Categories
Illini Basketball

Crap, Rutgers is Legit again

The Illini men were in Maui when word came across that New Jersey’s third most respected college basketball program would be joining the B14. Maui is paradise, so that seemed fitting. Illinois would have an eternal patsy. Two guaranteed wins per year. Northwestern+.

For a while (the Eddie Jordan era), the Scarlet Knights were that bad. Illinois was that bad, too, so not all the guaranteed wins were won.

Cliff Omoruyi has come a long way since the day his kneecap fell off.

Now that Illinois has a legitimate coach; now that the Illinois roster is filled with recruits that other programs wanted; you might think that your favorite Orange wearers would dominate a team that’s showed little interest in competition since the Ford Administration.

Center Myles Johnson, who terrorized #B1G bigs for the last few years, is at UCLA now. That’s good for Illinois. Unfortunately, numerous #Illini killers are back in New Brunswick this year. Paul Mulcahy is merely the most annoying. Ron Harper Jr. is the most dangerous. Caleb McConnell combines the problems presented by Harper and Mulcahy, in that he works really hard (Mulcahy) and has demonstrated an proclivity for hot-handedness.

And then there’s Geo Baker.

Or is there? Baker has been out with a hamstring injury, and even if he returns against the Illini, he won’t have practiced in a while. Jacob Grandison would not say whether the Illini expect Baker to play Friday night. He’s so coy.

All of Autumn 2021’s Illini basketball should be regarded as its own special season, with expectations reliant on individual availability of players. You should not project NCAA Tournament seeding on this Autumn 2021 Illini team.

Maybe it’ll get another great effort from Alfonso Plummer, and maybe Cliff Omoruyi won’t give Kofi Cockburn fits in the paint. But this Scarlet Knights team has horses, whether Baker plays or not.

It should be great fun, and Illinois might win. 6pm Friday on ESPN2.

Categories
COVID-19 Illini Basketball

Adversity, Part 11/29

As the game-clock dipped below 20 seconds, and the beaten Irish forced another stoppage, a weary Andre Curbelo limped away from the Illini bench and propped himself against the wall of State Farm Center’s lower bowl.

A not unhappy moment from Monday.

His eyes weren’t glazed, but they lolled from side-to-side in the way that Andre Curbelo’s eyes loll for various reasons. Sometimes it’s because he’s just owned an opponent. Sometimes he’s just told a joke. This time, as in recent days, it’s because he wasn’t feeling well.

He was tired. He was ready for the game to be over. Most Illini fans were ready for the game to be over. The game was, in fact, over. But Notre Dame hadn’t stopped pretending, yet.

Belo had stopped pretending.

In the first half, he was excited, sociable. By the end, he just wanted it to be done.

Belo has an expressive face, and the way he expresses himself is not American (except for the fact that Puerto Ricans are Americans, despite their lack of representation in Congress).

Andre Curbelo dances a jig to & for referee Larry Scirroto.

As with Kofi Cockburn’s genuousness & sensitivity, Belo’s demeanor is disarming to Midwesterners. We’re accustomed to hating people. Our chosen news sources and algorithms have not prepared us for moments when we’re asked to assess the humanity & vulnerability of fellow humans.

It works for us when analyzing Da’Monte Williams. He’s a legitimate badass. He’s from Peoria. His entire identity is directed by his intensity.

It doesn’t work when we’re trying to understand our Californians, of which we have three. It doesn’t help us to understand our Caribbeans, of which we have five.

If you’re as cynical as I am, you could read the last few days/weeks of Illini tribulations as a script that Brad Underwood concocted in preparation for the viral video of his postgame speech to the team, in the locker room, after all of them overcame injuries and gastrointestinal distress just long enough to dispatch Mike Brey’s lanky leprechauns.

We’re living in an age of conspiracy theories, so I wouldn’t be surprised if many Illini fans disbelieve everything that’s factual about the current state of Illini basketball.

But even the facts, for those interested, aren’t immediately available to the insiderest of insiders. Brad Effing Underwood didn’t know his starting line-up 44 minutes before tip-off.

He named this 82-72 win among the best in his career.

Yes, he’s hyperbolic. Yes, he’s a fabulist. But despite AI, deep fake technology and Elite, Elite prose; Brad Underwood has no power to invent the legitimate quandary that’s stymied his team for two devastating/empowering weeks. The knee bent. The vomit projected.

