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Illini basketball

The Help?

There’s still no official word that Jamall Walker will remain with Brad Underwood’s staff. There’s no reason to believe he won’t.

The other positions? We don’t know.

Walker’s retention was considered vital to the retention of St. Louis-area recruits. That’s part of his territory, as is Texas, where Brad Underwood already has plenty of contacts.

Has Walker been the best Illini recruiter over the past five years?

The two breakout players this season were scouted by Paris Parham and Dustin Ford. Ford’s assigned territory includes Ohio. Parham’s area includes Wisconsin.

As America’s coaching fraternity packs for a trip to Phoenix this week, many of them don’t know where they’ll be working next week. But they’ll probably find out soon.

Parham will be in Phoenix and, until anyone tells him otherwise, he says he’ll be there as a representative of the University of Illinois. The airfare and accommodations were booked long ago, but the staff is not traveling together.

Should Parham be retained based on his contacts with up-and-coming recruits? If not, who else would be Illinois basketball’s “Chicago Guy?”

Stephen Bardo cautions Illini fans eager to bring back one of their own.

It’s tough for anyone to hire another coach if they don’t have an existing relationship.  That’s one of the reasons why Jamall was kept, he had a really good previous relationship with Underwood.  We’ll see what happens but in the meantime it would be wise for Deon, Roger Powell, Jerrance Howard, and Dee Brown to start to develop a relationship with Josh Whitman and Brad Underwood.

Walker downplayed the earlier relationship. “We knew each other but it wasn’t like we were boys. However, we knew some of the same people back in Kansas.”

Who are those folks back in Kansas? Well, if you didn’t know, Jamall Walker is a Wichita native. Underwood recruited his older brother.

Underwood remembers it differently, at least for public consumption. i.e. he didn’t talk about meeting Jamall’s brother.

He talked about recruiting Jamall himself.

Walker didn’t name names, but he offered this observation about the forthcoming Underwood staff:

We have talked a little about the assistant coaches and he is going to hire who he thinks gives us the best chance to win and get good players from the state and in other regions that a guy can tap into. You have Bret Just on your side and that is key.

If you haven’t been following every bit of Underwood minutiae, here’s what Jamall means by “Bret Just.”

According to a source within the program, the “Chicago Guy” probably won’t be Dennis Gates, either. Whatever level of interest Illinois expressed, it doesn’t seem to have been reciprocated

Two names that have come up are Emanuel Dildy &  UIC assistant Ronald “Chin” Coleman.

Dildy is the cousin of Chicago State’s head coach Tracy Dildy. The Dildy name is well-known in Chicago Hoops circles.  Emanuel spent three years as an assistant at Loyola Chicago before joining Kim Anderson for one last disastrous season in Columbia. Like Walker, Dildy is a guards coach. But don’t be surprised if the next staff, like the Groce administration, features four point guards. (Note though that UIC’s bio for Coleman says that during his first season at UIC, Coleman helped sophomore forward/center Tai Odiase “develop into one of the top rim protectors in the country.”)

Coleman interviewed with John Groce for Isaac Chew‘s job in the summer of 2012. That job went to Parham.

Coleman instead joined Tim Miles at Nebraska for six months, as Director of Player Development. (He’d been an assistant coach for Miles at Colorado State.) Then he joined Dustin Ford’s brother Geno for one year in Peoria, orchestrating the final demolition of Bradley Braves basketball. Coleman worked with Thomas for a year under Steve McClain at UIC   From 2005-11, Coleman was the head coach of Chicago’s Mac Irvin Fire AAU team.

And speaking of Steve McClain, his assistant coaching position at Indiana was filled by former Illini star Rob Judson, who is also available for hire. Judson is arguably the most successful assistant of the last quarter century, having helped both Lon Kruger and Bill Self to B1G championships.

The assistant positions might be finalized by this afternoon. Maybe they’ll be finalized in Phoenix, over the weekend.

Then again, remember how this worked five years ago. The Illini athletic director promoted the ace recruiter to the interim position. The new head coach did not retain him. Two of the new head coach’s initial hires departed Champaign almost immediately. A third left within a year.

Whatever happens in Phoenix doesn’t stay in Phoenix.

Categories
Illini basketball

Rumors – Why do people keep falling for them?

After 24 hours of conjecture about Jamall Walker’s machinations, a weary, emotional Walker stepped in front of a small group of reporters Sunday afternoon.

