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Illini basketball

Some blew it, some wouldn’t blow

Somehow, this writer has covered Illini basketball for nine years without seeing a game in the Tarheel state. South Carolina? Yes. Georgia? Multiple times. Oklahoma, Texas, Washington (state and district)? Yep.

Even Hawai’i and Quebec.

But never North Carolina, ’til Tuesday.

 

And boy what a disappointment it was. The game was okay I guess. But it was just depressing to visit the college basketball state and find such a lackluster crowd.

The Deacons attempted to revive their faithful by shooting catalytically unconverted toxins at the opposing bench, but even that couldn’t wake the Wake.

Lawrence Joel Coliseum announced a crowd of 5,782. Let’s hope that many people paid, then went to bed early.  But that would be more than a third of capacity, and there’s no way it was more than a quarter full.

I don’t think all of Wake’s fans had to get up bright and early to manufacture cigarettes. I think they’ve given up on their program. Remember when Wake fired Dino Gaudio after consecutive trips to the tourney? Remember when they then hired a charmless tactician who’d just suffered three consecutive losing seasons? Of course you don’t. But if you lived in Winston-Salem, it would burn in your memory.

Jeff Bzdelik’s head coaching record

If you want to know what an utterly destroyed basketball program looks like …

Everyone noticed the foul discrepancy. Brad Underwood took all the fun out of the postgame by praising the officiating crew as one of the best in the business. That observation effectively closed the door on the topic. We didn’t know what he’d told the radio crew moments earlier. It was a lot different.

Brian Dorsey has officiated a lot of Illini games. I think I recall Tim Nestor’s name, but maybe I’m just thinking of the long-eared Christmas donkey. Ron Groover has never worked an Illini game that I can recall.

The 31-to-14 advantage in free-throw attempts certainly helped the home team. But the Illini out-shot the Deacs 62-to-47 from the floor. Each and every one of those 15 extra shots missed. i.e. Illinois and Wake Forest each made 24 field goals.

The game was decided, as so often happens, by the ability to get a synthetic leather ball through a metal hoop. Whether it was missing shots, or turning the ball over 19 times before even attempting a shot, Illinois didn’t hoop the ball enough.

Wake Forest’s shots looked like this.

Illini shots also had that same guy in the frame. In fact, he often took up most of the space.

Both Josh Whitman and Paul Kowalczyk attended, along with compliance analyst Evan Taylor. This might suggest that the DIA took this game pretty seriously. “Yes we do,” said Kowalczyk.

Big Mike Thorne, recently returned to the states from Slovenia, attended. So did Mark Morris, the DOBO under John Groce.  Thorne says he’s healthy and hoping to play more basketball.

If I didn’t have photographic evidence of Adam Fletcher smiling, no one would believe it happened. I’ve certainly never seen him smile before. I’ve seen him leap from his seat, fists pumping, roaring a barbarian yawp.

It’s not that he doesn’t emote. It’s just never been the upturned mouth-corners variety.

Nice to know, then, that he can be kind and charitable to the little ones. Fletch took a moment to engage one of the ten year-olds who stayed up past bedtime to wipe perspiration from the court. He even helped out with the wiping.

I’m sitting in the Landmark Diner, in Atlanta, Romelda Jordan’s favorite town. As usual, I allowed myself an extra day to edit photos and collect my thoughts. The obvious conclusion is that our tiny team will get zoned by every taller team for the rest of the year. But that’s probably not true.

Brad Underwood explained that his team knows how to attack a zone. They simply didn’t follow their instructions.

Except, maybe once.

Nightmares about consistent rejection should take care of that.

But yes, the officiating was awful.

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Illini basketball

The Frosh We Have

Apart from Orlando Antigua’s hot pink socks, there wasn’t much excitement at State Farm Center Wednesday night.

Oh wait, that’s not true. There was that time when Chin Coleman started dancing to the great perplexion of everyone else.

And of course, there was the time the ribbon display malfunctioned.

But the basketball game was pretty boring. The outcome was never in doubt.  Augustana kicked & bobbled its way to 29 turnovers.

Even the lob dunks were mildly dull.

That’s okay. Brad Underwood wanted this game as a learning tool.  And afterward, he said he learned a lot.  I learned one thing: Matic Vesel desperately needs to make his first basket.

