Bill Cole came to Illinois from Peoria Richwoods High School ready to play. He understood the motion offense and the value of sharing with teammates. And he made some shots. Some thought he would be in the top 8 throughout the season before problems including a leg injury interrupted.
"I don't think I hit a physical wall. My injuries started and some other things. It was just real hard for me. And once I hit that injury, it was difficult to get back on the floor and play how I wanted to play."
The rail thin 6'-9" forward played in twelve games before finally calling an end to his season. His season was like a roller coaster before he finally had to let his body heal. He is ready to put last year behind him.
"Last year is over, and I'm glad it's over. I'm ready to start over this year. I had a tough time with the leg injury. It was kind of nagging me, and every time I tried to come back, it was just nagging me again. I took a couple months off after the season got over, so I'm now 100% and I'm real happy and ready to start the year."
While still slender at 215 pounds, Cole has added about 20 pounds since last year and is better able to withstand the battles around the boards. But he realizes his game is better suited on the perimeter.
"I wasn't really trying to go physical. That's not my strength, especially going against bigger guys. So I've got to use my strengths to my advantages. If they're physical and bigger than I am, I have to try to take them outside and maybe come off screens. Do something they're not very good at."
Bill is the consummate team player. He likes having no name on the back of his jersey, preferring the name "Illinois" on the front. He wants team success more than anything.
"I'm not worried about starting. I just want to get some wins on the board. Last year was disappointing because I feel like Coach Weber was always a winner. You came here and saw the tradition. Last year we had 19 losses. I'm just ready to start this season and win some games and not worry about playing or starting. If those things come, that's great. But I want to win games.
The Illini had some success in the Big Ten Tournamant last year, knocking off powerhouse Purdue in the process. Cole and his teammates have been dedicated to reversing last year's losing season ever since. The lack of national respect also spurs them on.
"I think it's a source of motivation. I think we'll be underestimated by a lot of people. Last season has to be a motivation for this season. We're all excited to get last season out of our minds."
Bill Cole was especially close with former Illini Jamar Smith, his former high school teammate who had to withdraw from school due to legal and personal issues. It was hard to say goodby to someone he loved.
"He was a personal really good friend. We played together for two years. It was hard for me. But I had to wish him the best and get on with the season."
Cole has missed a few days of practice and the Orange & Blue scrimmage while resting a turned ankle. He will likely be ready to practice again soon, and his presence gives Coach Bruce Weber an intriguing option for the season.
"Bill gives us a versatile 3-4," Weber describes. He's a three offensively and a 4 defensively just because of how long he is and maybe not how flexible he is. He has a good feel for the game.
"I think he was a little bit overwhelmed last year as we got into it school wise, basketball wise, strength wise, and it just kind of took a toll. The injuries obviously didn't help. He can be a factor, there's no doubt. He gives us another versatile guy."