Mike Tisdale has added 50 pounds and significant strength to his 7'-1" frame since he arrived on the Illinois campus out of rural Riverton. An excellent shooter and team player, Tisdale has needed to develop strength and confidence to play against top post players.
He is continuing to work on the strength, but his experiences with USA basketball this summer have definitely helped his confidence. Playing first in Las Vegas and more recently in New York against professional players has given him a needed ego boost.
"Yeah. It's gonna take strength adjustments, stuff like that. But it definitely gave me some confidence to know that I could be there. It was another experience to play against those guys. They're a pretty good group. Anytime I get to play against them is gonna help me out. So that was the main thing."
Tisdale has memories that will last a lifetime. He enjoyed playing against possibly the best team in the world.
"We played against them a couple times. We actually played against the Puerto Rican national team, just scrimmaging. Against a different team like that was fun. We played pretty well, so it was an exciting trip."
Does he now feel he has professional potential?
"It's gonna be a little tougher. Those guys are obviously good. I think with extra strength I can hold my own and compete."
Tisdale brought back a message for his teammates who want to play pro ball, one he learned the hard way this summer.
"Those guys are better, they're faster. That's what they (Illini teammates) are gonna have to be if they're gonna play at the next level. I was kind of letting them know there's more to basketball than what we have here. It gets tougher."
Unlike the tryouts in Las Vegas, Tisdale and his nine fellow collegians were there to prepare the USA team for its upcoming schedule. They had to learn a European style the USA expected to see from the opposition.
"This trip was definitely more business. Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) didn't want anybody in there media-wise. Other than the staff and the players, there was pretty much nobody else in the gym.
"They were preparing for the real deal, and we were trying to help them out as much as possible. Obviously they improved a lot, we improved some. It was still good competition."
Krzyzewski had little time for the scout team.
"He's still definitely the coach of the other team. We didn't get to interact with him as much as you'd think. He was with the NBA guys. But we did get to hang out with Jay Wright and them. It was a good trip."
The Illini play two games in Madison Square Garden early in the 2010-11 schedule. Tisdale, who stayed at the Intercontinental adjacent to the Waldorf, shared his thoughts on New York. The contrast with central Illinois was marked.
"It's definitely busy. All through the day everything's going on. The driving sucks. It took us a half hour to get two blocks, so it's definitely different there."
Tisdale was pleased to learn on his return that former Illini MVP Chester Frasier was named a grad assistant/video coordinator for the UI program.
"I'm excited. He's been around for me. We grew pretty close his senior year. I think it'll be good for the whole team, good motivation. And it will help me out with my confidence."
What does he bring to the team?
"A lot of things. He's a really good leader. He can help the younger guys as well as motivate the older guys. He's been through it all, he knows what he's talking about with his basketball experience. He'll help us overall. He'll help the coaches connect with the players and vice versa."
If Tisdale continues to work hard and improve his confidence will soar, his Illini will have more success, and he might just get that NBA opportunity.