Champaign-- After a two and a half hour practice, Karisma Penn is still at Ubben's practice facility. She has not dressed out of her practice jersey, nor will she any time soon. The senior is getting up extra shots, as she prepares for another tough Big Ten opponent. As she adjusts the automatic shooting machine, you have to wonder if she usually is here by herself at the end of practice.
"Nope." She said.
To Illinois' credit, the team
has a plane to catch in three hours, and most of the team is already catching
the first half of the men's game at Assembly Hall. Penn's dedication is just out of this world.
Penn is on her way for a career year. She is on pace to set career highs across the statistical board. The national awards have already recognized the Illini senior (she has two consecutive Big Ten Player of the Week honors). What has also been particularly exciting is Illini nation is recognizing her efforts.
"I'll go to the supermarket and they'll be like, 'I love the way this team is playing," She said. "Wherever I go, people are excited about this team. And I think that's kind of the energy Coach Bollant has brought and the energy he's bestowed on us. "
Bollant's system is up-tempo is aggressive and takes advantage athletes like Penn. She is scoring more than 20 points a game, while grabbing more than 10 boards per contest. That's up from last year's numbers (13.4 points per game, 7.3 rebounds per game). Penn blames her decline on the team's struggles from last year.
"I think the team was definitely frustrated with a lot of stuff in-house. I think that's why it's so refreshing for Coach Bollant to be here. And I think that reflected with our play on the court and reflected on my numbers personally."
"I notice in the last week or two, we've encouraged her to try to coach the other kids and keep them accountable. And what she is saying is right on. So her knowledge of the game has really come along since we got here last April."
That knowledge and leadership has helped the Illini this season. They have already reached 8 wins on the year, while upsetting #6 Georgia and breaking Ohio State's 31 home court winning streak.
Penn has WNBA aspirations, and with her numbers, she could be one of the top prospects in this year's draft. She ranks in the Top 10 in almost every statistic in the Big Ten and has shown improved fundamentals according to her coach.
"There are a lot of big kids that can move," said Bollant. "And she can guard (positions) one through five. So defensively, she can guard and play at that level. Question is, can she step out and face (the basket) and work on her three and her passing."
She is definitely Illinois' best player, but the Illini have others who can score as well. Sophomore Ivory Crawford is averaging 14 points a game while reigning Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year Adrienne GodBold returns after being academically ineligible last semester. The team's depth could give the rest of the conference some trouble.
"People can't really key on me. Ivory (Crawford) dropped 30 points earlier int he season. You really never know who really is going to explode that given night. So it is much harder for defenses to key in on one person."
"We're definitely going to be a big contender in the Big Ten. Other teams should really look out for us and know that we are coming because we are getting better every day."