On this sunny Thanksgiving afternoon, someone should take Matic on a jog so he can grow accustomed to the sight of his own shadow. Then, perhaps, he won’t be so scared of it.

Okay, that might be a little harsh. But Matic is definitely playing scared right now. He looks more uncomfortable on the court than any Power 5 scholarship player I’ve ever seen.

Matic doesn’t present this posture in practice, but things are different under the bright lights with a few thousand people urging “shoot it!.”

I have no doubt that Matic will be a joy to watch in a few years, maybe even a few months. Right now, he just really needs to make that first basket. Then everything will settle down for him.

Underwood got to run some sets Wednesday. He saw how his team executed, and how an unknowing defense responded.

In the case of the inbound clear-out for Trent, everything worked perfectly.

The Frosh We Don’t Have

Keep this point in mind: If Jordan Goodwin hadn’t surprised everyone, and chosen Travis Ford over John Groce, Mark Smith would be in East Lansing.

Goodwin is shooting 5% from three-point range, and 23% overall. Smith isn’t lighting it up from distance (2-of-16) but he’s 20-of-35 from two-point range, which actually seems a bit low considering he attempts most of his shots from point-blank. Goodwin converted 16-of-25 free-throws to this point. Smith is 23-for-24.

In the long run, we’ll know which Metro St. Louis combo guard proves more valuable. Goodwin will probably improve. But I doubt Illini fans will be disappointed.

Jeremiah Tilmon is averaging four fouls per game at Mizzou. Again, that’s not an outrageous stat …

… until you realize that “per-game” is not the same as “per-40 minutes.”

Tilmon is seventh in minutes-played among the Tigers.  He’s averaging four fouls per 15.4 minutes.

Greg Eboigbodin & Matic Vesel would not be here if John Groce were still the coach. They’d be at UIC and wherever Orlando Antigua were coaching, respectively.

It’s silly to say that Illini fans should prefer either project to the top-rated recruit of the Groce era. But again, time will tell. Telmon seems as likely to become the next Cliff Alexander as he does the next Moses Malone. Vesel probably isn’t the next Dirk Nowitzki, but that’s the skill set we’re looking at.

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Illini basketball

Thundering Heard

The Dan D’Antoni Show overshadowed a non-competitive basketball game Sunday evening, and rightly so. Spectator sports are, for most people in the building, an entertainment rather than a pursuit or a professional concern. D’Antoni is an entertainer. If he seemed familiar, it’s because you’ve seen his act before. Last season, his analytics rant went viral.

But his repartee is not merely for your amusement. It’s a tool.  D’Antoni’s acerbic wit surfaced in the first half when Kipper Nichols barreled through the free-throw lane, knocking point guard Jon Elmore to the floor. Referee Owen Short assessed a blocking foul against Elmore.

D’Antoni turned to the baseline photog pool.

D’Antoni: Did you guys get a shot of that? We may need it as evidence in the criminal investigation.

Owen Short:  Move on.

D’Antoni: I’m just kidding. You’ll know when I’m being serious.

Short is not a humorless man. He suppressed a smile when courtside Illini fans got an especially clever dig at Marshall. But he also awarded a loose ball to the home team, on a play that appeared to favor the Herd.

It’s not absurd to observe that referees can be emotionally swayed by their interactions with coaches. And it’s not crazy to say that a coach’s machinations might backfire.

Friday night, Dave Leitao persistently reminded the officiating crew that DePaul had racked up three times as many fouls as the Illini. By the end of the half, the tally had evened somewhat, at 16 to 9. In the second half, the crew assessed more fouls against the Illini than the Blue Demons.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes you get steamrolled by a team that knows how to drive the ball to the bucket.

When was the last time an Illini shot chart looked like this?

It’s apropos that at least one team involved in Sunday’s game is named after cattle on the move.  With Brad Underwood’s new offense in town, there’s a stampede toward the basket.

You’d hardly notice that Illinois can’t shoot a lick. They finished the night at 44%, which isn’t terrible but doesn’t suggest that a team finished with 91 points.

It’s because the Illini are taking a whole lotta high-percentage shots, which makes up for missing 73% of their three-pointers (which is up from 23% after the team connected on 7-of-15 Sunday).

