One game into the season (sic), it’s hard to know whether a top-five ranking is merited for this pesky squad of veterans and newcomers.
Monte’s back-screen and Ayo’s read made it look easy, 39:53 into Ohio’s making it look hard. Trent’s interception demonstrated, as with last year’s final game-winning play, that defense is about spacing and reacting without thinking.
No matter how great Andre Curbelo and Adam Miller might be, they have not chunked this information into instinctive behavior. Some of the defensive weak spots you saw against the Bobcats were the product of inexperience. If guys don’t rotate immediately, a well-oiled offense can exploit them in real time.
This morning, Ayo acknowledged that a video review revealed some spacing issues, and that the younger players were more likely to make these mistakes. But he also said everyone missed their spots, including himself.
His relaxed demeanor exudes a confidence that his teammates will need from him when the going gets tough, tomorrow and beyond. Ayo embraces the leadership role.
Contrast Kofi Cockburn, whose forthright description of his own struggles with “energy” is a welcome window into the mindset of a COVID-era collegian. Massive dunks & monstrous roars can lead us to forget that Kofi — despite his dimensions — is still a young person dealing with young person things, far away from home and family, and feeling just as isolated as everybody.
For this reason, Illini fans should give mad props to the team’s own bundle of warmth & encouragement — Kelsea Ansfield. She’s the one who conceived the Families Introduction last week. You could see the genuine surprise on the players’ faces. But the joy was especially clear on Kofi. who hasn’t seen his family in ages.
Champaign-Urbana, normally buzzing with excitement this time of year, is a ghost town. The BMOC factor is missing for the Illini. Droves of supportive well-wishers simply aren’t there to provide emotional fuel.
The few students walking across Campustown don’t stop to chat. They’re very sensibly avoiding each other.
Telltale signs show the economic devastation of the pandemic. When tenants get evicted, landlords throw apartments-full of belongings into Campustown dumpsters. It’s hard not to see it.
Both Ayo and Coach Underwood were very much aware that this season, with all its potential, could fall apart at any moment.
On Thanksgiving Day, Heather and I went for a long walk & came across a dumpster that had a car load of food in it. Two bags of apples, two jugs of grapefruit juice, three pounds of walnuts, ten pounds of dried beans, a case of canned beans, eight pounds of long grain brown rice, two cases of canned fruit, shredded wheat, buns & rolls, 26 cans of Campbell’s soup, three 12-packs of Bubly.
A couple of the items bore labels from nearby food banks. These people were too poor to buy food, and too poor to take it with them.
It’s a lot to deal with, even if you’re one of the lucky ones who gets three squares and regular testing. That’s another reason the Illini will continue to rely on their elders, to hold things together.