Illini football

The New Model Army

Maybe the 2019 Illini will finish 13th in the B1G, just as all the Detroit and Philadelphia sportswriters predicted.

Thing is, all those busy professionals are too consumed with writing about pro sports, local sports and their own college teams. To the extent that they contemplate conference bottom-dwellers at all, it’s usually a quick study of someone else’s analysis. 

Nobody really knows.

A few thousand people have seen Ayo, Giorgi and Andres perform on the same team. A few dozen have seen them play more than twice. But even if this squad wins the next ten games, we won’t know what they’ll be like in March.

Here’s what we do know after two public contests: This team must have an unflappable Andres Feliz’s  if it’s going to succeed. Feliz had been the model of consistency. He was the rock. You could trust Andres Feliz to do the right thing. Like Dominicans in baseball, his fundamentals are not merely sound. They define him.

But not Thursday.

Feliz led the Illini in turnovers, with five. He offset that number with three assists and two steals, but it’s hard to believe he didn’t go straight home to flagellate himself with some torturous handcrafted weapon, known only to Gullahphones.

Feliz led all Illini with a +33 point-differential. The team is inarguably more successful when he’s on the floor.

Tevian Jones made the biggest single-game leap in this observer’s experience, and it makes total sense. Tevian was all over the place during the Wesleyan scrimmage. Last night, he was in the right spots.

Real game experience (competing against other teams, in front of spectators) is a big deal.  It’s not just a matter of trying harder “when the lights come on.”

Neuroscience calls it “chunking.” People whose brains have already separated learned information into “chunks” don’t need to process familiar visual experiences with the same thoroughness as people who’ve never experienced those visuals.

Instead, they can concentrate on the visual information that is actually  unique. If they’ve seen fifty games from the floor of the State Farm Center, they can concentrate entirely on the opponent’s offensive scheme.

It’s why seniors are better than freshmen. It’s why home teams beat visiting teams.

Tevian’s major freshman mistakes on Thursday took the traditional form of The Personal Foul. In 18:12 of tick, Tevian garnered a team-high four of them.

Contrast his senior counterpart, Aaron Jordan. AJ led the team in PT with 26:33. He fouled once.

Andres Feliz has a lot more experience than the Illini freshmen, but they’ll all get better with more experience playing together, and on the same court.

Even Ayo, despite gushing overnight plaudits, has lots of room for improvement. His most obvious mistake last night was fouling a jump-shooter after getting beat off the dribble.

He might have recovered from the initial mistake, but because it flustered him, he made the worse mistake.

Cherish these images. You might not get many chances to see Ayo making mistakes. His flashes of brilliance might overload the system.

It’s too bad that he can’t watch himself himself. He’s exciting.

Not surprisingly, some of Ayo’s best plays do not end in buckets. He’s too fast, and his teammates haven’t caught up yet. That’s another thing that might develop over time.

In the future, this might become an assist.

The Giorgi Show will be entertaining whether Illinois wins or not. But Giorgi is not indifferent to the score. Apart from being hilarious, he’s competitive.  This combination brings confusing outcomes: Bo Boroski assessed an official warning for Giorgi’s taunting, yet came away laughing.

Every observer that I’ve polled expects Giorgi’s technical-per-game ratio to continue unabated. Let’s hope nobody gets hurt.

Tal Brody was in the house.
Illini basketball Illini football

Lovie asked me to take a stand

A couple weeks ago, Lovie Smith asked me (and the Illini media pool) to declare our opinions about Charlottesville, Trump and The Star-Spangled Banner.

I decided this week would be an appropriate time to make that declaration. This week, Ayo Dosunmu will Officially Visit Illinois Basketball.

Everyone’s thinking about Ayo Dosunmu. I want Ayo Dosunmu to think about Lovie’s challenge.

I met Ayo once, with his dad, Quamdeen. I thought he said “Kwame,” a name I’ve heard before. If you’re descended from Europeans, you might not guess that their family name is pronounced Doh-SOO-moo.

Paris Parham was showing them around at a football game.  I asked Quamdeen (or “Coach Q” as he’s called by the pronunciation-challenged) “can I catch up with you guys at halftime?”

“Sure,” he said,  “cool.”

It didn’t work out. Like a lot of football games of the John Groce era, there wasn’t a whole lot of excitement on the field. The Dosunmus were gone by halftime.

At some point after his Official Visit this weekend, Ayo will choose between the University of Illinois and Danny Manning’s Demon Deacons of Wake Forest.

It just  happens that I was scouting Wake Forest yesterday. That is, I was StreetViewing Winston-Salem,  its hometown. Illini basketball will travel there in a few weeks, and I was looking at hotels, etc.

It’s gorgeous.

If I were coaching at Wake-Forest, I’d sell a kid on the beauty of that town.

But then I realized something. Winston-Salem is tobacco country. Their Kimpton Hotel (The Cardinal) is in the old RJ Reynolds building. Their town is named for two packs of cigarettes!

It’s the deep south.

This is Trump territory. These are the people who cheer every time Trump lambastes a conscientious objector. Their gorgeous centreville, old-timey and historic, is where slaves worked the fields. Those fields have been preserved.

There aren’t as many historic slave quarters in Winston-Salem as there are in some towns,  partly because the Moravian Church didn’t allow white locals to own slaves.

Instead, the church owned them.

I don’t know whether one can tour slave quarters anywhere near Wake Forest University. I toured them in Savannah, GA. They didn’t look very comfortable.

Savannah, perhaps because it’s so strongly associated with ante-bellum southern history, might avoid the anti-Confederate protests that toppled statues in Charlottesville and New Orleans.

I thought Savannah’s memorial to Confederate General Lafayette McLaws was an outstanding example of late 19th Century landscape architecture.


I don’t have any particular respect for the man memorialized here. But as art, I thought it was pretty cool. Then again, I’m a middle-aged white man. I’ve never been shot at. I’ve never even been billy-clubbed. That’s what the NFL protests are about, in case anyone forgot. Brutality.

I have been in Charlottesville, though. Two of my sisters lived there. Dave Matthews was their bartender at Miller’s. It seemed like a pleasant if humid place.

Except for this one time.

I was in the Food Lion, just before Thanksgiving 1993. I had a fancy Marantz tape recorder, which I got from the Quartermaster in NPR’s basement. I had the job of asking shoppers which one food item simply had to be on the table to make or break Thanksgiving.

I approached an old black woman in the frozen foods section. Her son was helping her shop. I introduced myself and posed my question.

The old woman did not look me in the eye. She didn’t look up at all. Then her son leaned close to her ear, and whispered “it’s okay.”

And then she answered me.

I don’t remember what her favorite Thanksgiving item was. Her answer probably made the cut for the Morning Edition special that ran the following Thursday. It was an authentic American voice.

But I’ll never forget that she was afraid of me, that she needed permission to talk to me.

I saw her everywhere as I continued my StreetView tour of Winston-Salem. I imagined her bent over in the tobacco drying barn, just like she leaned over the freezer in that Food Lion. I have no doubt she worked hard all her life.

It was great that North Carolina voted for Barack Obama in 2008.  It seemed like progress for a state that foisted Jesse Helms on us for three decades. But then in 2012, the state reverted to red. And last year, it swung the presidency to Donald Trump.

When Lovie asked me to declare my opinion about Trump and the NFL protests, he was too late. I wrote about this issue last year.

But this column is about Ayo Dosunmu, not Colin Kaepernick. This week, Ayo will choose between the state that gave the world Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama, and the state that gave us Donald Trump.

I want Ayo to think about that before he makes his decision.

I don’t know if the rest of the Illini media pool will follow Lovie’s directive to voice an opinion on Trump v. NFL Players. But before Lovie arrived that day, we were already talking about the issue. So whether any of my colleagues declares a stance on the issue, it’s important to recognize that they’re an informed, engaged group of people.

Loren Tate spent the lunch hour Googling the history of The Star-Spangled Banner as a sports tradition. He announced, shortly before the presser began, that Woodrow Wilson had ordered the anthem to be performed during military ceremonies in 1916.

“Loren, you do realize Woodrow Wilson was the worst president in U.S. history,” I observed.

I believe this to be true.  The usual suspects can’t hold a candle to Wilson’s malfeasance because they were incompetent.

“I think Buchanan’s got that one wrapped up,” Jeremy Werner retorted.

Wilson was the worst because he wasn’t incompetent.  He was extremely intelligent, and used his power to suppress freedoms we take for granted today.

Shannon Ryan perked up at the Wilson criticism, reminding the group of Wilson’s fanatical white supremacism. “And he resegregated the civil service,” I responded.

“What about Andrew Jackson?” asked Scott Beatty.

“He killed a lot of Indians,” I answered. “So there’s that. But you have to understand the time …” I finished, weakly, not quite sure why that rationalization would exonerate any military leader.

