CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Illinois basketball is looking for new faces to step up in the Fall, with their five top scorers moving on this offseason.
“We talked about our future and how good we can be together,” guard Luke Goode said. “We just talked to each other and were like, ‘Man with these coaches, this core group that we got, we can be special next year.'”
Goode and fellow returning freshman RJ Melendez are candidates to be those new leaders. Combined, the pair averaged 5.8 points per game and 17.4 minutes per game.
“I feel like I’ll have an increased role for sure,” Goode said. “I feel like this year I’ll really be able to use my leadership skills.”
“It’s natural for Luke,” head coach Brad Underwood said. “He has had a phenomenal Spring. He’s gotten bigger. His game has grown from his ball handling and with that will come the confidence that is instinctive for him to lead.”
Underwood says Spring practices will be a big time for the freshmen to gain weight and work on their technical game.
“We just have to take a big role as leaders right now,” Melendez said. “They helped us a lot last year. They put that leadership in us.”
“He’s a guy that has to continually work on his ball handling and a guy that athletically has a tremendous amount of gifts to do a lot of things,” Underwood said.
Coming to Illinois together, Goode and Melendez have a bond off the court, that has helped them on the court as well.
“Luke is like my brother right now,” Melendez said. “I’m always with him. We have a great bond together. I really love being with that kid.”
“Everyday he improves. You see that athleticism on the court, improvement on the court,” Goode said. “What he does with the ball is special and I’m excited to see him have an improved role as well.”
They’re two of only five returning players at Spring workouts before the newcomers join them in the Summer.