Men's Basketball
Mike & Mike Ready To Lead

Mike Davis is poised for a big junior season after averaging 11.6 points and 8.1 rebounds last year.
Mike Davis is poised for a big junior season after averaging 11.6 points and 8.1 rebounds last year.

Aug. 17, 2009

Champaign, Ill. -

By: Lauren Benson, UI Sports Information Student Assistant

While the Mike & Mike Show is one of the most popular television programs on ESPN, the Illini basketball team has its own duo of Mikes that are bound to be a hit this season on the court. Juniors Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis both had breakout seasons last year and look to only continue on that success this season.

Freshman year in Division I basketball tends to be a huge wake-up call for most players. Just off their high school graduations, most players know the jump in level of competition will be much more difficult than anything they have experienced in high school ball.

But only after their first official game can they actually know what it takes to play against the most elite young players in the country. Both Tisdale and Davis can relate to this experience.

They were top players at their respective high schools and each had high aspirations coming into Illinois. Yet, both Mikes struggled in their freshmen seasons. Tisdale averaged 3.6 points and 1.6 rebounds per game, with Davis averaging 2.6 ppg and 1.8 rpg. Both players, though, agreed the ups and downs they went through as freshmen helped them to develop into the players they are today.

"My freshman season I just got experience in the games," said the 7-foot-1, 235-pound Tisdale. "I played about 10 minutes a game and it helped me realize what it's like, what the games are like. Obviously having that experience definitely helped me last year."

"I think it was a good idea not to redshirt," Davis said. "I got experience playing in the games and playing behind Brian Randle. Not redshirting taught me a lot - it taught me how to play."

Now the 6-9, 210-pound Davis knows what it takes to play for a Big Ten Conference basketball team. In his breakout sophomore season, Davis became not only one of the most improved players in the Big Ten, but also one of the best. He started all 34 games for the Illini, averaged 11.6 points and was second in the league with 8.1 rebounds. Davis was named second-team all-Big Ten by the coaches and was also selected to attend the USA Basketball Men's World University Game Team Trials along with other top collegiate basketball players in the country.

Unfortunately, Davis was not able to attend because of a broken ankle.

"I was very disappointed that I couldn't try out," Davis said. "But everything happens for a reason. I got some rest and got stronger. My rehab has gone well. Everything is on a good timetable, and I feel like I'll be 100 percent by the time school starts."

Mike Tisdale is Illinois' third-leading returning scorer and rebounder after averaging 10.2 points and 4.0 boards last season.

When Davis pulled out of the trials, Tisdale received a chance to try out for the team. Tisdale earned the spot after his breakout sophomore season where he also started all 34 games and averaged 10.2 ppg and 4.0 rpg. He was named honorable mention all-Big Ten and a second-team NABC All-District 7 pick.

At the trials, Tisdale stepped up to the opportunity. Even though he didn't make the team, Tisdale felt like he gained a lot from the experience that will help him for the upcoming season.

"It was a good time and there were a lot of good players there," Tisdale said. "I learned what I had to do and work on to play against the best. I realized some things I needed to work on to improve for this season."

This summer, both players are focusing on improving their weaknesses as well as build on their strengths. They spend about four hours a day lifting weights and playing pick-up games. Because Davis is still in rehab for his ankle, his workouts have focused around lifting and being on the elliptical trainer. But Davis also finds time to fine-tune his game with help from former teammate Chester Frazier.

"I'm working on my ball handling now and I worked a lot with Chester since he is a point guard," Davis said. "I'm working on my 3-point shooting a little bit and hoping that I will be able to shoot a couple 3's a game this season."

Tisdale continues to build up his strength. However he prefers not to talk about his much discussed calorie-intensive diet. While fans might be intrigued by how much Tisdale gets to eat every day, he's working on changing interest from that of food to what he's actually doing on the court -- especially in the post, which is the part of his game he's working on the most.

"I'm still working on strength and just getting stronger," Tisdale said. "I'm also working on becoming more of a post presence down low and not just floating around (the perimeter)."

With last year's leaders Chester Frazier and Trent Meacham gone, the Mikes agree that in order for the team to reach its full potential someone needs to step up and fill that leadership spot. Both feel it might be their time to take that important position.

"I want to prove that I can lead a team," Tisdale said. "I want to help the guys out and do what I can to make us better. I tried to a little last year, and now that Chester and Trent are gone someone needs to step up. And I'm looking to fill that spot."

"I need to be more vocal to be a leader," Davis said. "But I can see myself stepping up eventually and becoming a leader. I'm not as vocal as I should be. But I think if I put my mind to it I could be a leader for this team."

The players most in need of leadership are the talented freshmen group consisting of Brandon Paul, Joseph Bertrand, D.J. Richardson, and Tyler Griffey. Just like Mike & Mike from two seasons ago, these four freshmen have the opportunity to make a huge impact for the Fighting Illini.

Both Mikes can see the potential all four freshmen possess and are eager to begin the season with their new talent.

"I love the freshmen," Davis said. "They are great. They work hard, they listen, they are humble and they are hungry. They are ready to play. I'm looking forward to the season, and I can't wait. I wish we could fast forward time right now and start the season tomorrow."

"They're pretty good," Tisdale said. "They have shown some real talent and they have all already made some strides in the gym. I'm looking forward to getting to practice with them and play with them."

With the talented crop of freshmen and eight returning letterwinners, the Illini look to make a heavy impact in Big Ten - as well as postseason - play.

"We want to at least get to the Sweet Sixteen," Davis said. "I think if we play well enough to get past that first week of the (NCAA) tournament, anything can happen. And we want to win the Big Ten. We want to get back to the supremacy in the Big Ten. We are striving right now and working hard so we can get back to it."

If the hard work does pay off this season, when people hear Mike & Mike they will first think about the big show put on by Tisdale and Davis for the Fighting Illini, and not the ESPN program.