Illini basketball

Chalk Talk 2015

The second iteration of Julie Pioletti’s Chalk Talk, a basketball clinic for women, took place at Ubben & Corzine on Tuesday night.

Attendance was about a hundred, which is a shame because it really is a great event. For a fee, women get a catered meal, a slideshow and presentation from the head coach, instruction from the assistants, and insight on day-to-day operations from the support staff.

The money goes to Coaches Versus Cancer, but more importantly, it’s the best inside view of the team and its personalities. That was true again this year.

The format was altered slightly. Jamall Walker coached the Pack Line Defense. Paris Parham taught rebounding. Paul Schmidt opened his training room to talk about sports medicine. Those workstations were featured last year.

Everything else was new.

Last year Ryan Pedon provided a scouting report. This year Mark Morris discussed the hour-by-hour planning that keeps busy student-athletes fed, slept, taught and exercised on a tight schedule. This was a key difference, because the Pedon presentation showed how the coaches & team prepare for specific opponents. In hindsight, the staff must have concluded that too much insider information was being offered to anyone who showed up.

Instead, Morris offered a grid spreadsheet of Malcolm Hill’s weekly schedule. We learned that Malcolm started Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:15 with yoga, that he had Anthropology 104 at Foellinger Auditorium followed by a quick lunch and Econ 102.

Another graphic suggested traveling Illini men sleep in five-star hotels and eat in five-star restaurants, including Morton’s and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouses.  Perhaps the star ratings were gleaned from TripAdvisor rather than Michelin. The Sheraton rarely earns such praise.

Pedon’s replacement, Darren Hertz, conducted the station dealing with offense. College basketball is universally committed to the option offense these days, just like Nebraska football in the Tom Osborne era. Hertz spent his ten minute segments teaching his groups how to recognize defensive actions, and opt accordingly.

At some points Dustin Ford joined the Hertz group. But for much of the night, Ford and Groce were in the upstairs office suite, on the phone with recruits.

Last year Chelsea Burkart talked about nutrition. That segment was eliminated from the program this year, and Burkart has moved on. Like former Strength & Conditioning coach Mike Basgier, she’s taken a similar position at James Madison University. Stephanie Horvath is the team’s new nutritionist.

Basgier’s replacement, Adam Fletcher, spoke about nutrition, as did Morris. We learned that Fletcher eats two meals every day with the team.

Last year Paris Parham told a bunch of funny jokes. This year Paris Parham told the same jokes. Newcomers probably thought they were just as funny. Cheryl Easter laughed as if she hadn’t heard them a year ago, and I thought that was very diplomatic of her.

“Paris needs some new material,” agreed the team’s tutor, Jessica Goerke.

Illini players once again participated in the demonstrations, if capable. Tracy Abrams, who moved around the Ubben on a Bariatric Knee Walker (and demurred from having his picture taken with same) stuck with Schmidt in the training room. Jalen Coleman-Lands, confined to a walking boot, stayed with Morris in the team room.

Newcomer Khalid Lewis joined Mike LaTulip, Michael Finke and grad assistant Walter Offutt in assisting Hertz’s demo. Aaron Jordan and Malcolm Hill assisted Fletcher in the weight room. Maverick Morgan, Leron Black and Cameron Liss assisted Parham.  Alex Austin, Kendrick Nunn and Dennis “D.J” Williams assisted Walker. Newcomer Mike Thorne did not attend.

There was an obvious emphasis on the health and well-being of the student-athletes. John Groce downplayed any motivation stemming from Tim Beckman’s unceremonious ouster for lacking that emphasis. And Groce is right to do so.  Sports medicine, conditioning and nutrition were just as much a part of last year’s event.

At one point during his presentation, Jamall Walker asked how many in his group had attended last year’s Chalk Talk. Three raised their hands. But the most obvious newcomer didn’t understand the question. She doesn’t speak English. Her name is Cate Groce, and last September she was living inside her mommy’s tummy.

Barb Steele, Groce’s mom, attended again. As did Laura Finke, Mike’s mom.

Everyone seemed to enjoy herself. The only problem is there weren’t enough participants. Publicizing the event is not a priority for Illini Athletics, because it’s only tangentially related to the program. Media got an email around lunchtime on Tuesday. Two reporters and two photographers showed up.

We’ll do better next year.

For completists, here’s an overly long movie chronicling the evening.

Illini Basketball

Illini Football is credible again

I probably wouldn’t have written anything about Tim Beckman’s dismissal, and certainly not something insulting, if Tim Beckman had gone quietly. Instead, he issued a statement  threatening “I will vigorously defend both my reputation and my legal rights.”

Thus, I feel obliged to examine Beckman’s reputation and legal rights.

Beckman’s reputation among football coaches, at the high school and college level, is not known to me, with one exception.  I got this in an email from a friend who worked in the MAC during Beckman’s tenure at Toledo:

When he was hired (by Illinois) and I was still at (a MAC competitor), the football crew there was telling me what an unsavory lad he was. They knew his staff well, and talked about how none of them wanted to go to the big bad B1G to work with him.

My friend now works in a different conference out east, but preferred that I use this quote without attribution.

In the larger community, observable in online fora and reputable media outlets, Beckman’s reputation is bad. It’s not a reputation he should seek to burnish. At best he’s viewed as mediocre.  From there it’s downhill.

Bumbling, incompetent, buffoonish.

One fan expressed his frustration in a classic work of graphic design:

When Beckman’s mentioned, it’s usually a gaffe that gets attention. A Boolean search for [“Tim Beckman” + embarrassing] renders immediate fodder. [“Tim Beckman” + respected] produces inconclusive results.

Did, or indeed could Beckman’s firing further tarnish his reputation? Beckman was fired for cause, which arguably bolsters his reputation. It makes him seem sinister, rather than incompetent.

What about his “legal rights?”

It’s clear that the University’s position, beginning with the initial announcement of Beckman’s dismissal, is that Beckman was in material breach of his employment contract. That document is 23 pages long, but the relevant passages are sections 2.3.b and 4.2

To recover monetary damages, Tim Beckman would have to prove that he never acted in a manner threatening to the health and well-being of student-athletes.  That seems unlikely, given the testimony already on record against him.

It’s hard to overstate the negatives. Listening to Beckman was discomforting, even painful. The only thing I ever wrote about the man was that he’s not as stupid as he seems.

After that, I just stopped writing about football. It was too depressing.

And now, that’s all changed. Bill Cubit: A Love Story is an ongoing narrative that began the day Cubit arrived in Champaign. He’s regarded as an offensive guru, and labels himself a football junkie. The media adore him because he’s honest, candid, forthcoming.

A couple of years ago I fell into the habit of recording everything Bill Cubit had to say, even though that meant ignoring the other coaches and players.  I called it “The Complete Cubit.” There are a few of them.

I’d like to add that I feel good about Tim Banks for the same reasons. He’s candid, too. But I couldn’t pull the camera away from Cubit. He’s just that good.

Last Friday Cubit told assembled media “believe it or not, I love you guys!” and “I love being around you guys.”

I do believe it, because he’s always treated us that way.

It’s such a relief to write a positive thing about Illini Football and its coach. Whether you like it, hate it, or ignore it; football is important to the local economy. Maybe Cubit won’t be named permanent successor, but for now, Illini Football is in competent hands.

I hope Tim Beckman will go quietly. Surely he can find a job in football, at some level. He’ll never attain a head coaching job as good as Illinois, and he shouldn’t.  There’s more than just X’s & O’s to being the state’s highest paid employee.