On Oct. 14, college basketball officially starts with midnight madness, those practice sessions held late on a Friday night to get the players and college students excited. They’re more of a show than a practice, more of a recruiting tool than a real step toward the first game of the season.
CHAMPAIGN — On Oct. 14, college basketball officially starts with midnight madness, those practice sessions held late on a Friday night to get the players and college students excited.
They’re more of a show than a practice, more of a recruiting tool than a real step toward the first game of the season.
But Lanphier High School sophomore Larry Austin Jr. and a group of talented prep stars will miss the action. They’d rather be sequestered in Colorado Springs at the USA Basketball development camp on Oct. 15-16. The team will continue preparations for the under-17 world championships next summer in Lithuania.
Austin started every game at point guard last summer when the United States won the FIBA Americas tournament in Mexico.
“I’ve still got to go out there and perform, have a good time and try out again,” said Austin, who is being recruited by Illinois and several other major programs. “They only pick 12 of us to go. Not everyone gets to go to Europe. I have to go out there and have a good weekend.”
The team will hold four practice sessions and also scrimmage, but the final roster won’t be chosen until next summer. Otherwise, players get to relax and bond — and talk about recruiting.
Austin isn’t the only player from Illinois getting recruited by the Illini. Chicago Simeon’s Jabari Parker and Kendrick Nunn, plus Chicago Whitney Young’s Jahlil Okafor and Paul White, will also attend the camp.
“You build relationships with a great group of guys on and off the court,” Austin said. “We talk about what schools have offered. We’re not looking at college right now, at least I’m not. I’m just enjoying the process.”
But that process gets put on hold for one weekend in Colorado.
“The USA camp is a big deal,” Austin said, “so I’ll be there.”
Sophomore point guard Johnnie Vassar, who attended the Illinois-Northwestern football game Saturday during an unofficial visit, is expected to return in two weeks for the game against Ohio State and the open basketball practice in Assembly Hall prior to Ohio State vs. Illinois.
The Illini have replaced midnight madness with an open practice this year for a change.
Evidently, the Illini coaching staff likes Vassar’s toughness and defense. Coach Bruce Weber wasn’t in town this weekend but made a recent visit to watch Vassar practice at La Lumiere School in LaPorte, Ind.
Purdue, Indiana, Northwestern, Louisville and Stanford have also shown early interest.
Although specifics won’t be finalized until later this week, expect the Illini open practice at Assembly Hall on Oct. 15 to run about 1 hour with an approximate starting time of 12:30 p.m.
The plan is to allow one hour between the end of basketball and the football kickoff at 2:30.
The top-ranked Illini defeated Indiana and No. 12 Purdue over the weekend, when the attendance surged following Illinois’ jump from No. 3 to No. 1 in the national rankings a week ago. Illinois (15-0 overall, 4-0 in Big Ten) remained the only undefeated team in the nation prior to a tough road swing at No. 24 Ohio State on Friday and No. 9 Penn State on Saturday.
Illinois averaged 3,436 fans during the two wins over the weekend, including a standing-room only crowd of 4,261 against Purdue.
“For people to believe that this sport has value is huge,” Illini coach Kevin Hambly said.
In other news
Midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo earned Big Ten women’s soccer co-offensive player of the week after totaling three goals in Illini wins over Indiana and Purdue. … In men’s golf, senior Luke Guthrie shot a 10-under par for 54 holes to win the D.A. Weibring Intercollegiate in Normal on Sunday. The Illini repeated as team champ by shooting even par, pulling away from runner-up Akron by 23 strokes. Meanwhile, the Illini women were fifth in a 16-team meet at Kentucky.
John Supinie can be reached at 217-377-1977 or Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnSupinie.