COVID-19 Illini Basketball

The Season on a Brink

Don’t worry. This is the best time to be a fan.

Michigan stinks. Minnesota’s good.

Eric Hutcherson, who flew from SoCal to Champaign every few days in November, has a lot of flights to unbook.

Coleman Hawkins, the only #Illini to start every game, appears hesitant on offense. Da’Monte Williams can’t buy a three, again (26.3%).

Alfonso Plummer joined the team as an undersized three-point specialist. Now he’s playing an oversized role, sometimes manning the point, and driving for buckets.

This is not the 2022 you expected. So what is it?

Seriously, what’s going on here?

“Did you have fun?” asked Bret Beherns, as he and Andy Olson exited the State Farm Center after last Saturday’s Arizona game.

I did. It was an exciting atmosphere.

He still hasn’t missed from the line.

Illinois basketball can now host legit contenders with the added possibility of beating them. After a decade in the wilderness of irrelevance, it’s good to be here.

As the abortive 2021-22 dream evolves to a December reality, your interest in Illinois basketball might diminish. I find it fascinating. I think The Jacob Grandison story, alone, is worth a season’s worth of literary deconstruction.

He’s shooting 48% from the arc, but that hasn’t stopped him from driving.

I think the Curbelo story is fascinating, and I can’t help but love the fact that Andre Curbelo has chosen to be the fourth assistant coach on this team, even while I try to understand (as do you, as does he) the neurological problems that keep him off the court.

I love watching the Brad Underwood story play out. And I recognize that threes, possibly fives of you are wondering why I haven’t published a column about Underwood trashing his players, which he certainly did after the Arizona game.

If there’s anything I’ve accomplished as a quirky sportswriter, it’s getting after a coach for trashing his players.

Once in a while, people ask me what I do. After I tell them, and if they ask for more information; I always send them this column, where I got after a coach for trashing his players.

(I can’t, now that I’m old, remember any other columns that I liked. I remember I wrote one titled “DJ is a helicopter” and another titled “8” which had to be configured manually within the CMS, so thanks to SP’s managing editor Patrick Singer for that. But I can’t remember whether I liked them.)

Brad Underwood doesn’t like ball-taking.

Point is, I turned on Bruce Weber when he turned on his players. Why am I not writing that column about Brad Underwood?

I guess the difference between Bruce Weber trashing his Illini players and Brad Underwood trashing his Illini players is that Underwood exudes toughness, while Weber is a whiny, lisping dork.

As a sensitive new-age man, I’m not allowed to say things like that in polite company. But you’re sports fans. You have no such sensibilities.

Basketball is violent, yet artful.

Underwood continues to remind me of Wayne Mammen, the best coach I ever had. That guy abused us left and right, but like Underwood, it was clear that he cared. We knew he was building us up while he tore us down.

Weber couldn’t instill that confidence because he was so visibly insecure himself.

It’s subjective. I can’t prove the point with data. But Underwood’s promise of “consequences” and challenging practices doesn’t rub me the wrong way.



That said, it was a little unfair for Underwood to rant about Arizona’s persistent ball-thieving when his biggest, baddest brute tried mightily, within the rules, to prevent ball theft.

Kofi got no help from his teammates (passes to his shoelaces) nor the stripey shirt guys.

Jake’s pass got to Kofi. So there’s that.

Lewis Garrison has officiated a few Illini games lately, and a pattern has emerged. He treats Kofi Cockburn differently.

I don’t think it’s intentional or malicious. After being clobbered by Kofi, I think Garrison suffers unconscious post-traumatic effects.

Lewis Garrison & Tommy Lloyd

The consequence, against Arizona, was that Garrison allowed the Wildcats to molest Kxng_Alpha rather violently. The theory goes like this: Kofi is superhuman, therefore these wasps & gnats will merely irritate him.

What would you do with this pass?

If Garrison treated Kofi like a normal person, he’d probably assess fouls against those wasps & gnats. It’s something to keep an eye on, if the B1G continues to assign Garrison to Illini games.

Kofi is kind and sensitive. Garrison is a little nerdy, and if not quite effeminate, then at least scholarly. These two should get along like a house on fire. Let’s hope they do in the future.

Kofi had his worst game against Arizona, but he continued to kick the ball to the wing effectively. If Garrison hadn’t treated him as a superhuman force, Kofi’s stats would have regressed to the superb.

I wonder whether average Illini fans feel the same way I do about Kofi. He’s so impressive as a physical specimen/athletic freak that I sometimes forget how freakishly athletic and physical he is.

And also that he developed a jumpshot, and the ability to pass.

It’s a remarkable basketball story, and must be underscored by the hundreds of enormous people you’ve watched over the years, thrust into basketball because of their size, and despite their lack of agility, work ethic & dexterity.

“I think not” – Kxng_Alpha

Just watching the Kofi story unfold is reason enough to invest yourself in this Illini team (unless they lose to Cuonzo’s awful Mizzou team, in which case you’re allowed to cut bait and move on, emotionally, to MLB spring training).

It’s been a few days since the thrilling melodrama with Tommy Lloyd’s lithe internationals, and like you, I’m getting itchy to see what happens next with the ’22 Illini. I especially want to watch the Plummer story’s next chapter.

I’m excited to see what happens to Coleman Hawkins. His flashes of potential hold the promise of stardom and/or Kris Wilkes-ish disappointment.

But because he’s a thinker, you shouldn’t be surprised that he’s suffering exactly the setback that he’s suffering right now, while he crunches everything.

Sometimes Coleman seems like a face in the crowd. But he’ll be special.

Smart, analytical people need extra time. (You’d think it was the opposite, right?) Given that time, it’ll all look different to Coleman. And then he’ll be the most entertaining & dangerous Illini.

I can’t wait.

And then there are all these new kids to be excited about. So yeah, it stinks that Illini basketball has three losses and continually changing circumstances, but after a distinctly depressing era of incompetence, you should have the feeling that it’s going places.

*I don’t actually care what their sex organs look like, or how they identify. It’s the toughness that matters.