The team overcame.

It’s a wonderful narrative, and it offers even us cynical writers a George Bailey moment.

But then we realize that Steve Pikiell has analyzed all of Monday’s video, that Belo appears to need Chicago’s finest neurologists and that Trent, back or not, still can’t shoot.

Oof.

Categories
COVID-19 Illini Basketball

Journal of the Plague Year

If five Illini basketball players are still standing by 8 pm tonight, there will probably be a basketball game at State Farm Center. That’s pretty much how Brad Underwood laid it out in his Sunday press conference.

Ben is out. That much we know. Scott Richey’s persistent questioning yielded as much. Trent, Belo and Jake might be available. Brad said he doesn’t know. Trent’s problem is a deep bone bruise. Belo’s problem should be the subject of a dissertation. The O-shaped suction marks on his neck recall Star Trek (the original series).

The rest of the team seems to be troubled by a respiratory virus. In the 2021 season, the team was protected from respiratory viruses. This year, not so much. For one thing, classes are in-person. For another, they live in an enormous apartment building with a thousand strangers. (It’s the building whose construction necessitated the demolition of Trito’s Uptown/Campus Crusade, Chin’s Wok n’ Roll/Eddie’s/Clybourne, RR Sportsgrill/Firehaus and the Sixth & Daniel Espresso Royale.)

Open this picture in a new tab. Look at their faces.

Respiratory virus you say? That rings a bell. Is it influenza? Maybe. Scott persisted about that, too. He won Sunday’s Actual Journalist award.

It seems the flu is carving its way through the entire campus, not just the basketball team. It’s not Covid, unless the current strain mimics influenza’s bone pain, fever and listlessness.

The last two pre-game availabilities have been among the most frank of Underwood’s career. Perhaps by necessity. Maybe because he feels the pressure of two unexpected, early season losses.

In fairness, he’s generally straightforward, and you can literally see him thinking when a question veers on territory that DIA handlers have cautioned him against addressing. You can also tell, if you spend a lot of time around him, that he’d much rather shoot from the hip. (If he leaves the University of Illinois before he retires, it probably won’t be because the University of Illinois micromanaged him. It’s merely one of the irritants.)

So what about tonight’s basketball game, assuming there is one? What should you expect? Nobody knows. Even Brad Underwood doesn’t know.

If Illini basketball has a successful season, the narrative will begin with this hellish month of injuries and illness, and how the team came together despite them.

Let’s hope you’re reading that narrative in mid-March.

^^^ Lucas Johnson
Categories
Illini Basketball

The Invisible Game

Reading the internet’s Sky Is Falling crowd right now, it occurs to me that no one actually watched the RGV game. It helps that a lot of you began your observations by saying “I didn’t watch it, but …”

It was a fun game. The Illini had the troubles you’d expect from a team without its point guard, back-up point guard, and third-string point guard.

Two wings and a center manned the point. The center tallied six assists. The wing dished a game-high eight. (RGV managed nine total).

The other wing notched an 0/5 assist-to-turnover ratio. Considering he’s a wing who was forced to play point … well, it’s still a bad night. But Hutch is just getting his legs back, you’ll remember.

People Who Didn’t Watch also missed a fundamental point. RGV was really great at both ends of the court. On offense, their guards and wings utilized angles that Ayo Dosunmu and Rayvonte Rice would appreciate. They knew when to employ a floater, and the backboard. They used the rim as a screen. It was gorgeous.

On defense, they executed a plan that proved immediately effective, and then adjusted when Illinois coaches figured out how to attack it.

Eventually, playing a 7-man rotation while also defending the bejesus out of two unstoppable forces proved fatal. Two of the 7-men fouled out. Another two garnered four fouls. Eliminating Kofi’s touches worked in the opening minutes, but Kofi has a certain inevitability about him.

The Vaqueros deserved to win, and that’s no slight to a team that was favored by 26 because no one in Las Vegas knew three starters were unavailable. They just played really well. They pentrated well. They rebounded well.

They adjusted well.

Alfonso Plummer, seemingly perturbed to learn that he hadn’t set a record the other night, was determined to claim it against RGV. But after 5-of-8 arc shots in the first half, he managed only 1-of-3 in the second.

They wouldn’t let him see the rim.