Has he been in secret contract negotiations with Cuonzo Martin? Did Josh Whitman lock him up with a long term contract and pay raise? Does he have Smith & Tilmon in his pocket?

These are the things people people have been saying in social media. The truth, according to Walker, is that he took his wife to Scotty’s Brew Pub on Saturday night, having long ago promised her a dinner date. He had the shrimp tacos.

Jamall & Braylon back in the day

How does Rebekah Walker feel about staying in Champaign? Simply put “it’s home” said Jamall Walker, noting that their boys were born here. It’s where they’ve raised their kids.

Has he talked to Brad Underwood about the future of the Illini coaching staff? He has not. What’s he been doing during the week? Has he been out recruiting, or keeping tabs on the Class of ’17 signees?  Walker made no mention of either. He talked only about prepping the team for Monday night’s game against Boise State.

Basically, everything you’ve read about Illini basketball in the past week was untrue. Most of what you’re reading today is untrue. It’s like Coach K looking to buy land near Mahomet all over again.

So the narrative about Walker keeping recruits remains just that. It’s a storyline with no known relationship to the truth.

The good news is that, according to Michael Finke, the current players like the idea of playing for Brad Underwood. They’re excited about his offense, and feeling upbeat about the hire.

But they didn’t have insider info either. Michael Finke says the players learned about Brad Underwood about five minutes before the rest of the world did, when they all got an email from Josh Whitman.

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Illini Basketball

Brad Underwood: The Anti-Bennett

The fives of you who engage me in social media know I was not pleased by the thought of watching a Tony Bennett coached team for the next 20 years — not that that was ever going to happen.

You five also know that I wanted no part of Cuonzo Martin. Cuonzo’s teams play slow, but they also lose a lot. I remember when the pitchfork mob ran him out of Knoxville. Evidently, everyone else has a memory that goes back hours, possibly weeks — certainly not years.

For posterity, I’m going to write the following sentence: Some Illini fans were worried about our coaching search after Mizzou hired Cuonzo Martin.

Defense porn lovers can watch Bennett’s Cavaliers hold otherwise exciting teams to 43 points.  Virginia will be on ESPN for years to come.

At the State Farm Center, Illini fans can enjoy high-scoring teams that win. To basketball novices like me, that’s a lot more fun. Basketball coaches like watching great defense and low-scoring games. Basketball fans like watching teams that score a lot and win. That’s what Brad Underwood brings to Champaign-Urbana.

I did not feel an actual sexual thrill when Underwood explained that statistical analysis proves teams are best off launching a shot within the first seven seconds of a possession.

I was not physically turned on when he said that his teams have mastered that skill, have gotten good at it.

But maybe that’s because I’m forty-six years old.

When I was a virile 25, Lon Kruger got the Illinois job. His offense was such a treat to watch. When people ask me who was the best Illini coach, in my opinion, it’s an easy answer for me. I like to be entertained.

Underwood’s OK State team is ranked #1 in KenPom’s offensive efficiency ratings, according to people who subscribe to that sort of thing.

Josh Whitman enunciated, above,  the usual platitudes about scholarship and community relations, and I expect we can all believe that Underwood will fulfill those functions. Jessica Goerke has the team’s attention, academically. The Rebounders Club is an easy audience.

The reason to applaud Whitman’s recruitment is because Bradsketball is fun to watch. Josh said so himself.

With this choice, Whitman displayed a fundamental understanding of basketball as it relates to the state of Illinois: We are not Indiana. We have advantages that can and should be exploited, when it comes to recruiting.

It’s great that Indiana has a million hard-nosed Joe Hillmans, ready to take a charge and set a screen. We, on the other hand,  love our hard-nosed Illini legends because they chose to play aggressive defense. They had other skills, but they knew defense was important. They chose to play defense because competing & winning is fun for competitors and winners.

Derek Harper. Bruce Douglas. Doug Altenberger. Kenny Battle. Kendall Gill. Matt Heldman. Dee Brown. Rayvonte Rice.

These Illini loved to punk their opponents on defense. They were exquisite to watch on offense. That’s what blue state Illinois offers that red state Indiana doesn’t. We’re open-minded about how we’ll beat you down.