Scott Richey asked about the Trail of Tears, having not heard other Scott’s question.

Turning back to Jeremy, wanting to make a point, I outed myself as a Buchanan apologist. “I disagree with 99% of U.S historian, including my father, about Buchanan,” I told them. “I think there’s strong Constitutional argument against keeping states that don’t want to be a part of the union.”

Abraham Lincoln disagreed with me, of course.   A few hundred thousand people died, and we still haven’t really won back the south. In fact, they seem to be running the show.

I don’t know whether any of these considerations will factor into Ayo’s decision. Our state is bankrupt, for sure. It’s because we provided health care for all children, and codified pension rights in our constitution.  Whatever we’ve built here in Illinois, the workers got paid to build it. In North Carolina, the labor was “free.”

And now that white nationalists feel emboldened by their president to rally in public, we know that a lot of those unreconstructed southerners wish to return to those “good ole days.”

Not me.

My defense of James Buchanan is theoretical. As a matter of principle, Lincoln won the argument.

I hope Ayo gets a chance to meet with the football staff during his Official Visit. In these difficult times, it’s reassuring to have Lovie Smith, Hardy Nickerson and Garrick McGee representing the state of Illinois.  For the country, it’s never been more urgent to have capable,  talented, erudite black men who aren’t afraid to speak their minds intelligently and compassionately about the importance of free speech, peaceful protest, and fundamental rights.

For the record, I agree with them. That’s my opinion.








Illini football


Illini football

Pictures from the Ball State game

Vashoune Russell was on the sidelines again, along with his fancypants cameras. Here’s what he snapped.

Chayce Crouch heads for the end zone versus Ball State (Vashoune Russell)

I took a couple of pictures, too. You may not recognize them now, but hopefully some day they’ll be household faces.

Illini football

The Long List

There’s a long intro to this column. If you don’t want to read my ruminations, scroll down ’til you find Bold lettering.

I have a list. It excludes all the people you’ve read on all the other lists. It’s not that those names shouldn’t be considered, it’s that you’re bored reading about them.

Just after the new year, I began asking my colleagues in the media: “When did you start making your list?”

Everyone had a specific answer. Whether it was the first Maryland game, at Indiana or Winthrop; everyone immediately remembered the moment.

No one ever asked “which list?”

Fans need not hate John Groce. They can want a new basketball coach without diminishing Groce as a human being. He didn’t publicly trash his players the way Bruce Weber did. He didn’t run the program into the ground the way Weber did. Groce merely failed to revive the program from Weber’s destruction.

John Groce got a five year contract to rebuild the program, and he got five years to rebuild the program. Fair’s fair. Illinois gave John Groce the time and money it promised.

Everybody can feel bad that it didn’t work out, while also acknowledging that it didn’t work out.

Groce is now $8.1 million richer than he was in April of 2012. His connections in the basketball world, and the level of respect he’s earned from members of the coaching fraternity, will ensure that he continues to earn a significant salary for as long as he wants to keep coaching.

We can  feel bad that John Groce failed to achieve a level of success we all wanted. But we don’t need to feel sorry for him. He’ll be fine.

Hiring Chris Tamas proved that Josh Whitman can act quickly, decisively & unexpectedly.

It’s really a perfect time to attract a new coach. Groce recruited a pretty good incoming class. That makes the job desirable to worthwhile candidates. Dee-Deron-Luther had Bruce Weber literally (yep) jumping (does nobody but me remember this interview?) in 2003, when Bill Self taught Ron Guenther a lesson about market forces.

With Michael Orris and Jalen James in the fold, Illini basketball did not find anyone eagerly jumping for Weber’s job.

The Lovie Hire

A blindsiding surprise. A pro coach moving to the college level.

Who’s the guy with a Chicago connection who then took the reins of a pro team in Florida?

Scott Skiles

Midwest native, Big Ten roots, pro pedigree. Can he coach? A lot of people have opinions on this topic. Over the last twenty years, quite a few of them played for Skiles in the NBA, where he’s benn both an assistant and head coach. Why not ask some of them how he’d do in a college setting?

I mean, you never know …

Michael Jordan
We have his phone number. Might as well.
Presumably, he’d be a real hard ass on the players. What incentive would compel him to take on a difficult job? That’s actually the easy question to answer. All you have to do is present a challenge to Jordan, with the mild suggestion that it might be too much for him, and watch him go.
Rick Majerus
Yes, he’s dead, but it’s traditional to add him to these lists. And naming him as the next Illini coach would certainly raise the profile of the program.

