By Joe Henricksen
Former Bradley and St. Patrick star Sam Maniscalco may not be able to help coach Bruce Weber and Illinois this Friday in its first-round NCAA Tournament game against UNLV, but the 6-0 point guard will be a huge addition for the 2011-2012 season.
Maniscalco made it official today, announcing he will be transferring to Illinois to complete his college eligibility as a senior next season for the Fighting Illini. After spending time on the Illinois campus Monday, Maniscalco sat down and discussed all that Illinois had to offer--on the floor and academically towards his graduate degree--and pulled the trigger Tuesday afternoon.
"I am very excited," Maniscalco said. "Illinois offers a lot for me both athletically and academically as far as the graduate programs available to me. I think I can fit in well there and it seemed like a natural fit."
Weber and assistant coach Jerrance Howard made a very favorable impression on the former Bradley star in this short "recruiting" process, which included the visit to Champaign on Monday. Howard, who will have recruited a whopping six of next year's newcomers to campus, hit it off with Maniscalco and never left his side while on campus.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for coach Weber," said Maniscalco. "Illinois really does it the right way. They were honest, straightforward and straight up with me during this process. I felt very comfortable with both coach Weber and coach Howard."
With senior Demetri McCamey and his 34 minutes a game at point guard moving on after this season, Maniscalco becomes a key piece for Weber's Fighting Illini going forward. Last season as a junior, Maniscalco averaged 13 points and over four assists a game while knocking down 47 three-pointers on the year. He was a second-team all-Missouri Valley performer, a MVC all-tournament selection and was the conference's Player of the Week three times.
This season, injuries cut his senior year short as he played in just six games. When the season was complete, Bradley coach Jim Les was fired and Maniscalco decided to take advantage of an opportunity to transfer and be immediately eligible next season due to a graduate-student waiver rule.
Maniscalco did enjoy his time at Bradley and appreciates all the basketball program and university gave him during his four years on campus.
"I do want to thank Bradley for the four years I had there," says Maniscalco. "Without the people there and the fans, I wouldn't be who I am today or where I am today."
But with Maniscalco, it's more than just the numbers. While he's a high-level mid-major player who is transferring up to the high-major level, he's an ideal fit for what Illinois needs and what he has to offer. Maniscalco's overall game has grown leaps and bounds since arriving in Peoria as a freshman.
He's physically and mentally strong. He's as tough as they come, competes at an extremely high level and plays to win. Maniscalco, who leaves it all on the floor each night out, will run a team but also has an ability to score from the point guard position with his perimeter shooting. And most importantly, he has evolved into the type of point guard who will raise the level of play of his teammates.
Now Illinois will have a talented and veteran presence at point guard next season, along with a promising young player in Tracy Abrams of Mt. Carmel, who will arrive next fall as a freshman. This will be an ideal combination for Weber as he fills the 40 minutes at point guard.
Another positive is that Maniscalco will be able to be on campus this summer, work out with the team and be a part of an overseas team trip to Europe in August.