As Underwood acknowledged, that compensation would be even more impressive if the Illini had actually converted all those bunnies. If there was a downside to his team’s offensive performance, the shot chart shows that as well. They missed a lot from point blank range.

Underwood’s remark came while he was loving on the assist-to-turnover ratio of 19:6. He wondered out loud how those numbers might have looked if his team converted near the basket.

Underwood said Marshall was difficult to scout because their offense eschews sets in favor of reads (like the 2005 Illini). The Herd read Illinois especially well in the first half, when Jarrod West connected on 4-of-4 three-pointers.

Underwood shared a few choice words with his team. Kipper Nichols said you probably wouldn’t want to hear those particular words.

In the second half, the Illinois defense tightened. Through increased effort, they held West to 1-of-2 from the arc. At mid-court, foxy Aaron Jordan raided West’s chicken coop, and then took his lunch money.

D’Antoni said his team’s mental problems were of their own creation, and not a product of Illini aggression.  He’s welcome to that opinion. But people who play against Leron Black rarely come away unchanged.

We don’t know how many need counseling afterward, but even Leron’s teammates have consistently said he’s painful. It’s one of the first things they noticed about him.

Da’Monte Williams might not hurt as much, but he’s surely getting inside some opponents’ heads, too.

And then there’s Kipper.

Though charming and debonair in person, Kipper Nichols seems to have a mean streak when he’s between the lines. You saw it Friday when he earned a T defending Williams from DePaul’s Blue Meanies.

You kinda wonder whether Kipper’s Mr. Hyde is the monster Brad Underwood has been trying to provoke. The “hugging Kipper” meme sounds touchy-feely, but the hug itself is a final punctuation. It’s the denouement that resolves a persisting agitation. Underwood is the antagonist.

 

It almost seemed unfair.

 

 

Categories
Illini basketball

DePaul was Not Really Demonic

It would be nice if Dave Leitao could do at DePaul what Dave Leitao once did at DePaul. The Blue Demons were irrelevant for ages. He brought them back to prominence, and then bolted Charlottesville, where he had one good year.

Now back in Lincoln Park, he’s in his third miserable year. After losing to Illinois Friday, he grimly conceded that an ongoing rivalry is not likely.

If Leitao could make DePaul a contender, a regular home-and-home would be great for the Illini. Brad Underwood says he wants a stronger schedule. There’s no reason Illinois should spend a month tuning up against directional schools.

Now, some observations from the DePaul game.

LT Williams

You didn’t realize, prior to Friday night, that Illinois has a guy on the team named LT. His name is Little T. Williams. Or perhaps, L. Things Williams. “Things” for short, or just LT.

Underwood has described both Mark Smith and LT as having “the ‘it’ factor, whatever ‘it’ is.” But only LT  has been praised for a comprehensive understanding of “the little things.”

Williams’s perseverance in a 1-on-3 drive found him rebounding his own miss, tricking three Blue Demons into performing a childhood dance, and then banking in his rebound.

 

He stymied DePaul’s second comeback with a crucial tip in. It was so quick that a few people didn’t see what happened.

LT again sacrificed his chances of fatherhood to the God of Player-Control Fouls.

This time, it was impossible to see whether LT was grinning afterward. Probably not. This time, it looked painful. And then a fight broke out between Kipper Nichols and Jaylen Butz, whose name is almost certainly the title of a gay porn DVD.

But I digress.

Remember how Doug Altenberger loved to take a charge? Remember how pumped Matt Heldman got when the ref wrapped a hand around the back of his own head?

LT is like that.

12-for-12

In the Bruce Weber era, some guys never attempted a dozen free-throws in a season.  Weber was revulsed by contested shots. He never seemed to reach the next logical step: Contested shots lead to shots where people aren’t even allowed to defend the shooter!

Illinois now has a coach whose charges charge. They attack.

So yeah, maybe it doesn’t matter that Illinois can’t hit a three.

Mark Smith attempted twelve free-throws. He converted twelve free-throws.  The twelfth rolled around the rim before dropping in. That suggests Mark was fatigued. The eleventh grazed the rim. There’s nothing odd about that.

What struck me as strange was the way the ball snapped the net on his first ten attempts. Maybe I was distracted, and missed one. But it seemed to me that Mark’s trajectory was exactly the same on each of those shots.

