If there has been any one player on the Fighting Illini for the past three years that was guaranteed to make Sports Center’s Top Ten at minimum of once every four games, it would be Brian Randle. He has dunked over three Penn State players at one time. He has famously posterized Indiana’s Marco Killingsworth. He does everything that Sports Center likes to highlight about basketball extremely well, and he is famous for it amongst Illini fans, just check out the IlliniBoard.com Hoops Fan Forum to see fans talking about his dunks (they are almost as famous as the mythical Rennie Clemons dunking on Shaquille O’Neal on the boards).
With the departure of his co-captains from a year ago (Dee Brown and James Augustine), Brian Randle will be looked at to provide leadership on a team that will be looking for its own identity in the post-Dee Brown era. Brian is just a junior eligibility-wise, but this is his fourth year with Illinois, and his first season as an Illini coinciding with Bruce Weber’s first season as Illinois’ head coach. Before last season Weber named Brian a co-captain with Illinois’ two seniors. Was Bruce trying to give confidence to a player whose confidence had been fragile during his freshman season and then had to watch Illinois’ run to the Final Four from the bench after punching a padded wall in Ubben before the season? Or did Bruce Weber see something in his small forward’s leadership qualities that made the decision to anoint him a team captain? Either way, Brian Randle is now the captain of the Illinois basketball team, and he will be looked at provide leadership on and off the court.
On the court, Brian Randle is a rarity in college basketball, a true small forward. Yes, he has definite flaws in his game that have held him back in the last two seasons, namely his extremely poor jump shot and his penchant for fouling the opposition, but he gives the Fighting Illini a look that not many teams have in college basketball on the wing.
When you look at Brian’s jump shot, it is not difficult to see why he struggles to shoot from the outside. The form on his jump shot is very flawed, but it has been getting better since his first days in Champaign. The minor tweaks that are happening, have helped him improve his shot, but it is still not what any one would consider good. This offseason Brian has been working on his jump shot, as he undoubtedly knows that with an improved jump shot, he can become one of Illinois’ most versatile offensive weapons. Without a jump shot that opposing defenders have to take seriously, Brian’s offense becomes a net negative for the Illini, despite everything else he does well on the court.
Outside of his jump shot, Brian’s offensive game is above average. After a freshman year where he turned the ball over too much, and found himself on the bench as the season waned down, there were questions as to how much he could handle the basketball. In his sophomore season, Brian increased how often he was used in the offense, while decreasing his turnover output by about one turnover per forty minutes and increasing his assists by about half an assist every forty minutes.
Offensively, the one thing Brian Randle did more than any other perimeter player last season was attack the rim. By attacking the rim, Randle forced teams to either let him get the easy lay up or (spectacular) dunk, or put him on the free throw line. Often times, teams would put Randle on the free throw line where he shot a paltry 59.3% (48-for-81). Yes, Brian’s free throw shooting was not the best, but his aggressiveness towards the basket is something that was severely lacking in Illinois’ offensive repertoire last season, and something that he should do more of this season. If Brian can get into the lane, he has the ability to be that triple threat: a passer, a mid-range scorer, or the guy that can get to the basket with ease.
Defensively, there is no one better on the Illinois roster than Brian Randle. He can guard almost any one on the court from the opposing point guard to their power forward, and definitely hold his own. Brian will be used this season in a bevy of different defensive roles as he will be Illinois’ swing man on defense. He will most likely draw the assignment of defending the opposing team’s best perimeter player (assuming he is not the same size as Drew Lavendar). While he will most often be seen defending the opposition’s best perimeter player, he will also have to draw the assignment of guarding a power forward when Illinois goes small with him at the four position.
The one flaw in Brian Randle’s defensive game is that he uses his hands way too much. During his freshman year, Randle was a hack, bottom line. He improved on that a lot last season, but there were still times when he was sitting next to the Illinois coaches during the first half just waiting for the first half clock to expire. While he only averaged 3.25 fouls per game, Randle lead the Illini in disqualifications last year with seven. This season he will need to continue his improvement on the defensive side of the court and hopefully lower his foul numbers even more.
Can This Season be Brian Randle’s Break-Out Season?
Someone on the 2006-2007 Illinois roster will have a break out season and play above every one’s reasonable expectations. Is that player going to be Rich McBride? Shaun Pruitt? Jamar Smith? Brian Randle? or will it be someone else?
For three years (two of those he was playing) Brian Randle was deferential to his teammates on the floor. This year has a definite chance at being the season Brian Randle steps out from underneath the shadows of his teammates and leads the Illini. His defense is stellar, and offensively if he can improve his jump shot to just adequate, he may be that small forward that is rarely seen in the game of college basketball.
||Shooting (Free Throw & Three Point)