Illini Benefitting From Cole Transformation

Bill Cole (Holly Smith)

Some basketball bench warmers transfer to schools where they can get more playing time. Others use their status as motivation to improve. Fighting Illini junior wing Bill Cole may have found his niche, that of being an energy guy off the bench. He has gone from being a deep reserve to early substitute in just the last few weeks.

The odyssey of Bill Cole has been a unique one. The Illinois junior basketball player has spent two years in relative obscurity due to injury and learning a new position. The timing of the injuries was especially frustrating for him.

"The practice right before we went to Canada, I dislocated my shoulder. My freshman year I had a stress fracture in my shin in January I think. And then last year right before Orange/Blue I sprained my ankle real bad.

"It was pretty frustrating. The timing of those injuries, especially when you're trying to compete for a spot, that was hard. That's where you fight for a lot of minutes. It's tough to have an injury at that time."

The slender Cole has also needed to learn a new position. At 6'-8" he played center and power forward in high school, while at Illinois he has been moved to a wing. He is not as quick as most guards, so guarding the position is difficult. Shooting alone wasn't enough to get him in the lineup according to Illini coach Bruce Weber.

"He came in as a shooter, a forward that could go out and hit the threes. I said, 'Bill, I want you to make shots, but you have to give us something else where we feel good about you.' I think he took it as a challenge."

Cole is a high-energy guy, so he made the smart decision to take advantage of this asset when in the game.

"Yeah, I think my job is to play with some energy when I come in. That's what I've been trying to do, and it's working."

Weber elaborated on the role.

"He set for one of his goals to lead us on the Play Hard (Chart) per minute. He's close to that. His minutes playing, and what he gets done, diving on the floor and giving us energy. He's trying to give us some leadership. He's not a real vocal kid, but in his own quiet way he'll say the right things."

There aren't too many 6'-8" energy guys in college basketball. It took Cole awhile to adjust.

"Yeah, I had to adapt to it. That's probably one of the key things. That's probably why it took me awhile coming out of high school where I was more of a center or 4. They made the decision to switch me to a guard. So it took me awhile to bring energy from this position, but it paid off in the long run."

His intelligence and knowledge of team defensive concepts has helped him despite a lack of lateral quickness.

"He's definitely not a defensive stopper," Weber reminds. "But he's really been in good position and tried to take charges, get on the floor. He's also helped alot to keep rebounds alive. Somebody gets a rebound because Billy gets a hand on it. He's trying to crash."

Ironically, Cole has sacrificed offense for hustle, so now his shooting is off. But he may get more scoring chances once teams think he won't shoot. He hopes to be ready for those opportunities.

"Right, that's kind of what I've been thinking. We've got some guys shooting good percentage. When I go in there, it's not really my job to take shots. But if I'm open, I've got to knock it down. They haven't left me open yet, but when that happens I've got to be ready."

For sacrificing self for team, Cole has been named one of the Illini's captains. Weber explains.

"He's one guy that's done what we've asked. He's really made a difference, buying into the team. He's taken pride in it. He's kind of the captain of the bench, I guess. Bubba (Chisholm) gives us a great spirit lift on the bench, but he does all the little things coming off the bench. He's really taken it to heart."

Junior Mike Tisdale is happy to see his teammate and friend finally have some success and get recognition.

"I've always liked the way he plays. He always plays hard and gives everything he's got. Coach has seen that, and now he's getting some playing time. I'm really happy for him, and I've got to congratulate him."

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