Categories
Illini Baseball

Illini COVID-19 Update

Illini baseball coach Dan Hartleb and pitchers senior pitchers Garrett Acton & Ty Weber participated in a teleconference this morning (posted in full at the bottom). Here’s what they had to say about life in C-U while baseball has been supplanted by a worldwide viral pandemic.

Hartleb was in Carterville last Thursday, waiting to watch his son play a game for John A. Logan Community College, when things started to happen. His team was preparing to play Southern Illinois in nearby Carbondale. He says he got the feeling, based on the NCAA’s announcement of no fans/tournament still on, that baseball season was in jeopardy.

When word came that the season was, indeed, cancelled; Hartleb said he had a meeting with the team which went as well as could be expected “under the circumstances” considering his players had just seen “their world turn around on them.”

Hartleb said he just spent his first March weekend without having to make a baseball-related decision, and added that his wife’s reaction was “oh crap, I’ve got to put up with you for three or four more months than I usually have to.”

Asked whether he’s experienced anything like the COVID-19 pandemic, Hartleb mentioned September 11, but added that you’d probably have to go back to WWII to find this type of social disruption. He referenced polio as the last time a disease made Americans so afraid, adding that a typical American mindset is this type of thing doesn’t happen here.

SHOULD PLAYERS STAY IN SCHOOL OR GO PRO?

“Guys know the way I feel about academics.” It’s a “golden opportunity” to get a one or two-year Master’s, and still come back and play before going on to a pro career.

Hartleb said he’s not pushing his players in either direction. “Last thing I want someone to do is come back and regret that decision.”

He says the NCAA has cancelled all scheduled workouts through April 6, but he expects all his players will keep working out on their own.

Hartleb spent a good amount of time talking about the extra year of eligibility each of his players (and all NCAA spring sport student-athletes) were granted. He said it “took the edge of the meeting” because “it gave guys hope.” Hartleb characterized it as a “redshirt year” for everybody, and pointed out that players invariably get better during a redshirt year.

WILL THERE BE A DRAFT THIS YEAR?

“The thing we know right now is that MLB is shut down.” Scouts aren’t allowed to have contact with college players. Hartleb says he’s heard from different people that the draft is on, or that the draft will be cancelled. He offered the hunch that it might be an abbreviated draft.

He observed that, at worst, his guys have an opportunity to finish their degrees and/or earn Master’s degrees.

Hartleb said his biggest concern is that guys get injured in summer baseball leagues because they haven’t had proper strength & conditioning in the spring

GARRETT ACTON – SR. RHP

On the NCAA canceling the entire season: It’s obviously the right decision. It’s a tough decision

Acton was upbeat about the future, whether it’s getting a Master’s degree and returning next year to pitch for Illinois, or going pro.

He said the team was really starting to hit its stride, especially the pitching, and particularly praised the newcomers for executing their jobs while playing in front of big crowds for the first time in their lives.

He said he’s got training equipment in his house, and can get together with a teammate if he needs to throw. “Even if there’s not a hitter in the box,” he can work on attacking the strike zone.

TY WEBER – SR. RHP

He was sitting in his apartment with his roommates when he found out. He said everyone was stunned., and that the full reality still hasn’t hit him yet.

“For me, it was crazy.”

He praised Hartleb for not pressing individual players to make decisions about whether to stay in school, whether to enroll for more school next year, whether to seek professional opportunities.

It does make it easier to have options, he added.

He said it was weird to be home in March, and not physically interacting with people. “Everything is either Facetime or text … it’s been a very weird experience.”

He said both his parents are schoolteachers, and he has access to his local high school’s workout facilities, which helps him “stay on top of my physical side” while he figures out his mental side, and future options.

He said his team was just starting to hit a groove, that he and Garrett and senior teammates had “bought-in” and were putting things together.

He said he’s grown even more as a person than a player during his time at Illinois, and hoped that if his time is done with Illini baseball, he will have had a positive impact on the younger players.

He said if he had to make the decision again, he’d definitely choose Illinois.

Lots and lots more is here, for completists, in the full teleconference.

Categories
Illini Basketball

Big Softies

Kofi Cockburn is a monster in the minds of people who’ve never met Kofi Cockburn. Brad Underwood is a monster in the minds of people who get their opinions from social media.

In fact, Brad Underwood is a reflective person. One of the things he reflects on, frequently in recent weeks, is that Kofi Cockburn is a freshman, and a minor.

Tyler did not cry.

We and Brad sometimes forget — because Kofi is an intimidating physical specimen — that inside the cranium crowning 290 lbs. of lean muscle is a youthful, playful mind just discovering the outside world, as we all did if we were lucky enough to have a freshman year.

On Sunday, as Kofi battled an intensely, historically talented B1G man, Nico Haeflinger marveled at a moment of video he’d just captured for his nightly sportscast. I was sitting next to Nico, so he shared it with me. We sat on the north baseline, under the Home basket. But this was the first half, so Nico’s footage took place 94 feet south of us.

The gist: Kofi was angry, or at least seemed angry.

After a particular play under the south basket, the quiet, polite, shy, deferential, reserved and demonstrably pacifist BEAST-IN-WAITING emoted in way that Nico had never seen. He shared the slo-mo of Kofi’s facial expression, expanding.

It started as defiance. It ended in roar.

Kofi executed, finished, successfully completed a set. Choose your verb, and strive for strength. Alliteration if possible. Onomatopoeic CRASH! in an ideal world.

Or, if you prefer, forget the prose.

Something magical happened. Appreciated simply: Kofi Cockburn scored on Luka Garza.

