When I asked Marcus Carr about Illini guards and the trouble they caused him, I employed the second person singular, “you.” Unfortunately, in the English language, the same word addresses second person plurals. Or is it second persons plural?
His response made clear that he interpreted “you” as his team. He said that while the guards were very quick, it was really Kofi who caused the problems. His tone made clear that he’d rather be anywhere else.
I pivoted. I decided against clarifying. I didn’t say “no, no I’m talking about how Trent took you out of the game.” I didn’t see the point. Instead, I asked a bland question about Ayo, the kind of boring workaday tripe that you hear in most boring Q&As with athletes.
The trouble I’m having now, as I attempt to conjure a meaningful, relevant set of paragraphs capturing the zeitgeist of Illini Basketball circa December 2020; I need to know whether Marcus Carr felt thoroughly dominated by Trent Frazier.
Also, I need to know whether Carr felt confined by the help defense provided by Trent’s teammates. Did the bigs step up to fill the gaps? Did everyone rotate in sync? How has Ayo improved defensively since last year?
Nope, I just copped out entirely.
Gabe Kalscheur seemed sunnier. So I asked him how all the new parts were coming together for his team. He said everything was great and everybody super, or something along those lines.
“But you (plural) just completely fell apart and got plowed, ” I didn’t follow-up, again thinking that discretion is the better part of something. And so is not insulting people.
I took the same (easy way) out a day earlier, when Kofi offered a breezy reply to my question about his own rotations on defense. Kalscheur and Kofi were both easy on themselves.
But on the bright side — or, more accurately, the extremely gloomy side — you don’t have to worry about Kofi not worrying. It’s really amazing how openly self-critical he is. If he were an American, raised on Big Boys Don’t Cry and similar idioms; you’d never see this side of him. Presumably, you’d never see the real him.
Josh Whitman and Randy Ballard keep talking about the mental health aspect of student-athlete well being, and they couldn’t ask for a better face/spokesperson/poster child. By evincing physical dominance and a childlike curiosity, laughing with his teammates while also confessing his angst and obstacles; Kofi demonstrates a truth that pastors, therapists and 12-step sponsors have counseled for decades: You can be successful and generally happy and yet never completely overcome your continual struggles, whatever they may be.
It’s damn noble for Kofi to air it all out as he does. Some kid is listening, worshipping his idol, and feeling relieved that he’s not alone in his moments of darkness and doubt.
So when Kofi spoke confidently about quarterbacking the defense, reading and rotating; I didn’t push him with the third variable of my original question: Where does he have room for improvement?
It’s an open-ended question, not as confrontational as “why do you suck so badly” or even “you’ve been struggling lately, how come?” Kofi’s defensive rotations were not perfect. It’s okay. He’ll continue to improve in that area.
Just look at his improvement on offense! His low post moves had been few and of limited efficacy. He rewrote that narrative in just one night, and it was awesome.
He was, nevertheless, reflective in his postgame remarks. Especially the ones that weren’t asked by sports dudes.
I’m glad I was on the other line, as it were, when that Q&A unrolled. Sometimes it’s best just to listen.