Illini power forward Tyler Griffey has been a pleasant surprise in practices, coach Bruce Weber said.
Going overseas is nothing new to Illinois junior power forward Tyler Griffey. As a high schooler from suburban St. Louis, Griffey visited Africa and France, and he's also been to Ireland, Belguim, Germany and England. Most of them twice. So it's not a surpise that his first passport is already worn out. "I had to get a new one,'' he said. "I had to get it renewed already.'' New passport, new role for the Illini basketball team as Griffey and Illinois head to Europe this week for an exhibition tour through Italy, where the Illini will continue to answer some questions for coach Bruce Weber. Senior transfer Sam Maniscalco is the heady, experienced point guard who will likely take over most of the minutes there as he rebounds from ankle surgeries, but the other big need comes at power forward. That's where Griffey fits in. He averaged 6.5 minutes while playing in 26 of 34 games last season behind senior Mike Davis and freshman Jereme Richmond, but Griffey is one of the three leading big men, along with centers Meyers Leonard and Nnanna Egwu. While Leonard aggravated a sprained MCL in his knee and Egwu finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in the scrimmage Saturday, Griffey scored six points on 3-for-10 shooting with eight rebounds in 14 minutes after catching Weber's eye in the practices leading up to the tour. "Tyler has been a very pleasant surprise,'' Weber said. "He kind of got lost in the shuffle with Mike Davis playing so well and Jereme was successful at that spot. Tyler's played stronger. If he makes shots, he's going to get minutes.'' The strength to the 6-foot-8, 225-pound Griffey's game is creating mismatches on offense by pulling big men away from the basket, but they key to Griffey's success -- and perhaps in the Illini's season -- is defending the paint. Griffey, or somebody else, must be able to play the role of Big Ten banger. "That's not my style, but I kind of like to show I can get down and dirty,'' Griffey said. "I can do what I can do. On offense, I can create mismatches. On defense, you almost have to be a banger. I'm trying to work towards that.'' Griffey's name sat in the middle of speculation last season about players who might transfer, but he was more interested in an extra year here than transfering. Following last season, Weber said perhaps Griffey should have been redshirted. "It made sense,'' Griffey said. "Power forward was locked up with Mike D. and and Jereme. Looking back, it would have been kind of nice to have that decision, that option.'' Now Griffey is one of the options inside. BASKETBALL: Illinois plays at Maryland on Nov. 29 at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge in TV assignments announced Monday. VOLLEYBALL: Illini coach Kevin Hambly and his staff will provide an in-depth look into the game and the Illini program on Aug. 15, when the Illini Networkers and the coaching staff host Volleyball 101 and 201 from 6 p.m. to 8 at Huff Hall. Following the program, Hambly will answer more questions and make his staff available to meet the public. Volleyball 101 is designed for upper elementary to adult volleyball fans looking to learn the basics of the game. Volleyball 201 is meant for those fans who already have the basics and want to know more about tactics, strategy and team preparation. Cost is $10. Registration deadline is Friday. Doors open at 5:15 p.m. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call Connie Dunn (217-898-3367) or Scott Casteel (708-205-9300) . On the road again The Illini basketball exhibition tour schedule. Illinois leaves Wednesday and returns Aug. 20. Saturday Illini vs. Roma Selezione, Rome, noon Aug. 16 Illini vs. New Zealand national team, Forli, 11 a.m. Aug. 17 Illini scrimmages vs. West Virginia and Aviano Air Base varsity, Aviano Air Force Base, noon Aug. 18 Illini vs. Castellanza Select, Castellanza, 1 p.m. Aug. 19 Illini vs. Fulgor Omegna, Como, 1 p.m.