Illini Basketball

October Surprise

Last Monday night (October 12) at County Market Midtown, two Illini football players milled through the frozen food section, facemasks dangling around their chins.

It’s a common fashion statement among Champaign-Urbana’s Dazzling Urbanites, but mostly off-campus. Whereas our redneck population refuses to wear masks on principle, our blacknecks prefer to wear their masks as they do their trousers.

These two players are redshirt freshmen. Neither is on the two-deep chart. So you can imagine the ennui with which they approach a global health crisis that affects old and/or fat people almost exclusively: If their season is lost due to their lacking altruism, they weren’t playing anyhow.

This Monday, Lovie Smith said the entire Illini football organization is COVID-free. So perhaps the lapse in judgment brought no consequence to the team. Lovie was mildly annoyed (at 19:40) when I asked about disciplinary measures for players who skirt the protocols. I got the feeling that he earnestly believes his guys are doing the right thing, all the time.

You couldn’t ask for a more noble leader of young men than Lovie Smith. He’s the incarnation of stolid. His quiet humility blends seamlessly with an unyielding demand for justice, effort, righteousness.

But the tricky thing about immature people is they haven’t figured out, yet, that heeding wise elders is good.

Contrast Da’Monte Williams, who Zoomed a pre-season availability yesterday. He sat down at Derrick Burson’s laptop wearing a mask. He waited for everyone to move away from him, then asked Derrick if it was safe to take the mask off. Then the took the mask off.

Few Illini student-athletes can touch Monte’s street cred. On the other hand, Brad Underwood’s least ballyhooed starter has demonstrated, time and again, that he’ll give the effort, that he’s coachable, that he’ll follow directions.

Will Illinois Athletics see its teams complete a season’s worth of competition?

Covid hasn’t killed all the fun here in C-U. Small groups of youngsters can be heard at 2 am, hanging out in the parking lot at Busey & Green. They frolic on the first floor balconies (sic) at Springfield & First.

Last night, a lone, tiny Asian student sang himself home (drunk?) from Green Street to Lincoln & Stoughton.

I know these things because my 2020 has been spent going on long walks every day, then stretching profusely when I get home because I am now old. Walking from my house to Campustown and back is what I do. It’s the daily ritual to offset Stir Crazy. As a good house-husband, I also do the laundry, the dishes, the yard work, tech support, the N95ed grocery shopping, plumbing & carpentry. But it’s the long walks that keep me sane.

Champaign-Urbana is the safest place in America, Covid-wise. Doctor Jones & Company have achieved the gold standard. We’re celebrated in network news stories. History will remember us for this moment.

It’s not just that UIUC is tested twice weekly. C-U is packed full of Asian students. They all wear masks. Some of them wore masks before Covid. These are the faces of SARS 2003.

There’s reason to be optimistic that Illini sports will happen. But a week ago, we learned that Illini basketball has already suffered covidity.

Brad Underwood didn’t reveal that Covid contaminated his team. He didn’t tell us who tested positive, or how serious that/those infection(s) became. He said “myocarditis” three or four times, and added the philosophical observation that Covid should be expected, that it would be folly to hope for a Covid-free season.

That’s when I realized we’re unlikely to see the greatest Illini basketball season in fifteen years.

Yes, we’re doing our part. But even the standard-bearing U of I is seeing positive tests. Worse, to win B1G championships, Illinois must compete with covidiots Wisconsin and Iowa. Wisconsin just built a field hospital because their brick & mortar hospitals are full. Iowa is the nation’s hotspot.

If UIUC’s student-athletes can’t keep themselves Covid-free, there’s no reason to believe the Skeptical States will.

The State of Illinois itself hit a record-high number of positive tests last week, then exceeded it the next day. Most infections come from our Iowan & Alabamian counties, of course. No one ever said redneck principles are sound. But Danville, our very own Detroit, is blowing up as well.

If you’re an Illini fan, and you want to see this year’s teams, you must wear a mask in public. If you’re a redneck Illini fan, and want to see your team win while maintaining Rural Route cred, wear a mask that says MASKS ARE BULLSHIT/GO ILLINI. Everyone will know where you stand.

If you’re a young black man trying to navigate social groups, yearning for the kind of street cred Da’Monte Williams earned the hard way; Don’t consider Lovie Smith’s frustration. He’s trying to teach impressionable young people to Do The Right Thing in a world of adults who refuse that responsibility. That’s asking a lot.

Instead, consider this: Illini third-stringers have sagging masks. You don’t know their names.

Ayo, on the other hand, doesn’t even need a last name. Everybody knows who he is, in just three letters.