It would be nice if Dave Leitao could do at DePaul what Dave Leitao once did at DePaul. The Blue Demons were irrelevant for ages. He brought them back to prominence, and then bolted Charlottesville, where he had one good year.
Now back in Lincoln Park, he’s in his third miserable year. After losing to Illinois Friday, he grimly conceded that an ongoing rivalry is not likely.
If Leitao could make DePaul a contender, a regular home-and-home would be great for the Illini. Brad Underwood says he wants a stronger schedule. There’s no reason Illinois should spend a month tuning up against directional schools.
Now, some observations from the DePaul game.
You didn’t realize, prior to Friday night, that Illinois has a guy on the team named LT. His name is Little T. Williams. Or perhaps, L. Things Williams. “Things” for short, or just LT.
Underwood has described both Mark Smith and LT as having “the ‘it’ factor, whatever ‘it’ is.” But only LT has been praised for a comprehensive understanding of “the little things.”
Williams’s perseverance in a 1-on-3 drive found him rebounding his own miss, tricking three Blue Demons into performing a childhood dance, and then banking in his rebound.
He stymied DePaul’s second comeback with a crucial tip in. It was so quick that a few people didn’t see what happened.
LT again sacrificed his chances of fatherhood to the God of Player-Control Fouls.
This time, it was impossible to see whether LT was grinning afterward. Probably not. This time, it looked painful. And then a fight broke out between Kipper Nichols and Jaylen Butz, whose name is almost certainly the title of a gay porn DVD.
But I digress.
Remember how Doug Altenberger loved to take a charge? Remember how pumped Matt Heldman got when the ref wrapped a hand around the back of his own head?
LT is like that.
In the Bruce Weber era, some guys never attempted a dozen free-throws in a season. Weber was revulsed by contested shots. He never seemed to reach the next logical step: Contested shots lead to shots where people aren’t even allowed to defend the shooter!
Illinois now has a coach whose charges charge. They attack.
So yeah, maybe it doesn’t matter that Illinois can’t hit a three.
Mark Smith attempted twelve free-throws. He converted twelve free-throws. The twelfth rolled around the rim before dropping in. That suggests Mark was fatigued. The eleventh grazed the rim. There’s nothing odd about that.
What struck me as strange was the way the ball snapped the net on his first ten attempts. Maybe I was distracted, and missed one. But it seemed to me that Mark’s trajectory was exactly the same on each of those shots.
I sit close enough that I can hear the net snap, and it made the same sound every time. The bottom of the net moved in a straight line, backward, as the ball pulled it toward the stanchion. Then it snapped back
Mark has distinctly deliberate free-throw routine. He takes quite a bit of time to deliver the ball toward the goal. To my way of thinking, the long pause should detract from the efficiency of his muscle memory. But it doesn’t The pause itself may be a component of Mark’s nearly flawless delivery.
Is he always like this? I wondered.
The Supporting Cast
You wonder, would this rotation expand if Brad Underwood had more available bodies? Does Underwood employ the standard nine man rotation because that’s how many guys are available?
Greg Eboigbodin saw spot minutes. Matic Vesel got none. Vesel’s tentative debut suggests that he might need more time to feel comfortable on offense, ostensibly his strong suit.
Everyone else has played a vital role.
Trent Frazier provided crucial minutes at the point when Te’Jon Lucas (again) got in foul trouble. Aaron Jordan grabbed nine rebounds and hit a comebackbreaking three-pointer to throttle DePaul’s second second-half surge.
Last year, Aaron couldn’t get on the floor. He watched Malcolm Hill and Jalen Coleman-Lands play many minutes of basketball. So it might seem surprising that JCL transferred, and Jordan didn’t.
Friday night, the tables were turned. JCL watched from the bench as Jordan thrust the dagger.
Jalen Coleman-Lands the Untold Story
An unmentioned factor in JCL’s decision to transfer, perhaps irrelevant, is that Paul Magelli died during the last academic year.
Magelli and Jewell White were two prominent personalities in the JCL recruitment. John Groce specifically named White as a key figure in attracting JCL’s non-athletic interests.
Piankhi Lands and JCL spent an afternoon in Magelli’s office as the elderly don mapped out JCL’s academic course in the College of Business. COB’s association with the College of Engineering was key, because JCL showed a keen interest in micro-devices.
Magelli’s office at the BIF overlooked the fancypants atrium where future tax avoiders quaff Espresso Royale and embellish their LinkedIn profiles.
Malcolm Hill liked to hang out in Magelli’s office, too. The old guy was, frankly, a hoot. His connection to Illini basketball predates modern record keeping. In 1985, as president of Metro State University in Denver, Magelli recruited Lou Henson assistant Bob Hull to lead the Roadrunners basketball program into Division I That never happened, but it was probably a necessary step in bringing Hull’s wife Cindy Klose to national prominence.
Losing mentors from both the academic and athletic aspects of his life left JCL with few familiar faces in Champaign. Conveniently though, Dave Leitao had just recruited a whole bunch of JCL’s friends to Lincoln Park. Former LaLumiere coach Shane Heirman is now on staff.
And JCL has even found a new vessel for his whimsicality fix.
Magelli was about 5’5″ and good humored. Pantelis Xidias is about that height, and free spirited. Another LaLu transplant (like Drew Cayce, and also like Cayce, a non-scholarship member of his team) Xidias is the guy who keeps it unreal on DePaul’s bench.
JCL didn’t say how he got to Champaign Friday night, but he hawked balls during warm-ups and sat on the team bench, which is uncharacteristic for road games. NCAA rules prohibit transfers from traveling with the team. (That’s why Tyler Underwood sat with his family at EIU.)
If there’s any animosity between JCL and the program, it’s on an individual basis. Kipper Nichols got a big hug from JCL (which, as you know, is vital to Illinois’ on court success). JCL slapped Cayce on the ass during warm-ups. Sports Info Director Derrick Burson shared a laugh with JCL at mid-court.
Aaron Jordan is arguably more likely to thrive in the charging, attacking offensive system that Underwood hopes to develop. Meanwhile, JCL can shoot threes for the Roman church, which has already provided him one paid education at an idyllic lakeside school.
DePaul might not be as good at engineering, but they do have a College of Business. Taking classes in downtown Chicago will certainly enhance JCL’s business prospects.
Basically, everybody wins.