I sit close enough that I can hear the net snap, and it made the same sound every time. The bottom of the net moved in a straight line, backward, as the ball pulled it toward the stanchion. Then it snapped back

Mark has distinctly deliberate free-throw routine. He takes quite a bit of time to deliver the ball toward the goal. To my way of thinking, the long pause should detract from the efficiency of his muscle memory. But it doesn’t The pause itself may be a component of Mark’s nearly flawless delivery.

Is he always like this?  I wondered.

The Supporting Cast

You wonder, would this rotation expand if Brad Underwood had more available bodies? Does Underwood employ the standard nine man rotation because that’s how many guys are available?

Greg Eboigbodin saw spot minutes. Matic Vesel got none.  Vesel’s tentative debut suggests that he might need more time to feel comfortable on offense, ostensibly his strong suit.

Everyone else has played a vital role.

Trent Frazier provided crucial minutes at the point when Te’Jon Lucas (again) got in foul trouble. Aaron Jordan grabbed nine rebounds and hit a comebackbreaking three-pointer to throttle DePaul’s second second-half surge.

Last year, Aaron couldn’t get on the floor. He watched Malcolm Hill and Jalen Coleman-Lands play many minutes of basketball. So it might seem surprising that JCL transferred, and Jordan didn’t.

Friday night, the tables were turned. JCL watched from the bench as Jordan thrust the dagger.

 

Jalen Coleman-Lands the Untold Story

An unmentioned factor in JCL’s decision to transfer, perhaps irrelevant, is that Paul Magelli died during the last academic year.

Magelli and Jewell White were two prominent personalities in the JCL recruitment. John Groce specifically named White as a key figure in attracting JCL’s non-athletic interests.

Piankhi Lands and JCL spent an afternoon in Magelli’s office as the elderly don mapped out JCL’s academic course in the College of Business. COB’s association with the College of Engineering was key, because JCL showed a keen interest in micro-devices.

Magelli’s office at the BIF overlooked the fancypants atrium where future tax avoiders quaff Espresso Royale and embellish their LinkedIn profiles.

Malcolm Hill liked to hang out in Magelli’s office, too. The old guy was, frankly, a hoot. His connection to Illini basketball predates modern record keeping.  In 1985, as president of Metro State University in Denver, Magelli recruited Lou Henson assistant Bob Hull to lead the Roadrunners basketball program into Division I That never happened, but it was probably a necessary step in bringing Hull’s wife Cindy Klose to national prominence.

The atrium of the Business Instructional Facility often hosts the TechMix, where business and engineering students pitch one another on start-up ideas.

Losing mentors from both the academic and athletic aspects of his life left JCL with few familiar faces in Champaign. Conveniently though, Dave Leitao had just recruited a whole bunch of JCL’s friends to Lincoln Park. Former LaLumiere coach Shane Heirman is now on staff.

And JCL has even found a new vessel for his whimsicality fix.

Magelli was about 5’5″ and good humored. Pantelis Xidias is about that height, and free spirited.  Another  LaLu transplant (like Drew Cayce, and also like Cayce, a non-scholarship member of his team) Xidias is the guy who keeps it unreal on DePaul’s bench.

JCL  didn’t say how he got to Champaign Friday night, but he hawked balls during warm-ups and sat on the team bench, which is uncharacteristic for road games. NCAA rules prohibit transfers from traveling with the team. (That’s why Tyler Underwood sat with his family at EIU.)

If there’s any animosity between JCL and the program, it’s on an individual basis. Kipper Nichols got a big hug from JCL (which, as you know, is vital to Illinois’ on court success). JCL slapped Cayce on the ass during warm-ups. Sports Info Director Derrick Burson shared a laugh with JCL at mid-court.

Pantelis Xidias kept an eye on the Orange Krush

Aaron Jordan is arguably more likely to thrive in the charging, attacking offensive system that Underwood hopes to develop. Meanwhile, JCL can shoot threes for the Roman church, which has already provided him one paid education at an idyllic lakeside school.

DePaul might not be as good at engineering, but they do have a College of Business. Taking classes in downtown Chicago will certainly enhance JCL’s business prospects.

Basically, everybody wins.