Kofi should have challenged Dave Downey’s all-time single-game scoring record. But RGV employed the right combination of fronting, denying, doubling, switching and hacking. His 38 points were a bit of a disappointment, frankly.

But then, when your point, back-up point, and back-up point’s back-up are all sidelined with various maladies, it’s hard to expect a great post-feeding experience.

Categories
COVID-19 Illini Basketball

Plane, trains, automobile

This is not a UTRGV preview, except for the following Brad Underwood media Zoom, in which he mentions his longtime friend Matt Figger, who took over the Vaqueros head coaching position after Lew Hill died suddenly this year.

I’m publishing this column to share some pictures from Kansas City, but the text will chronicle my Thanksgiving week travels to-and-from Kansas City. As far as I know, only one person died.

Take me out, coach. I’m not ready to play.

The Groce Staff liked to quiz me about the dollars & time my road trips cost. It became a regular routine when I strode on to the court at Bryce Jordan, the RAC, The Barn or Madison Square Garden.

I got from Champaign to the latter for $2. It took about 20 hours. Unfortunately, Megabus no longer serves Champaign. Miami cost more. There was an extra dollar to get north to Orlando. Then another dollar to get to Atlanta, and finally a third dollar to get to Champaign.

I don’t remember how long it took. I was asleep for quite much of it. And to be honest, you’d need to factor in the money I spent at Landmark Diner on Luckie Street if you wanted a true evaluation of the cost.

So anyway, here’s what happened this week

Monday, 5:45 am: Heather and I get in the Mazda 3 and drive to Illinois Terminal. The train is only about 10 minutes late. (It’s never on time, ever.)

Chet knows. Listen to Chet.

City of New Orleans ($22 because I waited) gets to Chicago at 8:30. It’s 45 minutes early. They added that extra 45 minutes as a pretense, because it’s always late.

Blue Line from Clinton to O’Hare (Ventra card, $2.25). 1 pm flight on United ($77). RideKC bus from airport is free, it picks me up about 8 minutes after I arrive, and takes about an hour to get to downtown. From there I could walk to Home2Suites, but the Streetcar comes every ten minutes, so I hop on that. It’s free too.

Home2Suites gave me a free late check-out. I asked if I could pay for one. That got me to 1:30. Starbucks would have filled the void ’til 3 pm doors at T-Mobile Center, but their pandemic closing time is 2 pm. So I sat on the steps enjoying the 60° weather until Scott Richey arrived, and we bantered for the final ten minutes.

The little market across the street from Home2 had a bottle of Two Buck Chuck for $3.50. It cost $3.50 because it’s a convenience store, and the brand name was Spring Creek but let’s face it, they all come from the same factory in Lodi. The merlot is innocuous, not too acidic, and gets the ideas flowing.

I’d decided against booking a second night at Home2, because the bus station was walking distance from the arena, and a Greyhound for Saint Louis was leaving at 1:20 am. After an 8:30 pm game (oh how optimistic we were back then, in the halcyon days of October), I’d have just enough time to finish my radio piece before walking over.

But then I waited too long, and the price went up to $88. But wait! There’s a 1:30 Trailways that goes to Omaha, where I can transfer to the Champaign bus! Trailways is the worst travel option in America, but I suppose I’d forgotten that point.

I can never sleep after a game/editing pictures and audio, so another hotel night seemed wasteful.

The TMC Director of Operations basically insisted on driving me to the station. The bus boarded on time. The driver, Dave, told everybody that Federal Law required him to read an admonition about mandatory masking. But he added that we could see where his own mask was (a gaiter, around his neck) and that he’d probably get in trouble for saying so.

Wincing, he took a seat on the bench.

The ride was quiet and uneventful until about 3 am when a two year-old girl launched into an uncontrollable coughing fit. Not old enough for a vaccination. I had little doubt about the root cause. No face covering blocked her aerosols, but perhaps they didn’t make it all the way to Dave at the front.

The elderly Chinese couple to my left were both wearing surgical masks. My N95 was held in place by a more stylish fabric mask. I’m 3x-Pfizered, so I should be okay.

Unfortunately, the guy across the aisle from the little girl died at this point.

We arrived in Omaha a few minutes early. About 5:41 am. My transfer was scheduled for 6:10 and arrived at about 6:40. That gave me plenty of time to watch the firetrucks arrive. Then the police. Then an ambulance. Then more police. Then another ambulance. More police.

