It's hard to say which part of Dee Brown runs faster, his feet or his mouth. "His speed with the ball is staggering," says Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, who watched the Fighting Illini point guard score 14 points in a second-round NCAA tournament loss to the Irish. "I don't know if I've seen a faster guy end to end."
The 6-foot Brown, Illinois's top returning scorer, is known as the One Man Fast Break in Champaign, and the media voted him Big Ten preseason player of the year, facts that those who try to guard him will be reminded of often. The ultraconfident sophomore concedes that his constant on-court chirping sometimes fires up opponents. But, Brown says, "if I stop talking trash, then I'll know I've lost my love for the game."
The Illini lost leading scorer and rebounder Brian Cook, last year's conference player of the year, who's now a Los Angeles Laker. They're also learning a new motion offense installed by former Southern Illinois coach Bruce Weber, who took over when Bill Self jumped to Kansas in April. "We have to find someone who wants to take the big shot," says Weber. "Dee is a very confident kid. Now he has to back it up."
Brown thought about transferring when Self departed, but he returned to campus this fall fully committed. Brown, sophomore Deron Williams, junior Luther Head and smooth-shooting freshman Richard McBride give the Illini the deepest backcourt in the Big Ten, which will be useful because Weber wants to employ a harassing, high-pressure defense.
The frontcourt is a question mark. Forwards Roger Powell, who had the league's second-best shooting percentage (59.1%), and James Augustine, the team's top returning rebounder, are the best bets to offset the loss of Cook's 20 points per game.
During summer workouts Weber curried favor with his new charges by ignoring defensive drills. "I didn't want them to think I'm some ogre," he says. If he and his players click as quickly as Brown dribbles and talks, Illinois will again be a beast in the Big Ten.
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