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. --Stephen Cannella
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER FAST AND FURIOUS The speedy Brown is as effective running the break as he is running off at the mouth.
2002-03 RECORD: 25-7 (11-5, 2nd in Big Ten)
TOURNAMENT: Lost to Notre Dame in 2nd round
POS. PLAYER HT. CL. KEY STAT
SF Roger Powell 6'6" Jr. 59.1 FG%
PF James Augustine 6'10" Soph. 5.8 rpg
C Nick Smith 7'2" Jr. 1.2 bpg
SG Deron Williams 6'3" Soph. 4.5 apg
PG Dee Brown 6'0" Soph. 12.0 ppg
an opposing coach's view
"People will say that losing Brian Cook has hurt them, but JAMES
AUGUSTINE is going to be better. He's more hard-nosed than Cook,
probably because his dad is a high school football coach....
DERON WILLIAMS is a great complement to DEE BROWN because
together they give Illinois two guys who can beat you off the
dribble or with the three. Williams might not ever be a pro, but
he could end up being first team all-conference by the time he's
a senior.... They don't have a true low-post scorer. NICK SMITH
might be able to step in there, but I don't know how good he
is.... The freshman I like the most is forward BRIAN RANDLE. He's
not physical or real strong, but he has a good feel for the
Illinois's winning percentage (51-2) at Assembly Hall over the
last four seasons, the best home record of any school in that