The starting five went something like this: Warren Carter, Rich McBride, Shaun Pruitt, Chester Frazier and Brian Randle. My first concern was the health of Jamar Smith, who ESPN's analyst Jay Bilas calls one of the nation's best three-point shooters. "Right now I'm about 80% healthy. It's kind of a day-by-day thing. One day it feels good; the next day I can tell there's something there, but it's just something I'm just going to play through," said Smith.
Regarding starting, Smith feels no pressure about that limelight. "I think Coach Weber is trying to get Brian back into the swing of things. I mean he's our three man, Rich is our two guard and Chester is our point guard so I will just come off the bench." Usually one can tell if a player is being selfish or just saying the things I want to hear, but Smith is truly a team player and loves playing for Illinois. Over the years I've covered a number of players, and Smith ranks right up there as one of the classiest players around.
Smith's take on the health of current teammate Brian Randle: "He'll be good but he's just fresh out of surgery. He's playing way earlier than what he was supposed to. But I think his pain is more from being fatigued more than anything. As the season goes along he'll be fine," Smith added.
When I made the statement about being a "team" player, Smith didn't give me a chance to ask about, maybe the surprise player in all of college basketball - Warren Carter. "Warren is a big game player. I think he may not get the attention right now nationally because we're not ranked. I don't know if that's why, but he's a big game player. He's our go-to-guy. Every time we need a bucket he's our go-to-guy. If we need a big rebound or block he tries to go out there and get it for us. He's making a lot of big shots. When we played Arizona he came out ready to play and put us on his back," said Smith.
Tonight the Illini take on the Missouri Tigers. Smith is really looking forward to the game. "The only thing I'm going to say is this: it's going to be real competitive; it's going to be very exciting; and I can't wait to play."
Starting or not, Smith is extremely important to the success of this team but he's a team player and in today's world – that is hard to find.