It’s getting harder to produce worthwhile comedy featuring Illini basketball players. There are only so many irrelevant questions one can ask them, and I feel as though I’ve asked all those questions
The first IlliniReport video from Media Day 2017 will make you feel old: No one on the team remembers Frank Williams. Oh, youth. Where have you gone? (It made me feel fat & bald, as well.)
Given a brief window of opportunity every first week of October, I’ve always struggled to get a moment with each player. It never works. The newspapers and TV stations get first dibs, and a roving pack of reporters feeds on the chum.
Sports PR, at the the college and professional levels, is still geared toward newspapers & TV. It’s kind of charming. One dying medium takes pictures destined for use in stories of late night arrests. The other records 12 seconds of banter for an elderly audience anxious to hear the weather report.
As cameras roll, the walk-ons sit, ignored. Everyone else responds to the same three questions, posed by 30 different people over a 45 minute period.
There’s usually a huge problem with audio, because the interviews take place in a gym with reverberating walls and lots of bouncing basketballs. I’m thrilled to know that some people could understand what was said here:
You never know how a guy will respond if you’ve never met him before. And that was the case with Leron Black. The apprehension on his face when I asked about neck bone preparation is a great moment of comedy. But at the time, I was worried that I’d made him really uncomfortable.
Most newcomers are guys I’ve met before, as recruits. But if a recruit comes from far away, like Leron, or if he’s a transfer; it’s likely that Media Day is the first time I’ll meet him.
That was the case with Sam McLaurin. I had no idea what to expect when I went in with a script parodying Sam’s notorious announcement Tweet.
I explained the idea to him for ten seconds, tops. Then we rolled camera.
It’s still amazing to me how well he picked up on it. On top of that, he ad-libbed too. This remains my favorite Media Day performance.
With the advantage of hindsight, I’m not as surprised as I was that day. Sam is really smart, which is a big reason Illinois won Maui and made the NCAA Tourney during his year here.
For example, if he hadn’t hedged from Cody Zeller to Victor Oladipo in exactly the way he’d been coached to do, this would never have happened.
After Illinois, Sam lived in Austin, Boston, Chicago (working for Robert Archibald) and now he’s in China. We remain friends. He’s a really good guy to know.
His Media Day 2012 interview required less than five minutes. I don’t remember whether I tried to record anything else that day.
It makes sense that I wouldn’t have tried to record anything else. The focus has always been newcomers.
I need to remind myself that newcomers don’t even know who Frank Williams is and was, and won’t mind if I ask them the same stupid questions I’ve asked on Media Days past. Food, sleep, weird habits, video games.
Would that bore you? Maybe it would. But I expect the answers would be different, and that’s the important thing. It’s really about what the players say, right?
I’ll be editing a couple more videos from Media Day 2017. I hope they’ll be amusing & informative. I hope they’ll give people some feeling for the newcomers. Matic Vesel and Greg Eboigbodin (holy shit, I just typed that from memory and spell-check verified it as accurate … whew) were really lovely. You can be proud, as Illini fans, to have youngsters so eager & polite on your team.
In the future, maybe I’ll ignore the artist’s credo to never retrace one’s steps. I can see the Word Association questions working just about every year.