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Paul leads Illini to 10-0 start, top-10 ranking

Illinois’ BrandPaul coming off 35-point game against Gonzagis averaging 19.5 points. | Heather Coit~AP

Illinois’ Brandon Paul, coming off a 35-point game against Gonzaga, is averaging 19.5 points. | Heather Coit~AP

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NBA FOR BRANDON PAUL?

Not just yet.

CBSSports.com’s college basketball insider currently has Brandon Paul ranked as the No. 90 pro prospect playing college hoops this winter.

On the other hand, Web site SBNATION has Paul listed as the No. 60 player.

In the NBA draft, of course, 60 players get picked total in the two rounds.

Updated: January 12, 2013 6:21AM



We won’t know until next June whether the NBA is interested in what Brandon Paul brings to the basketball court.

What we do know is that the graduate of Warren High School has elevated his game for this, his senior year at the University of Illinois, and is a key part of an Illini program that is 10-0 and currently ranked No. 10 in the country.

The Illini made their biggest move of the season to date last Saturday when they won at Gonzaga in Washington 85-74, with Paul keying the victory with a 35-point night.

‘‘I’m ecstatic we won,’’ said Paul after the game. ‘‘A lot of people doubted us. We love that. We fought as a team. It’s a great win. Now we have to move on to the next one.’’

The next one will be win No. 11 — a Tuesday night contest against marshmallow-soft Norfolk State.

Not many people saw Illinois winning its first 10 games. And the Illini, who survived major frontcourt foul problems at Gonzaga, still face uncertainty against muscular Big Ten teams.

But new coach John Groce thought he had some pieces in place — an exceptional talent in Paul, a mature core around Paul and enough determination and depth to be competitive.

Paul’s 35-point game is the second-best of his career, topped only by the 43 he scored against Ohio State last Jan. 10. It boosts his average to 19.5 points, topped in the Big Ten only by Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas (21 ppg).

‘‘He looked like a high-level NBA guy,’’ Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. ‘‘We didn’t have a guy who could guard him one-on-one.’’

Groce liked the way Paul got the 35. He shot 10-for-16, including 5-for-9 on threes, and was 10-for-11 from the foul line, with three assists, three steals and two turnovers.

‘‘He’s in attack mode,’’ Groce said. ‘‘He’s learning how to make guys better and balance it. He made really good decisions (against Gonzaga). He drove the ball. Last year, maybe he’d get a little jump shot-happy. Now he’s mixing in some mid-range, driving in, getting to the foul line.’’



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