The fourth player featured in the IlliniBoard.com Summer Series is junior center Shaun Pruitt. Pruitt came to Illinois in Bruce Weber’s first recruiting class at Illinois, but did not see much playing time until his sophomore season when he was Illinois’ starting center. Now with James Augustine’s graduation, how will Shaun Pruitt respond to being the man in the middle for the Fighting Illini?
Heading into the 2006-2007 season, it is not a foregone conclusion that Illinois’ best offensive weapons will be lining up on the perimeter like it has been for the last three seasons under Bruce Weber’s watch. Even with Jamar Smith and Rich McBride lining up on the perimeter, it can still be reasonably argued that Pruitt will be the Illini’s best and most effective scorer for the season if he is given enough touches in the Illinois offense.
With the change in team dynamics this year as compared to the past three, we need to look past what Bruce Weber has done in his three years at Illinois and look at how he coached when he was at Southern Illinois. Remember the Bruce Weber coached Southern Illinois Saluki team in 2001-2002 that was led by Jermaine Dearman, Rolan Roberts, and Kent Williams? Looking back at that team, while still taking into account the make up of the players on the current Illinois roster probably provides a more historically accurate look at how the 2006-2007 Fighting Illini will play on offense.
Yes, with Dearman and Roberts, Weber had two players on the block that could both score. Yes, this season the only proven big man scorer on the Fighting Illini is Shaun Pruitt. So, with Dearman and Roberts, Weber still ran much the same system on the interior with the rotating post. Dearman and Roberts combining to take 691 of Southern Illinois’ 2115 shots from the floor (32.7%) during the season, but a guard, Kent Williams, still lead the Salukis with 426 attempts from the floor (20.1% of SIU’s total team shots). Dearman and Roberts (and numerous post players from Purdue) have shown that in this offense, post players can score, but they have to be quick at establishing position.
But, the one thing that Shaun Pruitt is not, is quick. Pruitt’s knee problems kept him on the bench for half of the game last season, as well as slowed him down on both sides of the court. There is no doubt that the Illini will struggle to score next season, and one way to minimize those offensive struggles is to get the ball into the post more. To do that, the Illini offense will need to be slightly adjusted to give Pruitt more time to set up on the block, and not require him to step out as much and set high picks (something his agility and overall skill set are not suited for).
Once Pruitt gets the ball on the inside, he is a very adept scorer. Pruitt has a good collection of offensive moves in his arsenal and he is definitely not afraid to use them. His biggest struggle with the ball in the post though is that he is very turnover prone, and he is a terrible passer out of the post. In his career at Illinois, Shaun has fifteen total assists in two seasons (fifty-four games played). This season, Shaun will need to improve his passing and his ball control for the Illini offense to really succeed.
The Illini will not be able to open up the inside game with their outside shooting this year, so a heavy burden will lie on Shaun’s shoulders to open up the outside game with his interior scoring, and hopefully passing. If Shaun is able to draw a double team from opposing guards, he will need to find the open perimeter player for the open jump shot. If he is not capable of doing this, the Illini offense will struggle mightily to put points on the board.
With Illinois’ career leader in rebounding, James Augustine, graduating after last season, the rebounding load is going to fall somewhere. That somewhere is going to be on the shoulders of Shaun Pruitt. Through limited playing time in his freshman season, and then starter’s minutes last year, Pruitt displayed very promising rebounding skills. He had a nose for where the ball was coming off the rim, especially on the offensive end of the court (for his career he averages 4.34 offensive rebounds per forty minutes of playing time). Pruitt was no slouch on the defensive boards either. He used his size and good timing to pull down 6.18 rebounds per forty minutes of play last season. When the Illini go small with Brian Randle at the power forward position, the majority of the rebounding load will fall on Pruitt. He needs to continue his propensity for getting to the ball off the glass to stop opponents from getting second chance points.
One thing that I would like to see from Pruitt is a better job at finding the Illini point guard to key the Illini on the break. With a team that is bound to struggle offensively, Pruitt could become a key cog in the offense just by finding the outlet man and getting the Illini out and running. Last year, Pruitt was not good at finding the outlet man off a defensive rebound, but this year he needs to find the Illini point guard quickly as this team will need all the easy baskets it can get.
||Agility (Hampered by knee problems)
||Free Throw Shooting
||Passing out of the Post
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