Firetrucks left. Ambulance left. The forensic van arrived. The other ambulance left.

Dave was probably not going to finish the drive to Sioux City. He’d surpass his TSA maximum hours mandate. Despite his maskholishness, Dave was the friendliest of the drivers. He stayed outside near his bus as various law enforcement and medical people shuffled on & off. That’s for the best, because the coughing two year-old had gone into the building. There were two other wee ones with persistent cough in that small space. The Mesoamerican one year-old had the same cough. It sounded wet, from deeply congested lungs. The other was about 18 months, a little black boy.

The girl was white. She had straight brown hair to her shoulders, and honestly looked pretty happy for a toddler who’d been coughing since 3 am before arriving in a dingy Nebraskan bus depot.

It was nice to see the Covid spread among the demographics, rather than a single Boogeyman. I suppose Fox will still blame the Mesoamericans, though. They didn’t seem especially legal.

Our next driver (Omaha to Burlington, Iowa) was curt, and that may have been his name too. I didn’t catch it. He made unnecessarily long and frequent announcements over the PA. Everytime a batch of new passengers alighted, he thanked all the veterans on board, and especially the Gold Star Families.

Burlington Trailways is a bunch of small-town, conservative white people who provide terrible yet expensive service to a predominantly black clientele, and treat them like shit. “Curt” yelled at me for not having a paper ticket, and not remaining in the depot. The two people behind the sales window were black, and extremely friendly despite a roomful of fugue & fog. I hope the space behind that window had separate ventilation. But then again, what are the odds that these two haven’t already had The Vid?

People who ride the bus are not always the world’s smartest. Many of them just got out of jail, and are still dressed in gray jump suits. I like traveling this way now and then, because it reminds me that there’s another America out there, and I rarely share a glass of merlot with it.

You shouldn’t be so surprised. He used to make a lot of them.

The final bus was hell. The driver was the dumbest guy on the journey. His name was almost certainly not Dunning-Kruger, because that would be too perfect. He yelled at absolutely every single passenger. He yelled at me for not having a paper ticket. For the second station in a row, I had to find a second staff person to explain PDF downloads to a bus driver.

Bobby Gikas has grown a mustache.

One of the convicts explained to Dunning-Kruger that “curt” had taken his ticket and given him a reboarding pass instead. Dunning-Kruger said there’s no way “curt” would have done that, and only barely backed down when every single other passenger said the same thing.

A thirtysomething named Juh-MEE-qua (that’s the phonetic, I wouldn’t want to guess the actual spelling) walked into the building and Dunning-Kruger immediately yelled at her to get out of the hallway. She wasn’t going to take his shit. She’d paid $140 to ride this hellish bus. (Pro-tip: Buy early, Juh-MEE-qua.) I commiserated with her. She had long curly extensions, a big butt & fake eyelashes. You meet all kinds of people out there.

Dunning-Kruger played the Burlington Trailways promo/safety movie after every stop. Galesburg, Peoria, Bloomington and presumably Champaign. So I got it four times. Because the loudspeakers were behind him, and facing the passengers, he cranked the volume until he could hear it loud and clear. That meant 11 in Spinal Tap terms.

The movie featured the Burlington Trailways president (a hunch, but I’m pretty sure this hunch would pay off) telling people how to sit down, how to strap on a seatbelt, how to open a restroom door. Every single person in the video was not just white, but old and white. I looked around at my predominantly black cohort and thought “of course they’re not surprised. Just like January 6 didn’t surprise them.”

One camera angle caught the president as he pretended to steer a moving bus. He smiled, looked confidant. The freshly pressed suitcoat. The epaulettes.

One understood immediately that he’d made this movie to satisfy his own sense of vanity, and that people on Greyhound can find their way into the bathroom without an explanatory video.

One understood that his yesmen all praised the work. He looked great in this movie, they assured him. Maybe some of them realized that forcing it upon 55 human sardines would not make them feel safer, but remind them NEVER TO FUCKING RIDE GOD-DAMNED BURLINGTON TRAILWAYS EVER AGAIN. The passengers literally covered their ears with their hands because it was so loud.

I had planned to sleep a while on this bus, but a four minute video every 45 minutes eliminated that possiblity. Dunning-Kruger also played satellite radio from his dashboard, as if people wanted to listen to Hot Country.

