Illinois hasn't played a basketball game since January 10, but the Illini's last victory was likely sweet enough to tide over players, coaches and fans for the rest of the season. Off a brilliant game by junior guard Brandon Paul, the Illini upset No. 5 Ohio State 79-74 at Assembly Hall, a win that scored them an appearance in this week's Top 25 rankings. As the Illini continue to put together a promising season following the loss of graduated seniors Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale and Demetri McCamey, Illinois' new core is showing signs that they should be decidedly better than their predecessors.
Neither McCamey, Davis, or Tisdale is playing in the NBA right now, and the Illini should definitely have one -- maybe two -- players with legitimate pro aspirations on this year's squad. Sophomore center Meyers Leonard has turned in an improved second season for Illinois, and now could potentially be an NBA lottery pick after this year. NBADraft.net has Leonard as the 14th overall selection in their latest mock draft. The center's size and superb athleticism makes him a certifiable pro prospect, whether it's after this season or in the future.
The pro potential of Paul was also a hot topic this week after the guard's truly amazing performance against Ohio State. Paul didn't enter the season as someone with a highly regarded future in the NBA's eyes. He was only the 18th best pro prospect in the Big Ten at the start of the year, according to Draft Express. Paul is what he is: a 6'3 guard without traditional point skills. But junior has an explosive first step, major leaping ability, and a developing outside stroke, all things that could make him intriguing as a round two prospect after his senior season.
No. 25 Illinois returns to the court on Thursday when they played Penn State.