It's like mother, like son for Illinois freshman guard Brandon Paul. A scoring whiz who’s put up 42 points in his first two games, Paul inherited the love of basketball from his mother. Lynda Paul played at Ball State and served as her son's AAU coach years ago before finally transitioning from coach to full-time mom on the first day of summer school classes.
It's like mother, like son for Illinois freshman guard Brandon Paul.
A scoring whiz who’s put up 42 points in his first two games, Paul inherited the love of basketball from his mother. Lynda Paul played at Ball State and served as her son's AAU coach years ago before finally transitioning from coach to full-time mom on the first day of summer school classes.
"I made that decision completely on June 15,'' she said. "That's when I handed him over to coach (Bruce) Weber.''
When No. 23 Illinois hosts Presbyterian Saturday, Brandon Paul is already a budding star, and it's already apparent the 6-foot-4, 195-pounder from Gurnee Warren High School is a rare Illini recruit – an offensive threat from the moment he first stepped on campus after earning the state's Mr. Basketball last season.
The program's first player with back-to-back 20-point games since Shaun Pruitt did it in 2007, Brandon Paul ranks third in the Big Ten in scoring. He set the school record for scoring by a freshman in his debut with 22 against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville.
After scoring 20 against Northern Illinois, he has more points than any freshman in school history after two games, including Deon Thomas (40), Cory Bradford (39) and Efrem Winters (31).
When it comes to basketball, Brandon Paul isn’t afraid to say he’s a mama's boy.
"She's my basketball influence,'' Brandon Paul said. "She put the ball in my hands. She's always been there for me in basketball. It's always been her passion. She passed it on to me.''
While his teammates likely attribute their athletic careers in part because of their fathers, Brandon Paul must point to his mom, a financial planner who became a rarity in AAU basketball – a female coach of a boys' team.
"Brandon and I have been together for some time from a basketball standpoint,'' Lynda Paul said. "Initially, the relationship wasn't that great. I was pushing. He didn't want to be pushed. I was his coach and mom for 24 hours a day. In hindsight, it must have been tough for him to be in my household. Over the years, I've backed off quite a bit.
"I'm still a mom. Brandon still has a dad. We're going to keep those roles. Brandon has a new coach. We've entrusted Brandon's basketball future to coach Weber. I'm not going to take it from coach Weber.''
Lynda Paul began coaching the Illinois HoopStars basketball program when Brandon Paul was a fifth grader. A tough coach, Lynda Paul demanded her players work to strengthen their bodies and improve their games. She assigned homework, such as situps and pushups, and demonstrated basketball drills and shooting during practice. While she had the basketball ability to impress her son’s friends, he was a tougher sell than his teammates.
"I was able to show them things early on to earn their trust,'' Lynda Paul said. "These were young boys who stayed (in the program) until high school. They were easier to impress. Brandon had the biggest hangup from an embarrassment standpoint. After we started to win, Brandon became a believer. Kids were feeding off him. When he got over it, then everyone was fine.''
Lynda Paul's priorities were rebounding, defense and offense. In that order.
"She was definitely tough,'' Brandon Paul said. "She wanted us to play hard. If we didn't get back on defense, she'd scream at the top of her lungs.''
Brandon Paul played for his mother in AAU through the eighth grade before moving to another AAU program. Illinois took notice by his sophomore year, and it became apparent to Weber that he had to go through Lynda Paul more than her husband, Cliff Paul, a Buffalo Grove cop who is retired from the Navy, a former semi-pro football player, a black belt in tae kwon do and a licensed bodyguard.
"She's really into it,'' Weber said. "It's kind of ironic. Cliff is a big, strong guy and a police officer. He's low-key and just smiles. He’s always happy. The mom is the other way, really intense and a very driven coach. In the past year and a half, she told me a couple times, 'I just have to let it happen.'
"I wouldn't doubt it if she's not going home, watching game film and analyzing things, whether it's for Brandon or the whole team.''
Brandon Paul didn't watch much college basketball while growing up, preferring the NBA. But he noticed as Illinois reached the NCAA title game in 2005.
"I remember telling my mom, 'I'd love to play for them someday,' '' said Brandon Paul, whose older brother, Cliff, attends Illinois. Cliff and Brandon’s younger brother, Darius, is a sophomore on the Warren varsity.
Even though Florida, Indiana, Texas, Wisconsin, UCLA and USC showed interest, Brandon Paul only considered Illinois and Northwestern. For his mother, it was a no-brainer after Weber made it known that Paul was a recruiting priority. Now Lynda Paul sits in the aluminum bleachers near the Illini bench.
"I look him in the eyes, and that means, 'Are you ready?' '' she said. "He lets me know he's ready, which means he's focused. That's all I can do. Then I can be a mom. I'm excited to see what I already know.
"Brandon's at his best when the competition goes up. I'm looking forward to that first Big Ten game to see if he really brings it to the table.''
Weber is looking for the same thing.
''Can you imagine if Brandon Paul would ever get intense?'' said Weber, who appreciates Paul's even disposition, but is looking for more fire on the court. "One of the best things about him is he doesn't change his temperament. We yelled at him, got after him, teased him. He just comes back and plays. That's the good thing. He keeps his composure, listens and learns. I still want him to play harder.''
If he doesn't, he'll have to answer to mom.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.
No. 23 Illinois (2-0) vs. Presbyterian (0-2)
7 p.m., Assembly Hall, Champaign (BTN, Illini Sports Network)
ILLINOIS (2-0) ppg rpg
F Mike Davis Jr. 6-9 12.0 13.5
C Mike Tisdale Jr. 7-1 9.0 5.0
G D.J. Richardson Fr. 6-3 9.5 0.5
G Brandon Paul Fr. 6-4 21.0 3.5
G Demetri McCamey Jr. 6-3 10.5 4.5
PRESBYTERIAN (0-2) ppg rpg
F Jake Troyli Fr. 6-9 12.5 6.0
C Walt Allen Jr. 6-5 5.0 4.0
G Khalid Mutakabbir Fr. 6-4 4.5 3.5
G Zach Faircloth Fr. 6-2 8.5 5.5
G Chase Holmes So. 6-4 14.0 5.5
Noteworthy: This is Illinois' first of four games in the Las Vegas Invitational. The Illini also host Wofford in tournament play Tuesday before leaving for two more games in Las Vegas. . . This is the first meeting between Illinois and Presbyterian. . . Illinois junior guard Jeff Jordan is eligible after missing the first two games because of an NCAA suspension. Jordan played in a non-sanctioned 3-on-3 tournament in the offseason, when he wasn't part of the team. He rejoined the Illini in October. . . Presbyterian College has an enrollment of 1,200, and the campus is located in Clinton, S.C. . . The Blue Hose are members of the Big South Conference. Presbyterian lost 84-41 at Clemson and 68-64 at Furman. . .
Key for Illini: Work Jeff Jordan back into the rotation, taking advantage of his ballhandling and defense.
Key for Blue Hose: Set goals other than winning the game.
Key quote: "We need the junior class to play well. I couldn't be more excited about the freshmen. I know the ups and downs they'll go through. We need consistency from the veterans.'' – Illinois coach Bruce Weber.
Prediction: Illinois 87, Presbyterian 49