The next Lucas Johnson? Probably not, but Illinois junior forward Bill Cole shoots for more playing time by shooting less and bringing more energy and effort to the court. Kind of like the role Johnson played for the Illini earlier this decade, but without those little wrestling matches, the blood and finger-pointing (remember the scowl from Arizona's Lute Olson?).
The next Lucas Johnson?
Probably not, but Illinois junior forward Bill Cole shoots for more playing time by shooting less and bringing more energy and effort to the court. Kind of like the role Johnson played for the Illini earlier this decade, but without those little wrestling matches, the blood and finger-pointing (remember the scowl from Arizona's Lute Olson?).
"I loved to watch him play,'' Cole said. "He was always diving in the crowd, getting the crowd pumped up, always on the floor bleeding, hassling other players. I just liked watching him play. It would be funny to get one of those players on the team.
"I'm not sure if I can do Lucas Johnson's role as good as he does. I just try to go in there and play as hard as I can. That's the key for me in there.''
A former Peoria Richwoods High School star, Cole logged 12 minutes and became one of two key bench players in No. 20 Illinois' 78-64 victory over Wofford on Tuesday at Assembly Hall. The Illini (4-0) play Utah (2-2) in the Las Vegas Invitational on Friday (9:30 p.m., no TV), and Illinois coach Bruce Weber is still working on setting his rotation and determining the length of his bench.
Obviously, Cole made in impression. Only guard Jeff Jordan played more minutes (18) off the bench than Cole in the team's only competitive game so far this season.
"I talked to him last spring,'' Weber said. "There were a lot of rumors about him if he's going to stay or go. Billy has always been committed to us. He wanted to play like every young man. He got a chance at the end of last season when Chester (Frazier) went down. He got minutes and made some shots.
"I still told him that he's got to do other things to really help us. We've got shooters. We need somebody to do all the energy stuff. He latched onto that role. One of the things he talked to us about is being one of the leaders in the Matto (hustle) chart. He's convinced and knows that's his role.''
Cole had four points and one rebound against Wofford, hustling enough for an ovation in the second half. His layup broke a 50-50 tie and gave the Illini the lead for good in the second half. Cole also had a tip in during the 14-3 spurt that broke the game open. His dive for a loose ball at halfcourt had Johnson written all over it.
"The coaches see me bringing a lot of energy and kind of throwing the other team's sets off,'' Cole said. "That helps me stay in there in the long run.''
On the plus-minus chart, Cole scored a 14, Weber said.
"That's pretty good in (12) minutes,'' Weber said. "That's pretty good return. He did make a difference and got extra minutes.''
Now Weber's challenge is working a deep bench, something where he continually critiques himself. He's still learning about this roster, and only seven players logged more than 7 minutes against Wofford.
"Who can be with whom and have success,'' Weber said. “I want to get to eight or nine and a 10th guy who gives us solid minutes. We have to use the strengths of all of the guys.''
Illinois' first challenge in Las Vegas is Utah, who lost 77-74 to Seattle Tuesday. The Utes also lost 94-87 to Idaho in the season opener, and they defeated Utah State (68-67) and Southern (88-48).
Utah was picked to finish fourth in the Mountain West Conference, according to the preseason poll conducted by the league. The Utes return three starters from last year's team that finished 24-10, won a share of the Mountain West title and earned a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Utah lost to Arizona in the NCAA first round.
Utah coach Jim Boylen is a former assistant coach at Michigan State and in the NBA.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.