Illini's Paul embraced under Groce's new system

925329.png

Illini's Paul embraced under Groce's new system

ROSEMONT Brandon Paul displayed his star power last January, when he dropped a career-high 43 points in Illinois upset of fifth-ranked Ohio State.

It was the third-highest point total in Illini history, tied for the fifth-highest total in the NCAA last season and was the highest total in a Big Ten game since Glenn Robinson tallied 49 in 1994.

Then things went downhill. The Illini lost 12 of their final 14 games, finishing 17-15 and failing to reach the postseason. Paul was unable to score in double digits in three of his final six games, coming up with only four points against Iowa in the Big Ten tournament. He finished 13th among conference scoring leaders at 14.7 points per game.

Entering a new season with a new coach, the Illini and Paul are aiming for consistency. Sometimes, its showing up both halves, Paul said at Thursdays Big Ten Media Day at Hyatt Regency OHare. I dont want to have a good half and come out next half and not take advantage of that and play harder. As a team, we want to play all 40 minutes. We cant just play 35. We want to control games and we want teams to come in thinking we
have to have conditioned guys and subs. Were hoping to create mismatches.

Paul said the Illini struggled to keep their focus and close out games last season. Senior guard D.J. Richardson said its up to him and Paul to keep the team focused and maintain chemistry. We both had an up-and-down year, Richardson said. Just him personally, we need him to stay consistent. Hell be running a lot of point guard. We need to him take control of the team.

Besides playing shooting guard, Paul will help handle point guard duties for an up-tempo offense implemented by former Ohio coach John Groce, who was hired in March to replace the fired Bruce Weber. As a backup point guard in the past, Paul is looking forward to the role. He said his ballhandling has improved each season. I like that the balls in my hands, he said. I like to make a decision with the ball. I feel Im a passer and I led the team in assists last year. Thats something I want to improve on, more assists and less turnovers.

Groce has been focusing on the mental side with Paul. He asks the senior guard: Who did you help today? He has shared the Pat Riley quote: Coaches will take consistency over greatness any day of the week. I think you do that by understanding every practice matters, every rep matters, every little thing that we do matters, Groce said. Thats how you become more consistent at what you do, and hes embraced that.

In the new system, Groce doesnt want to deter Paul from shooting. He can score more than 40 points a game against a high-ranked opponent, after all. Brandon is a terrific scorer, so the last thing I want to do is put shackles on him, Groce said. Hes got to take plays for us. Hes listened. Hes done a good job. I want him to be aggressive and I want him to attack.

Reliving hilarious Jimmy Butler moments

Reliving hilarious Jimmy Butler moments

Although he had that killer mentality on the floor, Jimmy Butler knew how to provide lighthearted entertainment off of it. 

During his six years with the Bulls, the three-time All-Star made us laugh on a number of occasions.

From his exchanges with CSN Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill to his postgame eye patch interview, Butler's colorful personality will be sorely missed.

Watch the video above as we compiled some of his most hilarious moments.

Cubs hopeful Kyle Hendricks returns before All-Star break

Cubs hopeful Kyle Hendricks returns before All-Star break

MIAMI – The Cubs are hopeful Kyle Hendricks could return before the All-Star break and stabilize a rotation that misses his overall consistency and the unique stuff that made him a National League Cy Young Award finalist last season.

A healthy Hendricks is critical to any second-half surge the Cubs are hoping for now, and so much of his game revolves around feel and the ability to manipulate a baseball in different ways. The tendinitis in his right hand has subsided to the point where he can soon reboot his throwing program.

“He’s feeling good,” manager Joe Maddon said before Friday night’s game at Marlins Park. “He’s going to throw any moment now, tomorrow or the next day possibly. (Athletic trainer) PJ (Mainville) was very optimistic, and so was Kyle.”

The Cubs placed Hendricks on the disabled list retroactive to June 5 and needed at least two MRIs to get a better sense of the inflammation in a tendon on the back of his middle finger.

The year after leading the majors in ERA, Hendricks is 4-3 with a 4.09 ERA and getting an unplanned break after making seven playoff starts in 2015 and 2016 combined. The Cubs aren’t thinking conservatively and waiting until after the All-Star break.

“If he’s ready to go, go ahead,” Maddon said. “This is one of those things in the finger (where) you got to throw the ball and just feel a baseball. If he’s doing that, there’s no reason to hold him back.

“Whatever that pinching feeling was…as long as he’s good to go, I think it’s wise to just let him go and play.”