Just Getting Started

Just Getting Started

Learning lessons while having success -- Jaylon Tate is off to a good start.

CHAMPAIGN – A look comprised of poise, confidence and maturity, it can be easy to lose track that Jaylon Tate is still a freshman.

Until, that is, Illinois Coach John Groce finds another teaching moment and pulls the first-year player from Chicago in for a talk on the sideline.

Tate's picking up what Groce is putting down while succeeding on the basketball court. In Sunday's 86-62 win against Jacksonville State, he had 10 points, eight assists and only one turnover.

Many weren't sure what the former three-star recruit could provide this season and beyond. After two games, though, Tate has 10 assists to only one turnover.

"I think the one thing about him that you don't realize until you actually coach him is every day he focuses on getting better," Groce said. "He's a pro's pro, which is very rare for someone his age.

Groce said Tate has a mature approach. He watches film, practices hard and has the kind of winning mindset you're not sure about in a player until you actually see it on the court.

"I think what that does is allow him to improve at a very rapid rate," Groce said. "He's getting better everyday because of that."

In Sunday's game, the 6-foot-3, 160-pound Tate saw increased minutes with Tracy Abrams struggling early with shooting and foul trouble. His performance had Twitter buzzing as the 13,506 in attendance routinely gave him a loud cheer when he entered and exited the game. None of this is surprising to junior center Nnanna Egwu. He says Tate showed a high basketball IQ and a willingness to share the ball the moment he arrived in the summer.

"The one thing about him, he has a great attitude," Egwu said. "He wants to learn. He wants to get better. He wants everyone to get better. That's why he's so good and that's why he's so special."

Always looking to push the action, one play in particular excited both basketball purists and highlight seekers. Tate raced up the court and floated a perfectly placed lob to an already floating-in-midair Joe Bertrand that resulted in a lay-up and foul. According to Bertrand, Tate does that all the time in practice.

"He loves throwing lobs and he really pushes the ball," Bertrand said. "That really helps our team when we can get up the floor fast."

So Tate is well ahead of schedule and expectations. But he's far from reaching his ceiling. On a few occasions Sunday, Groce had to shout out at Tate and direct him where to go. And Groce wasn't happy when both Tate and Mike LaTulip failed to dive on a loose ball.

All in all, the good far outweighed the bad. Those teaching moments will pay off for a player just beginning his career.

"I feel like there's going to be more coming," Bertrand said.

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