Fortunately, it kept me awake for the Underwood availability. But given the lack of sleep, and the need to locate an elderly parent, and then put some turkey, sides and yes, merlot into him; I never had time to research the UTRGV Vaqueros.

Just kidding. It was a 2018 Dry Creek cab.

Categories
Illini Basketball

The Assassin assassins

After Alfonso Plummer connected on his first three-pointer, this lazy cameraman said to himself “I ought to take a picture of that, in case it turns out to be important.” These are the thoughts of an incompetent sports reporter. Fortunately, I paid attention to me.

“He’s really, really good at what he do.” – Asst. Coach Tim Anderson

There are sooo many great pictures from Tuesday, and I hope to post them by the time your tryptophan infusion forces you to have a little lie-down. Lots of them feature Bruce Weber, who contines to be a great subject for ridicule. But there are also just a whole lot of moments that you’ll want to remember about this young team. And a few that they’ll want to forget.

Paul Schmidt & Marcus Anderson carry Trent Frazier to the locker room.

Belo’s continuing head trauma seems to have escaped the secrets locker. The bright side is that he’ll probably stop playing like he’s concussed if he ever reaches the point where he’s no longer concussed.

Kofi’s passing out of the low block increases with each game, proving that those practices where he’s not allowed to shoot/dunk are improving his habits markedly.

Hutch played as a triple-threat on Tuesday. You first heard he was just a shooter, but more recently you’ve been told that “he can do it all,” and he was certainly more of a slasher in Kansas City. That should give you optimism about this team’s chance at improving its offense.

Bruce Weber, whose string of bad luck continues to not be his fault, noticed that Illinois did things to his team that they didn’t do to Cincinnati.

You almost feel for the guy.

Categories
Illini Basketball

Tell Me Why!

You’d want to know who this Illini team thinks it is.

You’d want to know what the coaching staff has been drilling in practice.

You’d want to know when Trent Frazier & Da’Monte Williams forgot how to shoot.

Only five TOs for Belo this time.

You’d want to know where Andre Curbelo thought he was headed when he barrelled into pairs & threes of taller defenders.

You’d want to know why this team looks so uninspired, and how Brad Underwood lost control of them.

Assistant coach Tim Anderson asks for focus from the Illini bench.

This is one of those articles that nobody will read, because you don’t want to think about Illini basketball right now. Maybe, in a few months, Illini basketball will have rekindled your interest, and you’ll be scrolling the web, trying to find as much content as possible. Let’s hope so. You’ll be happier, and all of us who report on Illini basketball will earn some money from your clicks.

It was easier against just one defender.

Right now, every upcoming opponent is studying video from the Bearcats’ Trouncing. They’ll see how Kofi Cockburn dominated the game for the first eight minutes, and what adjustments Wes Miller made at the Under-12 timeout.

A lot of the upcoming job Brad Underwood has in front of him — a job which could, ideally, result in those familiar His Best Coaching Job accolades that TV commentators gush during conference tournaments — involves Reining Wild Horses.

Andre Curbelo and Coleman Hawkins have All-American potential. Each is exactly the kind of player that gets fans excited to watch. And together, especially in the form of a perfect half-court lob to two-handed slam, basketball cannot get more fun.

But both Curbelo and Hawkins are out-of-control right now. Belo did better with Kofi in the line-up, but he’s nowhere near solid enough to be a starting PG in the B1G. His sixth-man role worked last year because he introduced an element of chaos into the game. You can’t rely on chaos for 36 minutes. It giveth and taketh away. Right now, taketh is winning.

Both Hawkins and Curbelo are becoming the focus of refereeing, which industry is attempting, per NCAA direction, to clean up the ungentlemanly aspects of the college game. That’s why Belo and ColeHawk get technicals for taunting.

Brad calmly signaled for a time-out. He was only pretending to be calm.
Brad Underwood rips Coleman Hawkins a new asshole.

Underwood looked calm when he called a time-out from the Illini bench. But as soon as he’d disappeared into the huddle, he exploded. “We told you this was coming!” or some variant on that theme was the most coherent of the phrases, which could be heard, if not intelligibly, in the upper deck.

Chester Frazier offers positive reinforcement to a new-assholed Coleman Hawkins.

It seems the team — and Coleman in particular — hadn’t followed the scouting report, or wasn’t prepared for the ferocity of Cincinnati’s defensive pressure.

