You might have a favorite Illini player. I don’t. I’m averse to the concept of favorites. I like variety.
Moreover, favorite means different things to different people. Is it an alpha or an underdog? Do you love the personality or the skill set?
This article is about The Rock of this 2020 Illini basketball team.
Giorgi is one of those once-per-generation personalities, and his skill set is so fundamental that it appeals to all ages of hoops aficionado.
Kofi is an effortless, nearly flawless once-per-generation bucket+rebound machine. His earnestness is a story in itself.
Last night, Da’Monte Williams burst forward for a career-high 18 points, and earned a moment in the spotlight. He even smiled when this reporter asked his teammates to aver that he sometimes smiles (in the absence of cameras) and, in fact, cracks jokes.
None of these guys, all indispensable to the team, is The Rock.
Trent Frazier hews precipitously toward rockishness. He’s got that game, and that personality. Brad Underwood, as hard-ass old school as any current Power 5 head coach, cannot find enough time to heap praise for Trent’s toughness, defensive dominance, and playmaking capabilities.
Trent Frazier is not the subject of this article.
Ayo Dosunmu finally enjoyed a night’s romp through defenses, driving to the bucket, assisting others, connecting on jumpers from the arc.
No, I’m not talking about Alan Griffin either.
To me, it’s obvious that Andres Feliz is, and has been, the foundation of this team since the moment he arrived on campus. It’s not because he keeps the team loose in the locker room. It’s not because his stature imposes Laws of Physics on opponents. It’s because his sheer determination imposes itself on everyone lucky/unfortunate enough to cross his path.
Giorgi is everything to all people, and one of the best freshmen Illini basketball has seen since freshman eligibility. Kofi, Ayo and Trent continue to be focal points for media and opponents.
Andres Feliz remains the lone Illini whose focus, effort & intensity demonstrate a ruthlessness that — for better, or very much likely worse — can’t be taught. It’s borne of a determination that Americans can’t fake and don’t experience. Not in this generation, anyhow. Andres fought his way off that island.
Since arriving in Champaign, Andres has demonstrated a sense of humor to fans. In moments when he thought he might have been unobserved, he’s taken his teammates aside for words of encouragement, hugs, and laughs. But also tough talk.
For those who might have opinions about Tyler Underwood, it might be useful to know that both Andres Feliz and Trent Frazier have intensely close relationships with Tyler Underwood.
Sports fans and sports psychologists have an understanding about toughness & determination. Maybe casual fans understand too. Maybe not. If you’re an Illini fan and reading this column, understand & appreciate this point: Andres Feliz is the first among equals on this team. He’s the terminator who absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.
The best part of the Andres Feliz story, for those of us benefiting from all his determination and hard work, is that we can expect to enjoy his labors, for free, through March.
He’s married to an American woman, and has an American kid. Maybe he’ll be able to stay even after that.