The Illinois basketball coaching staff finally saw what they expected after the transfer of point guard Sam Maniscalco from Bradley. During practices while preparing for an exhibition tour to Italy, Maniscalco showed the coaches what he can do, coach Bruce Weber said.

CHAMPAIGN -- The Illinois basketball coaching staff finally saw what they expected after the transfer of point guard Sam Maniscalco from Bradley.

During practices while preparing for an exhibition tour to Italy, Maniscalco showed the coaches what he can do, coach Bruce Weber said.

"He's very crafty,'' Weber said. "He's got some toughness. He understands the game. I hope he ends up being a very good player for us."

The recovery from two surgeries on his left ankle took longer than Maniscalco anticipated, but there's no reason to rush anything when the heat index hits 110 degrees. This isn't basketball season, even though an exhibition tour in August gives the Illini a jump start on next season.

For a team searching for an experienced point guard, his decision to transfer from Bradley to Illinois became key news in the offseason. Meanwhile, Maniscalco was anxious to completely recover from ankle pain that dogged him for two years.

"It's taken a little longer,'' Weber said. "A little bit of it is mental. Every time he landed on it wrong, he pulled himself out.''

Maniscalco underwent surgery in July 2010 to remove bone spurs but never felt fully healed. He returned to the operating table on Jan. 3, opting for a redshirt year after playing in only six games for Bradley. When Bradley made a coaching change, Maniscalco ended up at Illinois.

He has one year of eligibility remaining, and Maniscalco can play this season because of a graduate student waiver. He declared himself pain free in May, but Maniscalco's recovery still wasn't complete. Further tests earlier this month reinforced the doctor's diagnosis. Maniscalco is healed, although he had to get his mind around it.

"He had an MRI to make sure he felt good,'' Weber said. "Doc said, 'Here's the picture. It's clean.' It's atrophy. It's getting the strength back.

"Sam wants to go so hard. He goes hard on everything.''

Maniscalco isn't soft. He played through pain as a junior in 2009-10 to earn second-team all-Missouri Valley Conference, but soreness made Maniscalco uneasy earlier this summer.

"It's been a long road back from two surgeries,'' Maniscalco said. "It's certainly a grind, more of a mental grind than a physical grind. It's something I've never gone through before.

"It feels good. I get general soreness. That comes from sitting on my butt for eight to 10 months.

"At first, you don't trust it as much as far as working back into it. It's healed. We've seen doctors in the last few weeks and had a follow-up CT scan. Everything is healing nicely. It's a matter of getting back into the swing of things and letting the ankle take the day-to-day pounding.''

Maniscalco played one game, then took one off during open gym this summer. In the organized practices, he planned to go through everything, but Weber said they've been conservative with Maniscalco. During one practice, the Illini shut him down and told him to go shoot at an open basket.

Each step, Maniscalco had to break through. Going from the sideline to open gym, from open gym to organized practices prior to the exhibition tour. In a few weeks, Chicago St. Patrick graduate takes the step from practice to playing games. The Illini will play four or five games in Italy, some likely against professional teams.

"He called me after one open gym and said, 'I stink. I have no lateral movement. The explosion isn't there,' '' said Maniscalco's father, Carl. "I told him it's a process. After one practice, he was having a hard time. That's a new step. It's the next thing you have to break through.''

Carl, Weber and trainer Al Martindale were all in agreement. Maniscalco is healed, but that doesn't mean he's 100 percent. As Maniscalco regains his conditioning and strength, his athleticism will improve, his father said.

"He's 80 percent right now,'' Carl said. "By Oct. 15, he'll be 100 percent. I don't see any more setbacks.''

The trip to Italy became a favorable turn of events for Maniscalco. Instead of breaking through these barriers in October or November, he can do it months before the season starts, his father said. The likely opening-day starter at point guard, this is where Maniscalco takes another step in taking over the spot.

Point guard is the most important hole to fill after senior Demetri McCamey completed his career last season.

"Is Sam going to be the guy?'' Weber asked. "We're hoping to see if (Tracy Abrams) can handle'' the backup point guard slot.

Brandon Paul and Crandall Head are other point guard options.

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnSupinie.