Illini Basketball

Livorno – The Tevian Jones Show

I don’t know who won the box score, because Derrick hasn’t sent it out yet. But there’s no arguing with the gaggle of ten year-old Italian kids who followed Tevian Jones around and out of the gym after his airbound, rim-rattling performance.

They got his autograph. They got his picture. They swarmed around him as if playing the role of ten year-old kids in a Mack Sennett one-reeler.

Jones won their hearts with a series of break-away dunks. Like Derek Harper in 1982, or Battle/Gill in 1989, Tevian found himself playing the point on defense, facing Italians who’ve never met long-armed defenders before. Repeatedly, Tevian picked their pockets, dribbled four times, and launched. Watching him fly though the air over the free-throw lane, reminiscent of another Illinois transplant, gave everyone the opportunity to imagine what great, exciting things would happen when he finally landed at the rim.

Don’t you hate it when your phone stops recording to prompt a WiFi sign-in?
Can you see the gaggle of kids following Tev after the interview?

This game was close for a few minutes, and the coaching staff wasn’t thrilled about defensive execution. But for guys like Jones, Zach Griffith, and the 30-ish balding guy who wore #20 for Livorno, this was an important step in their basketball journey. Tevian’s confidence got a booster shot. Zach got to play major minutes and executed well in what will probably be his most significant role as an Illini. The old guy balled, and looked smooth doing it. There were lots of Italian women in the gym. I hope he earned something.

Ooh, the box score has just arrived. It seems Tevian was the third-leading scorer. And yet everyone knew who the star was. Jones was the only Illini made available for a postgame chit-chat.

The gym was about 85° at tip-off, and maybe got a little cooler as the sun went down, which it does here around 21:30 on an early August evening. Paul Schmidt does not, it turns out, keep a thermometer for monitoring court temps. “In America, we have this thing called air-conditioning,” he reported, as sweat beaded from every pore on his face.

The entire Illini bottled water allotment

The arena had the same amount of water fountains. Zero. On the other hand, one could get shots of Jagermeister, panini, espresso, Bailey’s Irish Cream and basically whatever booze you want in the small café, which also housed the building’s only electric fan. They even had a meat slicer. And, most importantly (?), foosball.

As predicted, the team didn’t spend any time in Livorno. They rode the hour-and-a-half both ways from Florence. With a 10 a.m. departure for the three-and-a-half-hour bus ride to Rome, and a game that finished at 10 p.m., there’s again not much time for winding down, sleeping, massages and ice baths.

Unlike Milan, there’s little argument that Florence is the city for sites. But they’re not seeing sites tomorrow in Florence. If they’d stayed in Livorno tonight, they’d have had an extra hour of sleep. And the bus ride tomorrow would have been like driving the PCH rather than the 5 (know what I’m sayin’?) They don’t have to change hotels, and there’s something to be said about that.

Livorno is a distinctly Italian coastal town. Walking home from the venue (on Via Salvador Allende for you socialists), I realized that I was the only person around. It was 10:30 p.m., and everything was closed. Finally I found a piazza where table seating suggested a restaurant serving after 22:00. Otherwise, you have to get your cigarettes and Snickers from a vending machine.

Luckily, there’s an Indian convenience store owner just around the corner from my AirBnB apartment. He’s willing to outwork all these lazy Europeans, so I was able to get my baguette, my tomato, my latte fresca and bottle of rosso (€2.50) at 23:00. Rosso makes my reports longer, and a bit winding, like this paragraph. (The rosso in Varese was €1.68, but you gotta pay the Indian for his willingness.)