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Illini Basketball

Vashoune’s pictures from Dad’s Day (Indiana)

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Illini basketball

Weekend 1, Southern and UT-Martin

Tip-off of Sunday night’s game was delayed briefly when courtside fans alerted referee Rob Kueneman of some grass on the court. There was enough grass to cause a running player (or referee) to slip and hurt himself. Kueneman called The Sweeper (The Broom Lad?) over to clean it up.

How did grass get on the court? Why was it still there at tip-time? Your guess is as good as mine.

Kueneman’s next notable contribution (apart from blowing a whistle when appropriate) came when Te’Jon Lucas lowered his shoulder, earning a charging call at the south end. “Come Big Ten play I’m going to need that call” Brad Underwood hollered from the bench.

“Fair enough,” responded Kueneman.

The other two referees were Courtney Green and Bo Boroski. It was a well-officiated game.

As for hollering, the Hollerer of the Game award goes to Skyhawks reserve Mike Fofana. The Orange Krush had a field day with Fofana after he exhausted himself hollering “who’s got shooter?” over and over and over again as various Illini attempted free-throws.

South-end photographers get to hear all the Krush offerings. Some are mundane, perhaps because they’re prepared. These offerings were spontaneous, demonstrating that individual Krush members can be pretty damned clever.

Two games in, we’re just getting to know our newcomers, and what they bring to the table.

Mark Alstork followed his 17-point debut with a 1-for-7 performance. But that one counted for three points. Nevertheless, he was an enthusiastic cheerleader for his teammates.

Da’Monte Williams speaks. I heard him say thanks to someone last night.

But for the most part, Da’Monte is The Silent Illini. His game displays a different variety of reserve. He’s simply not flashy. He moves very fast to get into position on defense, and that’s the kind of thing coaches adore. His proudest moment this weekend was taking a charge. As Leron Black screamed encouragement, Da’Monte’s grin spread from ear to ear.

Mark Smith’s game recalls Michigan State great Jason Richardson. Each has the ability to alter his shot in mid-air. That’s not terribly unusual. But each seems to leap without giving any indication that he has a particular angle in mind.

Smith waits ’til he gets a few feet into the air before deciding, for example, which hand to use, or whether to involve the backboard glass.

In short,  he doesn’t telegraph his move. That makes it hard for defenders to read his body language.

Trent Frazier learned to play basketball among taller players, and you can tell. Like Te’Jon Lucas, Trent’s primary offensive weapon is the pull-up jumper.

Like Te’Jon, it’s his quick release that prevents taller defenders from closing in time. But Trent’s pull-up is a conventional jump-shot, whereas Te’Jon’s shot often leaves his hands before he’s achieved a conventional shooting posture.

Matic Vesel didn’t see the floor on Sunday. He burned his redshirt in garbage time Friday night. But in that time, he made a beautiful post-entry pass.

As the clock wound down, the (surprisingly large Friday night) crowd audibly encouraged Vesel to attempt a shot from the arc. For whatever reason, Matic abstained. He did dribble the ball a lot.

In his postgame remarks, Brad Underwood wondered aloud why it’s so hard to get Matic to shoot. Perhaps Matic has not yet realized the second-most exciting thing about Matic: He does not miss shots.

Finally, I’d like to make this observation, visually.

Categories
Illini basketball

The Used Polo Shirt

The “paper class” scandal at UNC-Chapel Hill ended with a whimper. A toothless NCAA recognized that it has no power to impose rigorous academic standards on member institutions. Only accrediting agencies (in this case the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) can judge the credibility of curricula.

UNC came out unscathed. Oddly though, UIUC did not.

Malcolm Hill & Jessica Goerke

“Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life” was a hollow platitude.

The same praise could be offered for Illini basketball’s former academic counselor, Jessica Goerke. But every member of John Groce’s teams would have meant it sincerely. Coaches too.

Goerke was also among the most fashionable persons on campus. So it’s no surprise that she had an idea about helping with a Fashion Design class.  Two Illini players enrolled in that course during the autumn semester of 2016.  You could probably guess who they were if you follow Illini basketball sartorially, perhaps via Instagram. Mike LaTulip and Kendrick Nunn would be candidates had they been enrolled that semester.

But in fact, it was D.J. Williams and X.  X asked not to be identified in this story.