The Lateral Mover

His name is x, and when Josh Whitman introduces him, you’ll still be wondering why he left y for Champaign. He seemed comfortable there, and his teams regularly competed for conference titles and protected seeds.
Was it the weather? Marital issues? Did he not get along with the new AD? Maybe we’ll never know. We still can’t believe our good fortune.

The Up n’ Comers

Are these guys ready for prime time?

Will Wade

VCU looks great. Shaka Smart looks lousy. Is it the water in Richmond? Or is it playing in the Atlantic 10? As I write, Wade is tied (with everyone’s favorite Archie) for first place in conference.

Niko Medved with Tim Miles

Niko Medved
Furman head coach is a protégé of Dan Monson, Jim Molinari, Tim Miles and Larry Eustachy. He’s rebuilt the Paladins into a contender, currently atop the SoCon, ahead of the next two guys listed.
Steve Forbes
TSU is in Johnson City, the most Appalachian town I’ve ever played guitar in. Steve Forbes fits well there, being a bit of a hillbilly. His mentors include Gregg Marshall and Bill Self.
Matt McCall
Chattanooga kicked our ass last year.
Kermit Davis
At 57, it’s Alternative Facty to call Kermit at Up’n’Comer. But look at Middle Tennessee’s record over the last six years. It’s so good that the Blue Raiders jumped up to Conference USA (which, of course, isn’t really saying much, but still).

Hubert Davis (left) battles Michael Jordan

Hubert Davis
Comes from successful program – Check
Years in the NBA – Check
Recognizable from TV – Check
Fellow UNC assistant Steve Robinson has already proved his coaching chops. Robinson was so successful at Tulsa that he got the Florida State gig. The n he ruined the Seminoles. Davis hasn’t ruined anyone yet,
Davis has no B1G ties. He’s a lifelong east coast guy. Would he say no? Probably not. Assistant coaches have one goal: Become head coaches.

Tommy Lloyd (second from left) is Mark Few’s international henchman.

Tommy Lloyd
Surely the top candidate to replace either Lorenzo Romar or Ernie Kent, there’s no reason for Lloyd to leave his native Washington for the corn and soybeans. But it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Lloyd is the guy who keeps persuading future pro players to leave their foreign homelands, spend a few years in Spokane, and then get drafted by the NBA.
Spokane has a river, and some scenery. But it’s kinda the middle of a desert, and nowhere near Seattle. Geographically challenged euroballers might just as easily be fooled into emigrating here.
Dana Ford
His first TEnnessee State team was terrible. IN year two, they had a stunning turnaround. Now it’s year three, and they’re mediocre again.
Ford is from Illinois, attended Illinois State and assisted Gregg Marshall at Wichita State and Dan Muller at ISU.
Earl Grant
You’ve heard all about Kevin Keatts. Look at what Grant accomplished in three years at Charleston.  Two years ago, the Cougars were 3-15 in the CAA. They’re currently 10-2, one game behind Keatts’s Wilmington Seahawks, with whom the Cougars split the season series.
Before gaining the head job he apprenticed under Brad Brownell and Gregg Marshall. Not a shabby education.
Mike Mennenga
Like Deon Thomas, Mennenga would surely walk to Champaign for the head coaching job, right? Well, maybe.
Mennenga is a 1988 graduate of Rantoul Township High School. You can watch him play here (also, dig the full head of hair on the sexy young color analyst).

