Illini Basketball

Mike Basgier is leaving Illini basketball. What about Darius Paul?

Injured would-be starters Aaron Cosby (white) Rayvonte Rice (green) and Tracy Abrams (red) watch the Illini-Purdue game Wednesday

Illini Strength & Conditioning coach Mike Basgier is leaving John Groce’s program.

Basgier says the opportunity to return to his alma mater, James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va.  was “too good to pass up” noting that the campus is 3.5 hours from family in Virginia Beach, his hometown.  He and his wife, Dr. Erin Basgier, a physical therapist, are five months into parenthood.

Basgier’s departure is significant for team chemistry. “Coach Bass” is one of the few insiders who has the ability to keep the team loose psychologically (as well as physically). The others are Paris Parham, Jaylon Tate and Mike LaTulip. Those guys leaven the intensity of the other coaches and players.

Groce has always praised Basgier’s abilities and work. But perhaps the most interesting fact about their relationship is that, after working together at Ohio University for nearly three years, Groce did not (at first) hire Basgier at Illinois. The original S & C coach of the Groce era was Lon Record, poached from Villanova, who mysteriously disappeared from the Illinois program after three months.

Groce and Basgier are polar opposites, personality-wise.  Club Trillion cum Grantland writer Mark Titus phrased it thus:

I had a really good relationship with Groce. He was always really nice to me and is the one who gave me my gig as a manager when I got to OSU and then eventually asked me to walk-on. My only criticism of him is that there literally wasn’t anything to talk to him about other than basketball, which made for some awkward conversations when we tried to talk about other stuff. But honestly, that’s less of a criticism and more of a statement about how much of a basketball nerd he is (it’s not hyperbole when I say that he’s honestly the brightest basketball mind I’ve ever been around). So that plus the fact that he has a great history of success recruiting makes me think he’ll be a great fit for Illinois even though Illini fans think otherwise right now.

It’s that focus and intensity that got Groce where he is, both in terms of his successes and taxable income. It’s also the root of his failures.

Lately, it’s his failures that Illini fans talk about. That’s why it’s imperative for Groce to keep dynamic personalities in the program. The tragedy of Darius Paul demonstrates the importance of staffing people who understand people. Darius Paul is a mild-mannered, funny, friendly, compassionate Dr. Jekyll.

To his, and everyone’s dismay, alcohol turns him into Mr. Hyde.

Addiction Research & Theory recently published a study of human personality types, and their response to alcohol.  It made great press. Here’s what The Atlantic had to say about the study’s “Hyde” drunk:

Named for the the sinister alter-ego of Dr. Jekyll, these people reported big decreases in conscientiousness, intellect, and agreeableness when they are intoxicated. They “reported a tendency of being particularly less responsible, less intellectual, and more hostile when under the influence of alcohol than they are when they are sober, as well as relative to members of the other groups.”

Groce doesn’t drink. His wife Ally enjoys a glass of wine with dinner. Paris Parham doesn’t drink.  Jamall Walker will have a drink socially, but characterizes himself as “not a big drinker.” Dustin Ford says he’s the same way.

Some players don’t drink, either. But in general, college basketball players are like college students everywhere. Beer, parties and prospective intimate partners are just as important as midterms and syllabi.

Steve Bardo’s controversial memoir chronicled an episode of late night partying before a game! Illinois lost, badly.

That team got a bit more serious after learning that lesson. It didn’t stop them from imbibing. During the Flyin’ Illini reunion in 2000, I was their bartender. I served them a lot of Red Stripe and Hennessy (excepting Kendall Gill, who is not a drinker).

In the 90s, I sometimes joined Richard Keene and Chris Gandy, regular drinking buddies, in a gin n’ tonic at The Clybourne, later at The Gypsy. Gandy upped his game once he’d landed a steady job, and went top shelf (Tanqueray).  Frank Williams downed many a Long Island Iced Tea in his playing days, at either One East Main or The Highdive (where I frequently mixed them for him). Matt Heldman was a beer drinker. His dad was a Mr. Hyde.

Today’s student-athletes are no different. Sometimes I encounter active roster players in bars. If they’re 21+, I have a drink with them.  Two weeks ago, one of them explained that he’d moved on to the Esquire now that he was of age (implying campus bars are for kids).

It’s all off the record.

As Amelia Rayno wrote last week, having a drink with a source — especially off the record — is a good way to establish trust. It didn’t work out well for her, because her source was ex-Minnesota AD Norwood Teague, a Mr. Hyde.

Chester Frazier never imbibed. His friend & roommate Jamar Smith was a Mr. Hyde.

I once advised Bill Cole to remove an Instagram (MySpace?) photo of an empty (?) Natural Light can precariously balanced on the shower caddy he shared with Mike Davis. Somehow, that one never made it onto message boards.

During Cole’s sophomore season, Bruce Weber ended a Friday afternoon practice by encouraging everyone to make sensible choices. He very nearly asked them not to go out to bars. Dominique Keller raised his hand, and said he wasn’t going out. Weber chided “that’s because he’s got a full bar in his apartment.” Some sneering and snickering ensued.

Weber knew what every college coach knows. There’s no way to stop college kids from being college kids.

John Groce knows it, too. But does he know that Darius Paul’s problem is not Darius Paul’s fault? How will politics affect Paul’s future?

Maybe Darius will get the boot because Groce can’t fool me twice shame on … we can’t get fooled again. On the other hand, Groce’s boss is not afraid of confronting the media, and he’ll even drink beer RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM.

Reputation tarnished, the University of Illinois claims to retain status as a top research institution.  Maybe that’s true. If so, there are lots of neuroscience and psychology professors who could explain how Darius Paul’s brain chemistry is an accident of epigenetics and wiring, not moral turpitude.

Compare the biggest celebrity gossip of 2015. One of my favorite State Farm Center employees asked my opinion about the ESPYs & Caitlyn Jenner (which I didn’t see). Her (the SFC employee’s) tone was borderline mocking. She’s from a small town.

I told her that I ‘d always considered T the oddest of the LBGTQ categories represented in that acronym. Who wants to have their parts cut off?

But then I read Chaz Bono’s book, and realized T is  the category that makes the most sense. Some babies are born with ambiguous sex parts. (It happens more than you’d think.)  Others are born with mismatching hardware and software. They feel feminine, despite the dangling tackle. Or they’re absolutely a man, despite having nothing to show for it.

My SFC friend got it, and —being a kind person — turned 180 degrees from borderline mocking to resolute understanding.



Despite all the terrible things written about him on the net, Darius remains a distinctly good if wistful person. He has a brain chemistry problem, and it turns him into a monster when he drinks alcohol.

In the past, we simply condemned these people. We now have the ability to help them. And it’s not just the gender confused/unspecified and the bad drunks. We’re learning more and more, every day, about why we are what we are.

That’s great, but it doesn’t win basketball games.

John Groce needs to start winning basketball games. Whether he can replace Basgier with an equally capable psychologist seems doubtful. Strength & Conditioning coaches are not, as a rule, quirky characters.

Whether Groce allows Paul to return? That may not be his decision to make, yet it may determine the future path of his entire career.

Groce has shown a flexibility, and willingness to work with people who don’t fit the prototype.

A lot hangs in the balance.