Junior guard Aaron Jordan arrives at the gym anywhere between 6:30 and 8:00 in the morning to start getting shots up.
He would even beat Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Brad Underwood to the Ubben Basketball Complex.
Toward the beginning of the season, Jordan found himself alone for these morning workout sessions.
But a teammate of his has now joined him at the crack of the dawn: freshman guard Da’Monte Williams.
“The first time he hit me up, I looked at him, just gave him a quick look because usually people normally don’t ask to work out with me in the morning,” Jordan said. “Told him an early time. and he had no hesitation. (Williams) said, ‘alright, I’ll be there.’ Now he hits me up every night.”
While it may seem that Jordan took his new workout buddy Williams under his wing, Jordan said most of this was Williams’ self-initiative.
Williams’ self-starter attitude was obvious when he and the rest of the bench mob checked into Illinois’ Big Ten home opener versus the Maryland Terrapins on Sunday night.
Illinois’ starters stepped onto the court for the start of the game, and the unit was not very productive, falling behind in a 10-0 hole in the opening minutes.
Underwood called a timeout, snapped his clipboard and made the line change that included Williams.
The normally defensive-oriented Williams, however, came out and gave the Illini offense an energy boost with four quick points.
Williams’ aggressiveness on the offensive end is what Underwood has been waiting for all season.
“Finally. Da’Monte’s a good offensive player,” Underwood said. “We need him to be an aggressive player on that end and not a guy who's just a facilitator, so to speak.”
Underwood said that Williams’ performance sparked Illinois against Maryland.
“We need Da’Monte to be assertive,” Underwood said. “You saw an up-and-under move that most post people wish they had. He’s the one that got us going on that end.”
Despite Williams’ new found aggression on the court that is impressing people, Jordan is still stealing the show as his 15 points off the bench led all non-starters. His 3-of-4 shooting from deep also kept his place as the top three-point shooter in the country, percentage-wise.
Jordan is currently shooting 65.7 percent from downtown (23-of-35).
Against Maryland, Jordan hit back-to-back threes during the mid-stages of the second half. He helped erase what was a 22-point deficit early in the half to six points with 9:11 to go.
The first three was a contested, one-dribble pull-up from the left wing. The second was from NBA range in transition, which caused the Terrapins to call a timeout and brought Illini fans to their feet in excitement.
“During that time, fans yelling, everybody hyped, and I knew it was a big shot,” Jordan said. “My teammates were looking at me like, ‘lets go!’”
Jordan’s one-man show even got Underwood pumped up.
“When (Jordan) hit the three and pull-up... that was awesome,” Underwood said. “He has so much emotion and swagger and confidence.”
Jordan and Williams have arguably been the two most consistent players for the Illini so far this season. Whether it is Jordan’s lights out shooting and defense, or Williams’ ability to consistently do all the little things right, the pair is becoming quite the tandem off the bench, and their chemistry is starting to show.
“(We have) great chemisty,” Jordan said. “Everybody on the team really has either that one person or a couple guys that we’re really close with and always together.”
No matter the circumstance, Williams and Jordan will always be in the gym, bright and early, pushing each other to get only better.