In doing so, Kofi passed a milestone in an extremely personal, intimate and perhaps indescribable growth step.

For all his plaudits, Kofi remains as humble & surprised as you’d expect him to be if you knew his biography rather than his press clippings.

Of course, all these impressions were formed before his official coronation as B1G Freshman 2020. But the reality of Kofi is that he doesn’t react to plaudits. People have told him that he’s god’s gift.

The important thing to know is that he learned how to play against Iowa, and Luka Garza. In the grand scheme of things, it’s the only thing he’ll ever need to know, because Luka Garza is the best B1G he’ll ever see.

When they face each other on Friday, Kofi will know that he’s answered the Garza challenge.

Categories
Illini Basketball

Ayo whaaaa?!?

You should probably feel less depressed about Ohio State if you feel depressed about Ohio State.

You should probably feel less anxiety about Iowa if you feel anxiety about Iowa.

This Illini team has demonstrated, throughout this season, that you can’t predict what this Illini team will do this season. Your source of anxiety shall henceforth parrot the reality of March: This team can lose to anybody.

Luckily, your glass is half full: This team can beat anybody, and has already proven its propensity to win seven-in-a-row.

Ayo mentioned winning seven-in-a-row just the other day, but he was talking about a state title, not a national title.

Ayo is voracious about titles. The chip on his shoulder is practically visible. His deference toward teammates & oft-stated respect for opponents belies a singular, individual drive to prove to you and your mom and everyone else that he, Ayo IS YOUR DADDY.

Ayo’s love of competition is infectious, and he’s contaminated an entire team and fanbase.

There have been two hints in recent Ayo Availabilities which should, at the very least, drive conspiracy theories about Ayo returning for a third year.

The most obvious was when he said he was contemplating Journalism as a major.

The other came after that, and I can’t remember which pregame availability it was, but you should probably just click on all the IlliniReport videos anyway.

But the good news about Ayo is that he wants to be The Guy who returned Illinois to jersey-popping status. If His Team doesn’t win three-in-a-row next weekend, or six-in-a-row after that; you can imagine him making another Consequential Decision in your favor.

#UnfinishedBusiness

The alternative is that you celebrate a championship.

Categories
Illini Basketball

The Deserve Curve

You like sports & you know how to use the Internet, so you’ve probably encountered a probability to win graph. You might remember the one from ILLINI/MSU football. The sine wave changed at the end. The orange line moved up in comparison to the green line.

On Sunday, the red line hovered over the orange line for about 39 minutes of basketball.

Maybe not on your preferred website, but in my mind. Indiana was better than Illinois, and deserved to win Sunday’s game — for about 39 minutes.

If you want a more precise figure, the best I can come up with is 39 minutes and 53.6 seconds, because that’s when Terry Oglesby blew his whistle, and awarded a timeout to Trent Frazier.

It was this moment, when Andres Feliz pounced on a loose-ish ball, that the pendulum swung.

That might seem like an easy thing to say, because it happened to be the moment upon which the game swung.

Archie Miller wondered how the play could unfold with neither foul nor held-ball whistled.

Indiana was in position for a game-winning shot when — with about 8 seconds remaining —  Andres Feliz leapt to steal the ball from Phinisee, who had unsuccessfully attempted to dribble through Trent Frazier’s outstretched leg.

Feliz then rolled his upper body away from Phinisee to prevent a held-ball situation. Trent ran toward referee Terry Ogelsby, who was closely monitoring the play. Frazier both screamed and signaled for a time-out, which Oglesby granted.

Indiana fans melted the Internet and phone lines for post-game call-in shows, arguing that Trent’s leg had committed a punishable act.

It’s an interesting theory. Should Oglesby have called tripping? Did Trent have a right to stand where he was planted? Might it be a charge?

Maybe Oglesby just didn’t see the contact. It happened pretty quickly.

In general, I think complaints about officiating are a waste of time. Fans often misinterpret calls (e.g. yes it was a clean block, but the defender bumped the shooter with his hip), and too many fans vocally express displeasure at all calls, creating a Boy Who Cried Wolf vibe with the refs.

That said, the officiating on Sunday was worth discussing.

The most obvious gaffe was a foul not called on Devonte Green. Andres Feliz drove to the basket, Joey Brunk and Green closed in, and Green hacked Feliz on his shooting arm, visibly changing the shot and Feliz’s follow-through.

Feliz was so stunned by the non-call that he failed to get back on defense (which is, as you know, quite unlike Feliz).

The other remarkable call that went against Illinois saw Oglesby whistling Alan Griffin for helping an off-balance Justin Smith fall out-of-bounds.

Did Alan touch Smith? Did he give Smith a gentle push? That’s obviously what Oglesby saw.

I was at the far end, so I asked my fellow reporters if anyone got a good look. Erich Fisher said something along the lines of where there’s smoke there’s fire.

Brian Dorsey must have agreed with Alan, because his make-up call arrived as soon as he could find a potential infraction. It’s easy to call traveling in any situation, so traveling is a common tool for make-up calls.

Some Hoosier grad student might inquire about a grant to study how officiating affected the outcome of this game. Surely some donors would fund it. I’d like to know myself.

As far as deserving to win. Indiana definitely deserved this game for all but 6.4 seconds. And then Illinois deserved it more.

Ayo’s third major end-game gaffe (Miami, MSU) nearly handed the Hoosiers their win. But Ayo also drilled the big three that pushed the lead to 65-60. He drained his two free-throws. i.e. he redeemed himself, and snatched back the win.

They say ball don’t lie. It seems about right that at the end of the game, Illinois had one point more than Indiana. They deserved it more.