Illinois State basketball team relies on Lieb and Walker for indoor production

NORMAL – As the two returning centers for the Illinois State basketball team, Chase Walker and Brandon Lieb will see each other often in practice.

And as the Redbirds replace departed top rebounders Myles Foster and Kendall Lewis, ISU coach Ryan Pedon hopes and needs to see a high performance from Walker and Lieb.

“I think they both started the summer really well,” Pedon said Wednesday after a practice at CEFCU Arena. “Chase has made a lot of physical improvement. Brandon has been good and played with real confidence. Both are going to be really important for us this year.”

Sophomore Chase Walker makes a layup during Illinois State's practice earlier this week at CEFCU Arena.

Photo of the State of Illinois

Walker and Lieb both played in 17 games last season.

The 6-foot-10 Walker began the season as a redshirt before it was decided his services were needed, averaging 3.2 points and 2.1 rebounds.

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The 7'5″ Lieb missed nearly two months with a fractured fibula in his knee. The transfer from Illinois averaged 3.2 points and 3.8 rebounds.

“It was unfortunate. I thought we were slowly getting back on our feet and I thought I was finding my voice as a leader,” Lieb said of his injury. “It was hard for me to be out, but it kind of helped me. You don't take it for granted.”

“When I came back for the last two games, I was really excited to play again. I think I've done that this spring and summer. Now I'm pain-free. I feel 100 percent comfortable.”

Chase Walker

Chase Walker, a sophomore at Illinois State, has lost more than 60 pounds since high school.

Photo of the State of Illinois

Lieb and Walker have both worked on their weight since arriving at ISU. Lieb wanted to put more weight on his lanky frame while Walker worked to lose weight. Both have been successful.

Walker played his senior year of high school at 330 pounds and slimmed down to 290 pounds last season. Continuing a remarkable transformation, Walker currently weighs 268 pounds.

“I hit it right on target. Right on target,” Walker said of reaching his goal weight. “As long as I feel good, that's all that matters. It's just a journey every day.”

Walker, who has worked extensively with conditioning coach Ryan Swenson and nutritionist Sarah Wright, actually had to gain a few pounds after returning to campus from a stint in his native Ohio.

“The two of them are incredible. We're focused on losing weight but maintaining muscle mass,” Walker said. “What I eat, how I move and when I workout is now a habit. I can't eat as much anymore.”

Pedon doesn't want Walker to focus too much on the reading on the scale.

“Myself and our staff are not that concerned about a number. I want him to feel his best physically,” Pedon said. “I don't think any of us know the exact weight. I want him to focus on getting stronger and getting his body to where it needs to be so he can perform at his best for as long as possible.”

Brandon Love, 2024


Lieb's weight went from 222 pounds when he arrived on campus to 235-240 pounds last season.

“I weigh about 240 pounds. Since I got to college, my ideal goal is 250 pounds,” Lieb said. “If I can gain eight to nine pounds before the season and play there, I think that will only help me. I feel a lot stronger out there. It's great for me.”

Pedon believes the 17 games Lieb played last season were crucial after he got little playing time at Illinois.

“This is the first college offseason where he's actually gotten playing time and experience,” the ISU coach said. “He needs to continue to build on that. Hopefully that can give him confidence. He's already a real asset to our program. I hope he can have the best year of his life here.”

Brandon Lieb Summer 2024

Illinois State's Brandon Lieb scores a dunk during practice earlier this week at CEFCU Arena.

Photo of the State of Illinois

Lieb and Walker “have had a lot of good conversations,” Lieb said. “We've grown much closer this spring and summer. We push each other every day to accomplish what we need from each other. We have big shoes to fill.”

“But it's a good amount (of playing time so far) so we can both hit the ground running. It makes us both better when we have a good opponent in training.”

Walker agrees that a comparison in training benefits both, but gave Lieb the clear edge after training on Wednesday.

“He just kicked my ass today. He worked his ass off and got a lot better,” Walker said. “He's probably making me better more than I'm making him better right now. I need to get up there.”

Schedule not yet final

Pedon said the Redbirds have “just two” games left to narrow their schedule for the upcoming season. “We're in one of the best positions in our league. There are still some teams that need four or five games.”

Outside of the conference, ISU will play Saint Louis at CEFCU Arena and North Dakota State in Fargo, as well as participate in the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam from Nov. 22-25.

Pedon declined to reveal any other games on the schedule.

Follow Randy Reinhardt on Twitter: @Pg_Reinhardt