It’s been a long, cold, lonely winter.
Not January 2020, but Illini basketball. We’ve forgotten what it’s like to be the pretty girl at the party. For too many years, Illini hoops was not merely vincible, but easily vinced.
But this midwinter weekend, Illinois basketball noticed that everyone wants to be its friend. Everyone wants our phone number. Everyone who isn’t talking to us is talking about us. Right now, they’re complimenting us on our dress & poise. They like our fresh face.
They’ll turn catty later, but right now, Giorgi is the media darling. Kofi is the freshman sensation. Ayo is the assassin.
It struck me on Friday night, when one of the guys from The Journey walked into the bar at Pacific Rim, where @VashouneRussell and I had just ordered our bevs. He was by himself, so he joined in and we talked about camera specs & B1G basketball. I realized he was in town because of Illinois.
Sure enough, the next noon, I found myself sitting with two of his colleagues, the videographer & the Holder of The Boom Mic. They were positioned in the corner, at the end of the Illini bench. No similar crew sat at the Michigan end. The Journey was not interested in Wolverines.
Meanwhile, in the dungeon where media eat bacon and photogs edit, Tayshaun Prince somberly texted. We don’t know how many NBA scouts were there, but Tayshaun stood out. And his credential said SCOUT, so we knew what was up.
Vashoune spotted him, too. And because Vashoune photographs everything, he selfiebombed the former Kentucky star. (If Kentucky is not on TV, Vashoune will watch the Illini.)
“I’m sorry to do this to you,” he began, realizing just how much sorrier he was for saying it, and already feeling stupid for doing it, “but can I take a picture with you?”
NBA scouts are not allowed to speak with working media at NCAA sites, and Tayshaun didn’t.
Maybe Tayshaun was there to see Jon Teske. But, you know, probably not.
Brendan Quinn, the former MSU/Michigan beat writer now at The Athletic, held his audio recorder over my shoulder during Ayo’s postgame interview. I told him he could rest his arm there when all the blood had gone. He laughed.
Upstairs, the Michigan media (and my other Android, on a tripod) were waiting for Juwan Howard to arrive for his Q&A.
Guys who usually cover Michigan usually cover Michigan. But not this time. Not now.
Illinois basketball is the life of the party. So after Ayo’s press scrum broke, Brendan did not hustle up the stairs to hear Juwan’s analysis. He sat down for a longer interview with Ayo — a privilege reserved for the important media, none of whom cover Illini basketball … until now!
We’ve completely forgotten what it’s like to be the center of attention. Illini basketball has performed the Washington Generals role for globetrotting tourney regulars like Wisconsin, Purdue & Michigan since Steve Jobs was pitching iPads. The last time you felt this excited about your team, you whipped out your BlackBerry to text your buddy. Then you remembered: he can’t work that feature on his dumbphone.
As you explore success, and rediscover its merits, please remember us little guys, too.
We’re lucky to have an extremely collegial media pool at a moment when Illini basketball has, stunningly & electrically, launched itself to a place of national prominence. At Michigan, you got coverage from Joey, Scott, Jeremy & Derek, Marlee, Gavin Good and that new guy Matt. These people work every day to keep you up-to-date.
It’s great to have the perspective of an outsider, too. Outsiders see things we miss for being right in front of us. Case in point: You should read Marcus Fuller this week, at StarTribune.com both before & after the Gophers come to town. You’ll learn something.
And yes, when SportsCenter features Illini basketball, when Dickie V & Pat Forde & Pete Thamel & Dan Wetzel spend an entire column on your team; enjoy the hell out of it.
It’s fun to be the pretty girl at the party. For one thing, you might get asked to dance.