This point, after a week of post-Marquette practices, should discourage the reader. On the other hand, it’s difficult to replicate Darryl Morsell and David DeJulius in practice. Not until they’re picking your pocket does one understand how intense their defensive prowess can be.

On the bright side, both of those guys might still be playing for B1G teams, and they’re not. Instead, they’re helping Illinois to understand what’s coming before conference play starts.

Thus, Coleman got 22 minutes of tick. Da’Monte got 27, shoring up the defense, but keeping the offensively spectacular Hawkins on the bench.

It turns out Hutch is real, not merely a legend. True to form, he was injured in Monday’s game.

Brad’s coaching was not all top-down on Monday. It wasn’t all rage-filled. He also shared a beautiful moment with Kofi, when they discussed low-post strategy and movement.

Kofi gets along well with others.

Kofi has a way to go before he understands the center position in a way that, say, Moses Malone did. But his demeanor doesn’t need a complete rebuild. Curbelo and Hawkins shouldn’t be completely robbed of their wildness. That would make them easier to scout, and less exciting to watch.

But that fine-tuning, finding the sweet-spot in between wild and controlled, is Underwood’s daunting task. You should hope that those TV commentators are talking about it in March.

Categories
Illini Basketball

The Omar Addition

Kofi Cockburn was the player made available for Sunday’s pre-Cincinnati Zoom, and that makes sense. He’s the pre-season #B1G POTY, and the Cincy game is his first of the season.

Kofi’s presence was felt long before tip-time, though. It put Andre Curbelo’s mind to rest, for one thing. The debacle at Marquette demonstrated that Belo-to-Kofi doesn’t work when half the ingredients are missing. Curbelo can play his game now that Kofi’s back.

The defense collapsed, time and again.

Doubters of the Underwood Administration multiplied in numbers during those final seven minutes of the Fiasco in Milwaukee. It’s the nature of the beast.

Time and again Belo charged into the lane. Time and again Kofi failed to clear a path, or anticipate a lob.

Because he was sitting on the bench.

Kofi wasn’t completely distressed as the game unfolded. He found moments to laugh with Pittsburgh’s finest (cop-cum-referee) Larry Scirotto, whose mere presence at games annoys Illini fans as much as it delights Kofi. The gentle giant and the aggressive Napoleon enjoy an off-court rapport.

Larry has a boisterous personality, like all the mouthy cops you remember from mouthy cop shows like The Wire or Law & Order. He’s cocky and good-natured. Kofi continued to banter with him throughout the game.

Kofi explains to Larry Scirotto that he’s gonna need his money by midnight.

Kofi’s suspension provided some much-needed PT for his back-up, Omar Payne. Payne was fantastic against Marquette.

Unlike Cockburn, he’s not an offensive threat, but the problems he creates at the other end give opposing coaches fits. Payne didn’t quite pull a Darryl Morsell on the Golden Eagles, but he made them plenty uncomfortable.

And that’s exactly why he’s playing at Illinois. But it’s not just oppponents he’s here to bother. It’s his frend Cockburn: Having Omar defend Kofi on a daily basis will do more for this team than anybody will ever appreciate.

Omar and Coleman Hawkins make it hard on the interior.

Coach Underwood said Omar’s defensive grade-out was excellent for the game at Marquette, and that’s what you would expect having seen the number of blocked and altered shots Omar provoked.

The Golden Eagles prospered in the mid-range game, where Justin Lewis picked-n-popped and exploited lazy close-outs to hit Nigel Hayes-style mid-range jumpers. You could live with Morsell going off on the Illini. It’s what he does. Lewis’s 17 points hurt.

Trent Frazier cried after the Marquette game. We know that because Brad said so in his postgame. And then moments later, we were sticking cameras & microphones up Trent’s snout, and the bright lights showed that he’d definitely just finished an hour’s swim in a heavily chlorinated pool, or been crying.

Trent is smarter than he knows, which is to say he’s smart, and he doesn’t know it. Not always. In a very human way, Trent has doubts and anxieties, and loyalties He defended Belo against perceived criticism after that game, because he had his guard up. He didn’t realize that our questions about Belo’s first time in front of a hostile crowd and Belo playing without Kofi weren’t necessarily dumping on Belo, but instead trying to grasp why Belo faltered.

