More than a decade ago, former Illinois basketball coach Lon Kruger made the United Center a home away from home. After the Illini split their first two games in the building on Chicago's near west side under Lou Henson, Kruger posted a 10-4 record there as Illini coach. A trip to the United Center became a December tradition, and Kruger led the Illini to two Big Ten Tournament title game appearances. It just might be a little strange for Kruger to head to the other bench when Illinois hosts Nevada-Las Vegas at the United Center next season. Illinois returns the date to the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas in the 2013-14 season.

More than a decade ago, former Illinois basketball coach Lon Kruger made the United Center a home away from home.

After the Illini split their first two games in the building on Chicago's near west side under Lou Henson, Kruger posted a 10-4 record there as Illini coach. A trip to the United Center became a December tradition, and Kruger led the Illini to two Big Ten Tournament title game appearances.

It just might be a little strange for Kruger to head to the other bench when Illinois hosts Nevada-Las Vegas at the United Center next season. Illinois returns the date to the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas in the 2013-14 season. Illinois doesn't have an opponent locked up for the United Center game in 2012-13.
No. 12 Illinois (10-1) meets Illinois-Chicago (4-7) there Saturday (1 p.m., BTN).

"I really appreciated all the people and the relationships in Illinois,'' Kruger said. "They were fantastic. Bruce (Weber) has it going in a really good way. It will be nice to see some old friends and learn a little about our team.''

Illinois has a 32-9 record in the building, thanks in part to a strong start by Kruger's teams. Kruger also guided the Rebels to two wins at the United Center in the NCAA Tournament in 2007. Kruger posted a 81-48 record in four seasons as Illinois coach. When he led the Illini to the Big Ten title in 1998, it was Illinois' first conference championship in 25 years.

He left for the job the with the Atlanta Hawks, then resurfaced at UNLV, where Kruger is 146-62 in his seventh season. The Rebels (9-2) are ranked No. 22.

"I enjoyed the NBA, except for the losing,'' Kruger said. "It's great in Vegas. They love their basketball with a passion, just like Illinois. It's all good.''

BIG TIME: Despite his numbers and importance to the Illini, senior point guard Demetri McCamey is "teetering'' on a breakthrough and a bigger name in the national media, Weber said. Considered Illinois' first All-America candidate since Dee Brown in 2006, McCamey would help himself by dominating some of these sleepy games in December.

"He needs to have a couple big games,'' Weber said. "That's one thing I mentioned after the Northern Colorado game. This isn't really a selfish statement. It's his kind of game to really step forward, get a triple-double. Demetri's personality is he just kind of goes and does his thing.

"When we struggled against Oakland, he takes us to the promised land. We jumped on his back.''

COMMITMENT: Huntsville (Ala.) Lee senior guard Devin Langford formally announced his verbal commitment to Illinois during a press conference Thursday. Langford picked Illinois over Georgia and Auburn. Other schools, such as Wake Forest and Georgetown, were also trying to get involved.
Illini recruiting ace Jerrance Howard was credited as the lead recruiter on the five-man recruiting class for next season that also included Chicago Mount Carmel point guard Tracy Abrams, Chicago St. Ignatius center Nnanna Egwu, Chicago Orr guard Mycheal Henry and Chicago De La Salle forward Mike Shaw.

ETC.: Illini freshman center Meyers Leonard practiced for the second consecutive day without a brace on his sprained left shoulder and appeared ready to play against UIC on Saturday. ... Illinois is the road team for the game against UIC.

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.