Illini counting on Maniscalco's health

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- With each 3-pointer, assist and steal by Illinois senior guard Sam Maniscalco during Saturday’s scrimmage, his father Carl Maniscalco shouted, “Way to go, Sammy,” from the front row of Assembly Hall.

It was hard to tell who was having more fun father or son.

“It’s a great feeling,” Carl said. “It’s been a while. It’s good to see him running around and not seeing him raise his hand to get out. It’s been a long time since we’ve really seen him play like that. To be honest with you, he’s moving as well as he’s moved since his sophomore year at Bradley.”

Maniscalco's sophomore season was in 2008-2009. Since then the Bradley tranfer's left ankle has derailed his career. He fought through ankle pain his junior season, underwent his first surgery after the season, played six games in 2010, had another surgery in December and is now finally getting back to his old self.

Maniscalco still has good and bad days with his ankle, but he thought he was close to being where he hoped to be.

“It’s still sore and stiff,” said Maniscalco, who gained immediate eligibility at Illinois because he is pursuing a master’s degree unavailable at Bradley. “It’s a by-product of having multiple surgeries. It’s still going to take some time. It’s a tough surgery to come back from.

“There’s a little frustration involved, but I’m more focused on leading these guys using my experience and toughness to help these guys to be successful, help this program to be successful.”

Maniscalco showed off those qualities during Saturday’s scrimmage. While his younger teammates missed shots, constantly turned the ball over and struggled before Illini fans at Assembly Hall, Maniscalco shined. He made a 3-pointer on his team’s first possession, sank two more 3-pointers, created a few steals and ran the offense smoothly.

“He’s a veteran,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “He’s got the experience. He just stepped up and played.

“If you watched him at Bradley, you know. But if you didn’t, you see this short, little guy. He doesn’t look the part, there’s no doubt, but he knows how to play.”

Weber does still have concerns about Maniscalco’s ankle.

“We just got to hope his ankle gets close to 100 percent,” Weber said. “I don’t know if we’ll even get there, but we got to get closer.”

Carl could see progress in his son’s ankle from even a month ago. He thought Maniscalco was faster, was cutting harder and was more fluid. Carl was pleased to see his son perform so well before Illinois’ fans, but he would have had the same feeling if he had witnessed it anywhere.

“If I was seeing him in a basement playing, I would have been excited at this point,” Carl said. “Just to see him out there and enjoying himself, being free and being a basketball player again.

“Today was a great day. Hopefully, it’s a great start to what will be a great season.”

Evan Turner was just as happy for his close friend and former Illinois Wolves club teammate. Turner, who now plays with the Philadelphia 76ers, sat alongside Carl and Mike Mullins, who runs the Wolves’ program, courtside during the scrimmage.

“I wanted to come to support him,” Turner said. “He definitely deserves the moment. I just wanted to be here and see it.

“He’s a great player. I’m just glad he’s here. He gets to experience everything the Big Ten has to offer. He can definitely lead the team. They got some young guys. He sets the right example. I think he’ll be able to hit some shots, play great and have an opportunity to win a lot of games.”