Weber says his young Illini can shoot the ball -

Weber says his young Illini can shoot the ball

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) -- Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber, known for his blunt assessments of his teams' weaknesses, doesn't peddle false optimism.

But as his team gets ready to start practices this week, he promises Illini basketball fans one thing.

"We're a better shooting team," Weber said Tuesday at Illinois basketball media day. "That's a fact."

Beyond that, Illinois is young, and Weber isn't sure what to expect yet.

Shooting would be a good place to start improving a team that finished 16-19 and 5-13 in the Big Ten.

Illinois hit 43.5 percent of its shots from the field and 60.8 percent of its free throws. Seven of the 11 Big Ten teams scored more.

When Weber talks shooting, he points to sophomores Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale -- a 7-foot-1 center with the kind of soft shooting touch expected in a much smaller player -- and to junior college transfer Dominique Keller.

Keller, a junior forward, comes from Illinois Lee College in Baytown, Texas, where he averaged 25.5 points a game.

Weber, Davis and others talked Tuesday about Keller's odd shooting form. Davis said Keller shoots the ball on an almost straight line to the basket, with little or no arc.

"He is unorthodox," Weber said, "but gets that ball and gets it in the hoop."

What's not known about the Illini is, well, just about everything else.

The team lost top rebounders Shaun Pruitt and Brian Randle. The best returning rebounder is 6-foot-2 guard Chestier Frizzier.

Tisdale and Davis, who is 6-foot-9, are have the biggest bodies among players likely to see significant minutes. But both are thin, and neither is to go after balls in tight spaces in the lane.

Davis, though, joked that Shorty -- that'd be Frazier -- can't lead the team in rebounding this season.

Frazier didn't argue.

"I hope I won't be the leading rebounder this year or we're going to be in trouble," he said.

The quiet Frazier is the most likely leader of the team.

Last year he was the roommate of a player these Illini could use -- shooting guard Jamar Smith, a strong outside shooter.

Smith left Illinois after violating his drunken driving probation.

Frazier, who has always been easy to pick out of a crowd because of his tattoos and long, braided hair, had close-cropped short hair Tuesday.

Though he didn't mention Smith or the handful of other Illini players who've had legal trouble the past few seasons, Frazier said the new haircut is his way of helping the team project a better image.

"Obviously we don't want to be looked at as a bunch of thugs and people who get in trouble," he said.

Frazier acknowledged Tuesday that fans seem to have low expectations for a team that will rely heavily on a half-dozen sophomores, and one that was among the worst in the Big Ten.

He wants the team to remember that losing record, too, as it gets ready to open its season Nov. 14 against Eastern Washington.

"You've got to have a chip on your shoulder about that," he said. "Nobody wants to lose."

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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