After four game suspension, the sophomore guard finally gets on the court.
After his teammates got a four-game head start, Illinois sophomore Crandall Head has a chance to show what he can do. The athletically gifted point guard served a four-game suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules, forcing him to play catch up in a battle for playing time with a lineup filled with young players searching for a niche and trying to impress the coaching staff. Illini coach Bruce Weber wanted to "get a few minutes out of him'' when Illinois hosts Lipscomb in a Cancun Challenge game at Assembly Hall Thursday. "It gave all the other guys a step up on him,'' Weber said. "He didn't take care of business. He has tremendous ability. He's intelligent. He can be a guy who can change the game for you. He's got to be solid and disciplined if he's ever going to make progress.'' Head showed promise last season. After making a surprising start at Ohio State ahead of senior guard Demetri McCamey, Head also played in the NCAA Tournament. "He's the kind of kid that we put him in there in the NCAA Tournament, and he didn't flinch in the Kansas game,'' Weber said. "He made big plays. I don't think he'll have any hesitation when he goes out there.'' Head missed the two exhibition games and the first two in the regular season. Now it's a matter of developing a remarkable athletic talent. But if there's one thing that can't be tolerated after the failed season with Jereme Richmond, it's a player challenging the head coach. "He's a very talented kid,'' said Illini associate head coach Wayne McClain. "It's life lessons. He went through one. Hopefully, it made him stronger. His attitude is great. I think it's just a matter of him being consistent. "This situation has humbled him. Hopefully, he'll use it as a positive to start helping us. I don't think he's a problem child. But like some kids, you say 'No,'' but they'll try you.'' The younger brother of former Illini star Luther Head, Crandall is trying to find minutes in a rotation unsettled by youth and injury. Point guard Tracy Abrams was slowed this week by recurring turf toe pain. Point guard Sam Maniscalco needs to be easy on his ankle. "It's kind of the tough part,'' Weber said. "You want to develop a little but, but you have to save them for games. You hope they make improvement through the game.'' Forward Devin Langford is out likely through the Cancun trip next week while his broken finger heals, Weber said, and wing Myke Henry won't play against Lipscomb with a sprained ankle. Weber will also search for a defensive stopper inside. While D.J. Richardson, Abrams and Brandon Paul give Weber some comfort with their defense on the perimeter, the Illini are raw inside. Sophomore center Meyers Leonard has been a backstop with 11 blocks to rank second in the nation after two games. Otherwise, freshmen center Nnanna Egwu and freshman forward Mike Shaw are the other likely stoppers inside, but they face a learning curve. Egwu tied Abrams for the Matto hustle chart lead against SIU-Edwardsville Monday with eight. "The big worry is who can guard the athletic, quick forward,'' Weber said. John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnSupinie. Illinois (2-0) vs. Lipscomb (1-1) 8 p.m., Assembly Hall, Champaign (BTN, Illini Sports Network) ILLINOIS (2-0) ppg rpg F Tyler Griffey 6-8 Jr. 10.0 9.0 C Meyers Leonard 7-1 So. 11.5 6.5 G Brandon Paul 6-4 Jr. 10.5 4.5 G D.J. Richardson 6-3 Jr. 12.5 2.5 G Tracy Abrams 6-1 Fr. 6.5 4.0 LIPSCOMB (1-1) ppg rpg F Damarius Smith 6-4 Fr. 5.5 3.5 C Justin Glenn 6-8 Sr. 11.0 6.5 G Zavion Williams 5-10 Fr. 18.0 6.0 G Jacob Arnett 6-4 Jr. 11.0 3.0 G Robert Boyd 6-3 So. 7.0 4.0 Noteworthy: This is the first meeting between the two teams. . . Illinois has a 20-game non-conference winning streak in Assembly Hall. . . Illinois' 26 blocked shots rank second nationally behind Kentucky's 29. Leonard has 11 blocks, one behind national leader Anthony Davis of Kentucky. . . Jason Dawson had 18 points and five rebounds off the bench in Lipscomb's 74-71 loss to Gardner-Webb Sunday. . . Lipscomb was picked to finish sixth in the 10-team Atlantic Sun Conference preseason poll. . . Key for Illini: Cut down on the turnovers. Key for Bisons: Test the Illini early and see if they're ready to play. Key quote: "You need a defensive stoper with the big guys. Who's going to do that. It's something we're learning as we go.'' -- Illini coach Bruce Weber. Prediction: Illinois 72, Lipscomb 57