It’s a reminder that these celebrities are still growing, and experience the same moments of fragility we all face, especially when we’re young & trying to figure things out.

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Illini Basketball

Player of the Game: Da’Monte Williams

“He one a dem guys who sacrifice, and get it done, because that’s what we need to win.”

Da’Monte Williams

On the stat sheet you’ll find that Da’Monte led all rebounders with 11. He tossed a pair of dimes. Two steals. One turnover. 31 minutes off the bench.

Trent found ‘Monte. It seemed easy.

But if you had the opportunity to focus solely on ‘Monte during Monday night’s slog, you saw a clinic. He moved like molasses on defense when it didn’t matter. He saved his outbursts for moments when catlike reflexes slapped a lulled opponent in its proverbial face, and stole its milk money, and the ball.

On a night when Illinois’s “best” players couldn’t keep their temperatures under a thousand, ‘Monte was cold-blooded.

After the first few times, you hoped he’d figure it out.

Putting quote marks around “best” doesn’t mean that Andre Curbelo and Coleman Hawkins don’t have the best stardom potential among this group. It means that they played recklessly, and allowed a fervent Marquette student section to get right up in their heads.

Coleman didn’t get a T this time, but Brad Underwood ran down the sidelines to stop Coleman from trying. Coleman’s emotions are part of the joy, but like Belo’s turnovers, they’ve been on display every single gotdamn game, and the entertainment value is wearing off.

C’mon. The guy is literally a foot taller than you.

It’s such a great opportunity for Brad. If he can refine these two rough diamonds, legitimate sports columnists will notice (because they’ll have read all us local columnists writing about it).

Belo’s repeated failures at attacking the Marquette defense is possibly the craziest thing I’ve seen on a basketball court. But that’s exactly why Belo is so great: He’s crazy.

Live by the sword, etc.

But there’s also the question of Belo’s post-concussion functioning. He hurt his head again Monday, and you’ve got to wonder how a shaken brain affected his depth perception, reasoning, impulse control.

A pair of G-League Two-Ways were there to catch him when he fell, but he didn’t get up for a while.

Andre Curbelo hurt his head again.

Coleman was amazing again, by the way. And Trent needed the ball in his hot hand in those final minutes, something Brad assured his press conference that Illinois tried to accomplish.

They were great, and they weren’t great enough. Trent admitted it immediately. He got picked and his team lost.

Coleman said yeah, of course he and Belo are still adjusting. It’s literally their first road game.

So with all that drama, it’s basically expected that a solid, selfless performance by Da’Monte Williams will probably go unnoticed. Except by his coaches, and the student managers who crunch the efficiency numbers.

What a game.

Categories
Illini Basketball

Screaming Eagles

Brad Underwood says Shaka Smart has brought The Havoc to Marquette. So whatever happens tomorrow night in Milwaukee, it’s going to be exciting. Probably messy. Possibly bloody.

Illini nemesis Darryl Morsell departed Maryland to join the Ex-Tex head guy in rebuilding the Warriors Golden Eagles after yet another K-Tree coaching failure slapped its last floor.

He will be a Thorn tomorrow.

Eventually, this guy will leave college basketball.

Jacob Grandison declined the opportunity to reveal the Illini scouting report for tomorrow’s game, but reiterated that at this stage of the season, the Illini are really focused on themselves anyhow.

Grandison, for those who haven’t noticed, is a leader for this Illini team. And last year’s team, as well.

He reluctantly admitted in Meet the 22 Illini that he sees himself as a Glue Guy. Brad Underwood was not at all reluctant to ascribe that quality to Jake in this morning’s Zoom. That’s why Jake gets to much PT. That’s how he moved into the starting line-up of a 1-Seed last season.

A 6 pm Monday tip might seem not ideal for some. You might still be on your way home from work. Maybe you’d have driven up from the north suburbs if you had an extra hour.

But it’s fantastic for John Podziemski. Fiserv Forum is a three minute walk from work (“3 min if the traffic light to cross 6th Street is green
6 min if the traffic light is red”) and the early tip means he’ll finally get some sleep after attending an Illini game.

Shaka’s team had a game Friday, in which they barely beat New Hampshire. Here’s his postgame presser. Mostly he talks about his team’s 75-70 win. There’s a bit of Illini prep at the end.

And here are the game notes from the MU Sports Information Dept.