While UNC’s Tarheels celebrated A.C.C. and national championships, while Tarheel (non-)student-athletes accepted unearned degrees; athletes at other universities (like this one here in Urbana-Champaign) faced heightened scrutiny from their own compliance departments, as if academics were the province of the NCAA.

In helping X with his fashion class, Goerke earned a formal reprimand. An investigation concluded that she’d done her job correctly, not exceeding the appropriate level of assistance an academic counselor is expected to provide.

Here’s the official report:

In short, Goerke gave X a used shirt that was otherwise on its way to Goodwill. She gave him the shirt not to wear or sell, but for use in a class assignment.  And although X received an entire education, books, computers, unlimited meals, a high-end apartment complex with its own pool, gym & beach volleyball court, and reasonable travel expenses gratis and well within NCAA restrictions; that used shirt was deemed an impermissible benefit.

X was required to pay for it.

But because the shirt had no traceable owner, and was essentially destroyed in pursuit & completion of the academic assignment for which it was offered, X had to pay not for the shirt itself, but for the idea of the shirt. For the same reasons, there was no one to whom X could directly pay for the idea of the shirt. Instead, U of I compliance decided X could pay the value of the shirt to a charity of his choice, which is standard practice in rectifying bullshit NCAA violations.

X says he can’t remember who chose the Make-A-Wish Foundation, but that’s where the money went. He paid $20.

Those of you who frequent thrift stores will immediately recognize that $20 is an outrageous overestimation of retail value, for anything.

Malcolm Hill, Maverick Morgan, Jessica Goerke, Jaylon Tate, Alex Austin

The facts emerged during a normal debriefing with Goerke’s supervisor, Marlon Dechausay.  That is, Goerke sat in Dechausay’s office and described her on-job activities for the week, and the academic progress of student-athletes assigned to her care.

Dechausay was two months into the job of Associate Director of Athletics/Academic Services. When he heard the story of the polo shirt, he wondered whether an impermissible benefit had been conferred. He reported his findings to Benjy Wilber, himself two months on the job as Director of Compliance.

If this all seems far-fetched, keep in mind the reason X didn’t want to be named in this story: The new staffers weren’t looking for impermissible benefits. They were looking for academic cheating.  It wasn’t that the shirt had value. They were investigating whether Illini players were doing their own classwork.

But, as with the NCAA’s Lou Henson-era investigation, the investigators found something. And since those Lou Henson-era investigations, the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics has been proactive about self-reports.

Jessica Goerke as artist Bob Ross, Halloween 2016. Leron Black as Leron Black.

Ironically, the emphasis on academic improprieties shifted focus from day-to-day compliance monitoring. The final compendium on Groce-era violations wouldn’t fill a respectable pamphlet.

That’s odd, because Team Groce exhibited just as many instances of the same secondary-level infraction that Bruce Weber’s administration most frequently violated, the “too many coaches” rule. That rule cost Special Assistant to the Head Coach Gary Nottingham a day’s pay (his penalty for the final iteration of that infraction).

Yet not a single self-report was ever processed by U of I Compliance for the Groce years.

For the first four of those years, Ryan Squire was head of Compliance. I asked for his opinion on the disparity.

Eventually, Gary Nottingham just stopped coming down to the court.

My observation is that it was just a difference in the ways that the two staffs were assembled and operated. Gary Nottingham was a lifelong coach who was put in a noncoaching role and had trouble keeping himself from coaching in the heat of the games despite our instructions and warnings.

On Coach Groce’s staff, his noncoaching staff were not people who wanted to be coaches so they were able to avoid any instances where they provided instruction to student-athletes during the games. You may have been familiar with Mark Morris, his operations person, and Darren Hertz, his special assistant. Both of them came from noncoaching backgrounds so it was easier for them to avoid these kinds of violations.

In my observation, Brandon Miller, Groce’s first SATTHC, did not engage in coaching activities during games.

Mark Morris (Director of Basketball Operations) did violate the rule once. That is, I have only one picture of Morris standing up, cupping his hands around his mouth, and hollering something at the game’s participants. I took him aside at Ubben the following week and explained the situation.

“I’m sure you were just yelling at the referee,” I told him. “But you want to avoid that kind of behavior. Someone might conclude that you were coaching.”

It never happened again.