Yes, we’ll turn you over. Yes, we’ll pick your pocket.  But we’re going to beat you because we’re going to score more points than you. And our scoring will keep the five thousand people who aren’t coaches and don’t care all that much about basketball but like a good show and buy tickets when we’re ranked, entertained.

Tony Bennett is losing a second-round NCAA game, badly, as I type. His defense is good. But UVa can’t score.

I wish Tony Bennett no ill will. His dad’s Wisconsin teams were painful to watch. I’d rather not watch that brand of basketball again.

As for Mizzou, #WeWillWin.

Categories
Illini basketball

It’s not that they lost, it’s how they lost

Deon Thomas and Paris Parham greeted one another on court, about an hour before the Michigan game. They  reminisced about the one game they played against each other in high school.  Dunbar beat Simeon, according to Paris. But the teams had to stay in their locker rooms afterward, until the gunplay cooled off outside.

Whatever happens to the Groce staff, Deon and Paris agreed they’d lived through worse. They’ve seen guys get shot. They’ve seen people killed.

The Groce Question was answered today, by an Illinois team that couldn’t compete with a league rival, and by John Groce himself.

Five years into the Groce experiment, Illinois is not in the same class as the Big Ten’s elite teams. Illinois is second-class. Worse, they don’t just lose. They get blown away. They’re simply not relevant in major college basketball.

The B1G’s third-class teams played Wednesday. Two of them left town before the second-class teams arrived to punish the survivors. The first-class teams will show up tomorrow, and feast on the second-class.  Except for us. We’ve already been eaten.

The Illini will be in Champaign-Urbana when real B1G basketball gets underway.

Groce, to his credit, came right out and agreed he’d do it all over again, exactly the same way, rather than “coaching not to lose,” the sin Bruce Weber admitted while trashing his players for public consumption, in February, 2012.

The Groce Question by the way, is not whether Groce will be fired. It’s not whether he should be fired. It’s whether he can lead Illinois out of the slash and burn wasteland he inherited. The answer is no, he can’t.

Weber was fired five years ago today. If Groce doesn’t follow him out the door, we’ll know that Josh Whitman doesn’t have a home-run hire waiting in the wings. There’s no way Josh Whitman could let the Groce era continue simply because he thinks Groce needs more time, or might be on the verge of something big. Everything we know about John Groce says this is the way he’ll do it, including his own words.

He said during Monday’s pre-tourney teleconference that he doesn’t make in-game offensive adjustments.  He can’t. His system is his system, for better or worse.

And you know what? Good for Groce.  He told us on day one that he’s a teacher. And at the end, he told us the same thing again, and demonstrated as much. He’d rather coach these guys in practice than in games. That’s another thing he’s said, again and again, over his five years.

It’s perhaps not the best personality trait for a Division I coach. But it’s admirable.

So expect a new coach to be announced real soon. And if there’s not such an announcement, understand that it’s because Josh Whitman doesn’t see the point in giving a five-year contract to another mediocrity from the mid-majors.  Or indeed, a super-performing coach from the low and mid-major conferences, like many from my long list. Or Cuonzo, whose NIT trajectory should eliminate him from the conversation (it won’t).

 

Yes, there’s the argument that Illinois basketball will get worse if Groce isn’t fired immediately. But that can’t be true. Either you’re relevant or you’re not. Illinois isn’t relevant.

The fanbase won’t grow. Fair-weather fans won’t come back until the weather is fair. But if this season is any indication, about 12,000 people will still turn out for basketball games.

Anybody that lived through 1989 or 2005 isn’t going to stop cheering for Illini basketball. They remember how great it feels when we’re first-class.

Saturday in Piscataway (poet, I know it) I met two Rutgers basketball fans. Possibly the two Rutgers basketball fans. Terry and Stuart graduated in 1978. That means they were students when Rutgers last made it to the Final Four.

I met them in the campustown Barnes & Noble. I was about to catch the free campus bus that runs between New Brunswick Station and the RAC. Instead, they gave me a lift.

When we arrived at the RAC, Mike Palko was just walking by. He was the starting center on that 1976 team.

These three guys still attend Rutgers basketball games, because they remember what Rutgers can be.  They believe Rutgers will be back some day.

Illini fans vastly outnumber Rutgers fans. You needn’t be 61 years-old to remember the high.  If #WeWillWin means anything, Josh Whitman isn’t satisfied with second-class. Whether it happens tomorrow, next week or next year; it’s going to happen.