So maybe he has a soft spot for the EIC. Or maybe he’d do anything within his power to stay as far away from Rantoul as possible.
Currently the Tommy Lloyd-lite of Dana Altman’s Oregon staff (i.e. the guy who’s built relationships in international recruiting circles) Mennenga has vaulted through the coaching ranks, not always gaining friends. Ex-UIC coach Howard Moore rolled his eyes when I asked about Mennenga during last year’s B1G Media Day (this was before Moore returned to the Wisconsin staff). The eye-roll conveyed a Tracy Webster-esque sentiment. Where Bruce Weber felt Webster spent his Illini expense account on securing recruits for Kentucky, Moore’s body language communicated that Mennenga wasn’t fully devoted to the Flames.
Rats know when to get off a sinking ship. Weber and Moore think their ex-assistants were rats.
Rats are smart. When there’s enough food around, they’re snuggly and lovable. When times get tough, they’re ruthless survivors. Mennenga has continued to move upward in the coaching ranks. So has Tracy Webster.
Tracy Webster
Eventually, Webster will land a head coaching job. His 1-14 record at DePaul (interim) should be attributed to DePaul.
He was an All-Big Ten performer. He’s a Chicago area native. He’s been a consistent high-level D-1 recruiter for over a decade.  Wouldn’t it be great to have Charlie Moore right now?
Bacari Alexander
If Keno Davis doesn’t get the Michigan job, it’s just waiting for Alexander (presuming he rebuilds Detroit-Mercy).
Dennis Gates
Long considered an up & coming recruiting phenom, Gates finally turns up on a list! Maybe there was a child-touching scandal that I missed, otherwise, I don’t understand why Dennis Gates hasn’t been mentioned. How much credit does he get for this year’s Florida State team? How much should he get?
His brother Armon left Loyola to join Chris Collins’s staff at Northwestern. Northwestern is now pissed because it got beat by Illinois. That’s where we stand.
Matt Abdelmassih
He helped Fred Hoiberg resurrect Iowa State before joining Chris Mullin in Queens. Known as a top pilferer of other teams’ talent,  Abdelmassih is the kind of guy you want around when your team needs an overnight infusion of talent. Transfers made ex-Illini football coach Mike White’s career.
Jerrance Howard
I said I wouldn’t mention the people who appear on every other list. Jerrance is actually on a lot of lists, but he seems to inspire universal pooh-poohing, always inspired by rumor & innuendo.
Just for fun, let’s list the legendary Illini players alienated during Groce Administration: Steve Bardo, Kenny Battle, Dee Brown … nah, screw it. It’s already too depressing.

Remember 2007, when Deron Williams told Bruce Weber to hire Jerrance Howard? Since that time, Howard has only burnished his reputation (apart from that marijuana arrest). Most people think Snacks is just a recruiter, and possibly just a bag man.
But I watched him coach back in the days when media were allowed to observe Illini practices. Of all the coaches, Howard was the best at running & explaining a scout(i.e. preparing the team for an upcoming opponent).
You can already imagine Howard’s first hire: Jeff Finke. Finke would be the first bigs position coach since … Dick Nagy? Robert McCullum? … to have played a post position in college.

Steve Henson

Steve Henson
Former Illini assistant/longtime Lon Kruger associate finally got his own gig, which is similar to Kruger’s first gig. Kruger started at Texas-Pan American, now known as Texas–Rio Grande Valley. Henson’s at Texas-San Antonio. In his first year at UTSA, Henson is .500 in C-USA, but has a losing record overall. He’s a few years from consideration for an upward departure.
It took forever for Henson to finally attain a head coaching gig. How come? What’s wrong with him?
T. J. Otzelberger
Same story here. It’s his first year as a head coach, so we don’t know whether he’ll fail miserably.  He’s regarded as a relentless recruiter. His mentors include Greg McDermott and Fred Hoiberg.

Don’t even bother calling …

 Billy Clyde
Billy Gillispie would be the top choice on everyone’s list if he weren’t a workaholic and, more importantly, a chocoholic (but for booze).
Gillispie brought Deron Williams to Champaign. He revived two moribund D-1 programs. He earned the top job in college basketball. And at every stop, he spent a lot of time and money in bars.
I know whereof I speak. I first met Gillispie because he was a regular customer at the watering hole where I poured liquor.
He’s still a great coach and a great recruiter, but if he took another high-major coaching job, it would kill him.
Billy Donovan
The OKC Thunder are one Russell Westbrook injury from oblivion. But Donovan can pick his job if he chooses to return to the college game. He’s a northeasterner by heritage, and a southerner by choice. Given all his options, reviving a rural-ish Midwestern program doesn’t seem tempting, even with that free Champaign Country Club membership tossed into the bargain.
Tim Floyd – too old
Micah Shrewsberry
If you’ve known Brad Stevens half your life, you’re a likely candidate for an NBA job. That’s another saving grace for John Groce. If he’s fired at Illinois, he can become the next Todd Lickliter.
Shrewsberry might be a genius, the nation’s best recruiter, and a future Wooden Award winner. Until he does something on his own, rather than because Brad Stevens gave him a job, there’s little data suggesting he’s those things. He assisted Matt Painter for three years at Purdue, then went back to working for Stevens in Boston.
Jack Owens is credited for all the same things that won Shrewsberry plaudits in West Lafayette. Literally.
Ggreggg Marshall
Like Donovan, he can choose his appointment. Like Few, his current position makes him look even better than he is. His salary is already enormous.
Tony Bennett
Two of my sisters moved to Charlottesville when Dave Matthews was still bartending at Miller’s. Since then, it’s gotten ritzier, more glamorous, and kinda snooty.
There’s no reason to think Bennett is unhappy there. But what if he is? You don’t know until you ask.
He’s a Midwest guy whom everybody tabbed as Bo Ryan’s successor in Madison. And then Greg Gard got the job.
Considering he’s already eclipsed Ol Roy and Ratface, Bennett will theoretically have no problem keeping the Cavaliers atop the ACC.
Wouldn’t it be nice?
Don’t kid yourselves.

