COAL VALLEY — After making steady progress through a change-filled offseason, this figures to be an important summer for members of the Illinois football team.
Fighting Illini players returned to campus this week for the start of summer workouts and a chance to further grasp the offensive and defensive systems that new coach Tim Beckman is implementing.
“Every summer is important, but with so much new at this point for our guys, it is an extremely important time for our entire team,’’ Illinois defensive line coach Keith Gilmore said Tuesday during the Fighting Illini Caravan’s Quad-Cities stop when he filled in for an ailing Beckman.
“Our guys have done a pretty good job of picking things up, but there will be more introduced when we get back to camp in the fall. A lot of learning is taking place and that will continue.’’
Illinois is one of three Leaders Division programs with new head coaches next season, but Gilmore said for the Fighting Illini the focus must remain internal.
“We can’t get caught up in what is going on elsewhere,’’ Gilmore said. “Our concern has to be on ourselves. That is where everything starts for us.’’
That includes at the position Gilmore coaches, where Illinois must fill the sizable shoes of Whitney Mercilus.
“Fortunately, the other three guys are back up front and we’ll need their experience,’’ Gilmore said. “Whitney had a special season. We’re hoping that someone can step up and show the same type of growth that he showed last fall.’’
At home in the Hall
New Illinois director of athletics Mike Thomas expects conceptual drawings of a renovated Assembly Hall to turn into solid plans within the next few months.
“We have a need to bring the facility into the 21st century,’’ Thomas said. “The next step once the plans are in place will be to secure funding and begin to move things forward.’’
After studying how the facility worked during the 2011-12 basketball season, he sees a need to make the venue more fan-friendly.
“We need the conveniences that today’s fan expects. We need a hall-of-fame component to celebrate our rich tradition in basketball,’’ Thomas said. “We need the type of seating options that will help fund the project, but we also want the facility to be an intimidating place for opponents to visit.’’
The recruiting trail
New Illinois women’s basketball coach Matt Bollant will have a quick chance to turn over his team’s roster.
Bollant has eight available scholarships for his 2013 recruiting class, and he expects to fill them all.
“The expectation may be to redshirt a couple of those players, but we will have a chance to add a good number of players to our team fairly quickly,’’ Bollant said.
“We have four commitments already and with the success we had at Green Bay, we have established good relationships with a lot of the AAU coaches and I feel good about where we are headed at this point.’’
Thomas sees plans to increase scheduling of
nonconference games between Big Ten and Pac-12
institutions as a beneficial arrangement both leagues.
“There are so many opportunities with this, from football to our Olympic sports and with so many Big Ten fans on the West Coast, it gives us a chance to expand our footprint without expanding beyond our current roster of institutions,’’ Thomas said.
Thomas, who arrived at Illinois last August after spending six years at Cincinnati in the Big East, expects conference expansion nationally to continue.
“I don’t believe that things have settled yet,’’ Thomas said. “What will happen next, I don’t think any of us knows, but it is an interesting time in intercollegiate athletics.’’