Illini Basketball

Anger Management

The best coach I ever had, Urbana High School’s Wayne Mammen, offered a unique combination of old school toughness (61%) and new world sensitivity (6%). Most of the time, he yelled at us. Every once in a while, he showed the warm-hearted side. The other third was conditioning. Each practice he ran his team ragged, which got us in the best shape of our lives.

We were undefeated that year. I’ve been a Tough Love believer ever since.

Brad Underwood is the angriest coach I’ve seen since Gene Keady retired. He’s also got the sensitivity gene, which makes him comfortable and genial when the cameras roll. For some iGen players, this duality works. The others left the program.

Many left the program.

At 16:08 of the 2019 Braggin’ Rights second half, Brad Underwood was angrier than he’s ever been in his life, according to two people who’ve seen him angry.

I turned to look over my left shoulder, where Gordon Voit was perched on a tiny stool, checking his notifications. To his dismay, Gordon had rested his HDTV camera on the court surface, which is normal procedure for us baseline sitters. When a called timeout occurs, it takes a little longer to put the camera down, because we can’t anticipate it. A deadball whistle at 15:56, or 7:48, or 11:53 (media timeouts) will find an experienced photog’s equipment on the ground before that little cork ball has begun to rattle in its chamber.

Before I could say Gordon, is that the angriest you’ve ever seen … Gordon said “that’s the angriest I’ve ever seen him.”

He paused to collect himself, then continued. “That’s not hyperbole, is it?”

I reassured him.

Underwood launched himself so far into Ayo’s left ear that his lips might have protruded from the other side. I picked my camera back up, but I’d missed the most intense moment. Someone’s still photos might capture that rage, but mine don’t. Someone might have captured the whole thing on video, but Gordon didn’t.

Ayo’s family attends most games. They were a few rows back from the Illini bench at Braggin’ Rights. If I looked at them and saw their facial expressions at that moment, I don’t recall it. I didn’t see Quam Dosunmu at the NCA&T game.

Three years into the Underwood Administration, the Ubben is now CLOSED to visitors. Those caps represent the 8.5″ x 11″ message currently taped to each glass door sealing the practice gym from the outside world. Spies can no longer scout Underwood’s Arrow Inbound Play. Or maybe those signs are meant to protect visitors from Underwood’s regular barrage of four-letter words. Which do you think?

Underwood arrived professing openness, and it took the DIA nearly three years to completely shut him off from unmonitored monitoring. It doesn’t quite work, though. You can still hear him yelling on the other side of those doors. And down the hall.

DIA contracts purport to give free rein to head coaches, who ostensibly know better than most (to the tune of $3M/year) how to run a sports program. It will be interesting to see how the DIA curtails Underwood’s style and philosophy going forward, and which avenues are closed off.

On the one hand, we live in an age where unhinged invective inspires 41 to 43% of the electorate. On the other hand, college administrators offer Safe Space for the Coddling of the American Mind. But which of those strategies most effectively inspires four young people to successfully feed a round ball to a manchild in the low post?

You can’t really have both at the same time. So the question is whether Underwood will be allowed, moving forward, to be Underwood. Can this generation tolerate anger?

It might be interesting to consider, while contemplating that question, the immediate outcome of Underwood’s 16:08 tirade. The team broke that huddle to run one of its least effective possessions of the game, and arguably the season.

Tomorrow: The Nikko v. Cockburn possession

More on that tomorrow.

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