Illini Basketball

Ides of May

A month ago, Brad Underwood said he didn’t anticipate any staff changes. He laughed at the concept of retention incentives and/or performance bonuses, and said “I have no idea” what the DIA might do to reward/keep an incredibly desirable & succesful basketball staff intact.

And now, here we are.

If you’re trying to keep up with the latest, it’s this: Orlando & Chin are gone. You can’t have Omar Payne and Al Pinkins in the same building, so Illinois gets Payne (for now). Kimani Young is staying in Storrs. Alan Huss was onboard the other day, but maybe he’s staying on Omaha now. It’s home, after all.

In announcing Chester Frazier, Underwood confirmed that Chester is a guards coach and defensive guy. But he added that his recent staff didn’t always stick to their group assignments. Chin Coleman was a wings guy, but was also Chief Ayo Officer on the Illini staff. Brad said Chin worked with different skill groups in more recent times. One wonders if that caused some of the Gentry Friction you’ve read about.

The point here is that Frazier’s hiring casts a penumbra on the soothsaying of further hires. Who will coach the bigs? Who will coach the wings? And is Gentry really going back to Spokane?

Mrs. Frazier, with her mother, Ann Zeffert

The answers change every fifteen minutes, and so goes the fate of the program. Illinois was taunting Michigan in March. Now we envy the stability at Indiana. Losing Orlando Antigua is a bigger deal than you think, even if you thought it was a big deal. The foreseeable came to pass, and you’ll remember it for years to come.


You were stunned when Orlando Antigua joined the original Underwood staff, so maybe you’ll be stunned again when Underwood plucks another ace recruiter. Chester said he wants to learn new things, so maybe he’ll become an ace recruiter. Maybe he’ll become the wings coach. Who knows?

It was fun to watch his evolution as a player, from the offensive liability whom Purdue ignored to the sharpshooter who torched Ohio State. (Kudos to Gary Nottingham on reworking Chester’s shot.)

Senior Day 2009

He’s also evolved, as people tend to do with age, personally. Chester the Illini player was cautious, even defensive when interacting with the media. He shared with this writer a well-founded disdain for characterization of his words (as opposed to direct quotes). Nothing about his attitude was illogical or unreasonable. It made him a less likely source for good material and general bonhomie.

The Chester who Zoomed with a mostly unfamiliar Illini media pool this week showed a hint of that residual caution. But he’s 35 now, and he’s worked in a necessarily social & networking-oriented profession for a decade.

And of course, there’s Sarah.

Some college basketball players get drafted to the NBA. Chester also won the lottery, but off the court. A dozen years and two kids later, Sarah remains the dynamic, if lesser known star of this package deal.

Returning to Champaign means the Fraziers are closer to her hometown of St. Louis. It also sets Chester in a good position to launch himself into a head coaching gig in a region he’s recruited for ten years. Keep an eye, for example, on Travis Ford’s career trajectory.

For now, we can’t know what to expect from Chester as a recruiter or coach. He promised he’s still the same guy, but that refers to his passion & work ethic. He’s changed a lot since 2009, whether he knows it.

Sarah will bring her photography business to Champaign. So you can meet her, too. And you should, because she’s the best.


The News-Gazette ran a retrospective the other day. The guy is a Hall of Famer and already had a street named after him, but why not.

There’s something I’d like to offer from my own observation.

At some point, over the years, it slowly dawned on me that a defining Loren Tate characteristic is the deference and collegiality he shows to the beat reporters as a group. He loves being one of the guys, and he doesn’t lord his legend over anybody, not even the 20 year-old, wet-earred newbs from the DI. He takes a seat in the middle of the pack, and engages the others with questions about their views.

I think that might be the most important quality to recall in his epitaph. The problem is that he’s going to outlive anyone who might write it.