me they want me to play a little more point guard than I have in the past, but that’s nothing new to me. I’ve been backup point since I was a freshman.”
I think my shot has been more consistent. Obviously I had a setback when I broke my jaw. I came right back. I’m back at my regular weight and 100 percent. I’m just waiting for the season to start.
Do you have personal goals for this season?
PAUL: “I haven’t really focused on personal goals so far. I’ve just really focused on my team goals. I think if the team does well that means along the way I’ll be doing well myself. I’m really looking forward to finishing out my senior season with a bang, you know, maybe put some banners up, get a Big Ten championship and get an NCAA, getting into the tournament.”
You’re the name player on this team. Does that change your role?
PAUL: “I think just the role hasn’t changed much. I kinda was that guy last year, but personally I feel like I should do everything within my power to help my team win games. I think ultimately that’s going to help myself and my future. My main thing is just to get the team better and get everybody on the same page, which I think has been coming along real well right now.”
Last year turnovers were an issue. How do you resolve that?
PAUL: “Yeah I think they’ll cut down this season just from me simply making the better decision to either hold the ball or make better passes. At the same time I think this system will help me limit those turnovers and just play a little more free.”
Is there a player you see breaking out this season?
PAUL: “You know it’s too close to call. I think Nnanna (Egwu) has gotten so much better, as well as Tracy (Abrams). Kids continue to surprise me.”
Talk about how the second half of last season went?
PAUL: “It was tough. Obviously it was a different experience for us. You know, we didn’t finish off the season the way we wanted to, but that’s all in the past. We’re really looking forward to this year.”
Is it exciting to have a fresh start?
PAUL: “Yeah, the system has been great for us. I think the type of players we have, it works well with their style of play. Every day we’re coming to get better and they’re getting better as well and getting to know each other more.”
This team’s toughness and will was called into question. Talk about the motivation for this year…
PAUL: “I think last year left a little bitter taste in our mouths, so I don’t think we want to go back to the way we felt last year with the way the season ended. I think everyone is a lot more motivated this year and everyone’s on the same page and everyone has been getting better every day.”
How do you develop that toughness?
PAUL: “Just come in every day, fighting and getting better. Whenever you see somebody getting tired or not putting in as much effort as we know they can, kind of call somebody out and just tell them, especially as seniors, this is it for us. We’ve got to go out with a bang.”
It doesn’t sound like there are any issues buying in to the new staff…
PAUL: “No, we love this coaching staff. Their system works with the type of players we have. They’re there to help us get better, not only as players but as young men. I think that always comes into play.”
You mentioned Tracy – in what ways has he gotten better?
PAUL: “I think he has more confience and he’s helping others out more. Whenever somebody’s not working as hard as they need to be, he’s kinda calling them out and telling them this is what we have to do to get better.”
And for yourself, how have you smoothed out issues with consistency?
PAUL: “I kind of just watched a lot of film and see where it was I made a lot of mistakes. The coaches did a great job of making clip tapes of myself and different areas of my game, so I had to take those back and started watching those in the summer. That’s been helping me along the way too.”
Do you kind of let the game come to you and see what’s there?
PAUL: “Yeah, I mean. This type of style of play you get a little more freedom. I think with that, the consistency is going to come along as well.”
As you look around the league, how do you see this team in comparison?
PAUL: “I think everyone in the league is going to be a contender and there’s not going to be one game off this season, but at the same time we have pretty much the same team back. Obviously we lost a great player in Meyers (Leonard), but everyone else is returning and we’re all hungry to get better.”