I didn’t see Ryan Pedon engage in coaching during his time as SATTHC. But then Darren Hertz arrived. I don’t recall anything from his first year on the job, so maybe Ryan Squire’s observation was accurate.

And then …

So it would appear that U of I Compliance was distracted.

Now that the UNC investigation has (inconclusively) concluded, perhaps things will return to normal. Brad Underwood’s SATTHC Geoff Alexander would be wise to take a page from Nottingham’s revised playbook, and simply not speak to players during practices and games.

The unspoken story of the DIA’s investigation of X  is that Jessica Goerke didn’t provide impermissible academic assistance. Nevertheless, she received a reprimand.

Goerke is no longer with the program. In September, she left Illinois to become Assistant Athletic Director/Academic Support at the University of California-Santa Barbara.

But as X would tell you — if he trusted you and hadn’t been hounded about this very issue by the same people who were ostensibly looking out for his best interests as a student & athlete — the whole thing left a bad taste in his mouth.

 

Benjy Wilber & men’s basketball Compliance Coordinator Sarah McPhee declined to comment for this story. Marlon Dechausay referred all questions to Associate Director of Athletics/Media Relations Kent Brown, who responded in writing:  “The DIA won’t be making a statement about this particular issue. ”

 

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Illini basketball

Irrelevant observations from EIU

You probably know most of the relevant details of the 80-67 EIU triumph at Charleston last Friday. Jay Spoonhour and Brad Underwood agreed to hold an informal scrimmage, and use it as a practice.

Then, they each abandoned that plan and found themselves in a competitive brawl.

Now, here are the irrelevant details.

Before the game, Josh Whitman and Tommy Michael stood courtside, talking about various things. These two were the top contenders for the job Whitman eventually got. Michael was an associate athletic director before taking the top job at Eastern. He was an academic advisor in the DIA before that. It was good to see that no hard feelings came between the two re: that job search.

 

Michael was in a good position to know exactly what happened with Matt Bollant at Illinois.

He chose to hire Bollant to lead EIU women’s basketball.  Keep that in mind when remembering Bollant’s tenure, if you think about women’s basketball at all.

An unexpected member of the audience was Machanda Hill, Malcolm’s mom. It turns out that she hasn’t seen enough Illini basketball, yet.

She sat in the corner of the upper deck along with Kipper’s mom Tanicia Porter and Aaron’s dad Rob Jordan. Rob didn’t enjoy the scrimmage as much as, say, Eastern Illinois fans.

Also sitting in an upper corner were Bob and Cheryl Easter, who had great seats when he was university president.

Cheryl continues to be a huge basketball fan. She didn’t mind sitting in the corner.  Truth is, Lantz Arena doesn’t really have bad seats. Both Leron Black and Kipper Nichols said it felt like a high school gym.

That setting, and the backdrop it brings, might be the cause Illinois’ shooting woes.

Because EIU also hosted a women’s scrimmage, also for charity, there was no opportunity for an Illini shootaround in Charleston. Instead, the pre-game meal and shootaround took place in Champaign. The Illini then hopped on a bus for Charleston.

They never got a chance to acclimate to Lantz sightlines.

Perhaps the meal wasn’t enough, either. Mark Smith resorted to eating D’Angelo Jackson alive, both literally & figuratively.

Everyone reported that Lou Henson attended the game with lifelong friend Loren Tate (and Champaign golfer Joe Thompson).

But perhaps no one noticed the touching scene of Josh Whitman assisting Henson out of the building, late in the game (before the rush). With Whitman’s help. Lou beat the rush (and the court storming).

Tyler Underwood didn’t sit with the team. He sat behind the team.

He didn’t travel with the team. He traveled with the head coach’s family.

That’s because NCAA rules forbid transfers from traveling during their sit-out year, the same reason Rayvonte Rice watched that Gonzaga game in Champaign.

Greg Eboigbodin, Matic Vesel, Da’Monte Williams, Adam Fletcher, Aaron Jordan, Brad Underwood, Kipper Nichols, Patrick Shulte, Jamall Walker, Orlando Antigua, Chin Coleman plus Susan Underwood, Tyler Underwood, Josh Whitman, Lou Henson and Loren Tate.

Tyler is appealing to the NCAA so he can play this year. If that doesn’t work out, he’ll probably travel to away games with his family, not his team.