Away from basketball for nearly two months after having his jaw broken, Illinois senior guard Brandon Paul has returned to the court and has returned to his mission of becoming a more consistent player.
Paul broke his jaw when he collided with a teammate during a pick-up game in June and had surgery on June 22. Paul, whose jaw was wired shut for 46 days, had the wiring removed on July 31 and was able to begin playing again on Monday. He’s unable to have any contact yet, but he worked out for six consecutive days with Evolution Athletics trainer Jeff Pagliocca this past week while home from school.
“It was rough,” Paul said on Saturday. “As much as I eat and talk, it was a different approach to things. It could be a lot worse, though. A lot of people are in worse situations than I was in. I didn’t want to take anything for granted.
“My jaw is getting a lot better. I came up on Monday (to train.) It’s been pretty good. I lost about 15 pounds, but I’ve put most of it back on in the last week or so.”
Paul’s offseason training was derailed by his injury, but he’s confident his game will still take a significant step next season. As a junior, Paul’s numbers nearly all increased, but he wasn’t satisfied. Like many around him, Paul was frustrated with himself as he showed at times he could be a special college player and at others times was very ordinary.
Paul averaged 14.7 points last season, but his single-game point totals fluctuated above and below that average all season. He had six games of 20-plus points, including a 43-point performance against Ohio State, and had nine games of 10-or-less points, including a four-point game in the team’s season finale.
Paul turned to the NBA draft advisory board after the season and was told he needed to improve his decision-making and consistency if he wants to make the league. Paul has taken that to heart and says it’s a driving force for his final season.
“I need to work on just staying consistent,” Paul said. “Keeping my mind focused plays a role in that. I don’t know what has gotten me off track (in the past.) I’d have a great game and fall and have a bad game.
“This year I want to focus more on winning. That’s one of the things I want. I think if we win it will not only help me (for the draft), but help my team. I don’t doubt my ability to play at the next level. I want to help my team and get better and win more games.”
Pagliocca has been training Paul for years and doesn’t doubt Paul has NBA talent. It’s not his ability that is holding Paul back, Pagliocca said.
“It’s a mental game for him,” Pagliocca, who has also been training Philadelphia 76ers guard Evan Turner, former Northwestern forward John Shurna and a number of overseas professionals this summer. “We talk constantly about playing consistent basketball. Potential, Brandon Paul has it through the roof. People talk potential as a freshman and sophomore. We’re at the 11th hour here. Potential isn’t going to win Illinois a lot of games or get him to the NBA. Consistency is going to get him everywhere. He’s just got to show up.
“I think he’s capable. I believe in him 100 percent. He’s got it in him. That’s for sure.”
A coaching change may help Paul. Not that Pagliocca believes there was anything wrong with former coach Bruce Weber’s methods, but a different voice and different coaching style with John Groce’s arrival may benefit Paul.
“I think the change can be very good for him,” said Pagliocca, who has been working with Paul on not settling for outside shots this season. “It sounds like he’s really excited about what they’re doing out there with him and what their approach is going to be with him. Maybe he needed a change, something to trigger a little bit different game.”
Groce said in July he knows how special Paul can be.
“A lot of that (inconsistency) has nothing to with physical talent or physical ability,” Groce said. “It has to do more with mindset, the power of the mind. Make sure his mind is right, and any situation or any person can’t steal his mind. Those things are really important. Obviously, he’s very talented. We have to make sure his mind is on it.”
Paul is convinced he can get his mind right, and that the Illini can surprise after a disappointing season.
“We talk about it all the time,” Paul said. “We like being the underdogs. I’m really like our team in workouts. We’re all getting better our own ways.”