There’s usually a story behind a non-conference scheduling.
Lon Kruger brought Texas – Pan American to Champaign, because he coached there. He liked the people there. He wanted them to get paid.
Bruce Weber scheduled Vanderbilt because he liked having a couple of beers with Kevin Stallings, his old benchmate from Gene Keady’s glory years.
Brad Underwood scheduled Arkansas State because he’s friends with Red Wolves coach Mike Balado. He didn’t use the word “beers” in describing their friendship, but feel free to draw your own conclusions. Florida was involved.
Trent Frazier wore a big black harness on his right arm during Thursday’s practice. It looked like the thigh pads that basketball players wore under their baggy pants in recent years. It looked like the thigh pads that football players wore until fashion became more important than practicality. It didn’t look like a shoulder harness. If there was a shoulder component, it was obscured by Trent’s practice jersey.
Talking to Omar Payne and Alfonso Plummer before today’s practice, we got the feeling that both Illini were aware that Arkansas State has a couple of talented guards, and possibly some bigs that know how to basketball.
The unspoken point was that these two Illini players will be auditioning their skills against the best opponent they’ve faced so far in this nascent Year ’22. Plummer wants to showcase his PG skills because he knows the NBA isn’t interested in SGs my height. And although both Trent Frazier and Andre Curbelo are likely to play Friday, Plummer has been practicing at PG in preparation for the game.
Brad Underwood said the coaching staff was surprised by Plummer’s adjustment to the role, and his adeptness with the unique skill set involved in directing an offense.
This may have been an Elite. Elite on Brad’s part, but he did seem genuinely surprised.
Payne gets another chance to swat shots and possibly integrate himself into the Illinois offense. This is a good thing. Kofi Cockburn’s suspension was a godsend in this regard. And although Kofi got a raw deal from the NCAA, it’ll almost certainly help the team in the long run.
You want Omar to succeed. He’s exactly the kind of student-athlete that you want to root for, both in life and on the court.