NORMAL — Taylor Bruninga won't be watching as much as he once thought when Illinois State's basketball team faces Lewis at 2 p.m. Sunday in an exhibition game at Redbird Arena.
"When I committed, Coach (Dan) Muller said I probably would have a role, but I definitely didn't think it would be as significant as it is now," said Bruninga, a 6-foot-8, 200-pound forward. "It's a great opportunity."
While Bruninga, an Illini Bluffs High School graduate, will get his first action in front of the home crowd, another Redbird freshman must wait. Elijah Clarance, a 6-4 point guard from Sweden, probably is out until December with a stress fracture in his right foot.
"I try to be beside coach (in practice) hearing what he has to say to the team as far as us executing," said Clarance, who is wearing a boot on his foot. "That's where I'm at right now."
Where the Redbirds are right now — and for Saturday's season opener at Florida Gulf Coast — is eight healthy scholarship players as injuries have piled up.
In addition to Clarance, 7-foot junior center David Ndiaye also has a stress fracture in his foot while sophomore guard Matt Hein is out with a bone bruise on his knee.
With only forward Phil Fayne and guards Keyshawn Evans and Madison Williams returning from last season's 28-7 team, Muller may take a different approach against Division II Lewis.
"In most exhibition games I don't run one play," said Muller. "I haven't decided yet, but I will probably run some stuff more than usual. I don't like to because it gives film to our opening opponent.
"But our expectations are the same. I want to guard the heck out of them, I want to compete and make sure we make good solid decisions and execute, and make sure we're playing with energy."
Muller was still mulling who would be his starters, but one thing is certain — everyone will get plenty of playing time.
With Ndiaye sidelined and 6-9 Christian Romine not with the team for personal reasons, Bruninga finds himself the Redbirds' second tallest player after Fayne.
"Even before Dave was out, one of my big roles was to get rebounds," said Bruninga. "Now that he's out, I have to step up even more. Like coach said I have to keep doing my job and get to the boards and grab as many as I can."
Offensively, Bruninga gives the Redbirds another viable threat from the perimeter. He finished fifth in Illinois Mr. Basketball voting after averaging 33.4 points and 11.5 rebounds per game at Class 1A Illini Bluffs.
"Taylor is going to be a dynamic shooting big," said Muller. "He's getting better and learning. He's getting thrown into the fire ... we need more production and time from him earlier than what's probably fair to him. I have to be careful with that. He's up for the challenge, I have no doubt about that."
Muller is just as excited to see what Clarance, who played at St. Maria Goretti High School in Hagerstown, Md., will bring when he's healthy.
"To be a really good offensive team you have to have some players who draw multiple defenders, and Elijah is one of our best get-in-the-paint guys," said Muller. "Once he gets his feet underneath him, I think he'll add a different dimension at both ends of the court."
Like his predecessor, Paris Lee, Clarance is left-handed and will wear No. 1.
Clarance knows filling the shoes of the Missouri Valley Conference's Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year will be a challenge.
"I've watched a lot of highlights of him," said Clarance. "I definitely watch his defense and leadership. He was a great leader."
ISU will be the third MVC team that Lewis has played. The Flyers have lost to Bradley (71-58) and Loyola (79-63).
Former Illinois Wesleyan coach Scott Trost is in his 12th year with Lewis. Jake Reinhart, a 6-2 redshirt sophomore guard, is a Central Catholic High School graduate who scored 10 points at Bradley last Sunday.