The retreads

These guys have had some success. Can they be successful again?

Tim Jankovich

Tim Jankovich
He’s the most obvious retread on this list, because he coached here already and built a winner in BloNo. Theoretically, he’d be better off staying at SMU, which plays in the American Athletic, the conference no one can ever remember. AAC includes some powerhouse teams, but only a few. The weather is better all around the conference, which is something to think about when you’re constantly traveling in mid-winter.
Dino Gaudio
Gaudio failed at Army and then failed worse at America’s third-best Loyola University (suck it, New Orleans).
But then he succeeded. Skip Prosser’s untimely death gave Gaudio a chance to lead a top-rated recruiting class that he’d been largely responsible for compiling.  The first year was rough, but the next season Gaudio guided the Demon Deacons to The Tournament. The year after that, they returned to The Tournament and won a game before top-seeded Kentucky ousted them.
And then he was fired.
Wake Forest has been terrible since.
Keno Davis
You kinda wanna stay away from anyone even remotely associated with Bruce Pearl, just on principle.
Davis succeeded wildly at Drake. He failed at Providence. He’s made Central Michigan relevant, not just in the MAC, but in a larger conversation.
He’ll probably get another D-1 job. Either of the B1G’s Michigan schools is probably keeping tabs on him, as their current heads aren’t getting any younger.

Russell Turner

Russell Turner
It’d be a hard sell for the locals. This guy has zero ties to the area. Do you even know where he coaches? Have you ever heard of him?
“The Mike White of basketball” has a good ring to it, though, for people old enough to remember the halcyon days of Illini sports.
Turner coached Tim Duncan at Wake Forest. He spent six years assisting Mike Montgomery and Don Nelson at Golden State. Just say “Tim Duncan” and “Golden State Warriors” to a prospective recruit. See how they like them marbles.
Tim Miles
Maybe he’d be just as mediocre here as Nebraska. But he’s already recruiting Chicago better than John Groce.
Here’s the thing about Tim Miles: Everybody loves him. He’s absolutely hilarious, and a straight shooter.
He’s also proven to be a pretty good basketball coach. Maybe he’ll never be successful at the highest levels, but I sure hope he is because I LOVE Time Miles.

Steve Lavin
The least depressing limb of the Keady Tree, Lavin has enjoyed the kind of sustained success that’s eluded Matt Painter and Bruce Weber, perhaps because he has a personality to accompany his knowledge of the game.
How’s the remission going? That’s really the only question a Power 5 AD needs to know. Lavin is a national face. He’s succeeded on both coasts after a Midwestern apprenticeship.
Kevin Willard
A short, bald, middle-aged white dude, you say? Like John Groce, Willard was a top assistant to a top NCAA coach (Rick Pitino).
Like Groce, he had a brief run in a low-major job and did okayish. Two losing conference records at Iona followed by a third place (12-6) MAAC finish somehow propelled him to the Seton Hall job.
Unlike Groce, Willard got into coaching because his dad was Ralph Willard. At least Groce made his own way into the business
For five years, Willard never achieved a winning conference record at Seton Hall. And them last year, he did. And the Pirates went dancing.
They look pretty good this year too, with neutral court wins over Cal and South Carolina, and at Iowa. They’ve been beaten by Creighton, Stanford and Florida.
But if Kevin Willard can do anything for Illinois Basketball, it’s to remind us that sometimes a rebuild reaches maturity in its sixth year.
Billy Kennedy
Sure, he’s got Parkinson’s Disease. But he’s rebuilt three programs and he hired Jamall Walker once upon a time. He also got a verbal from Simeon star Kendrick Nunn. Once an Up’n’Comer wit ha Cinderalla dream season at Murray State, he may be tiring of College Station.
Steve Masiello
The Facts Fudger was once a rising star.  Since he “graduated” from college, his Manhattan Jaspers have sucked.

Brad Brownell
Clemson is a tough gig. It’s a football school in a basketball conference. Brownell has lots of Midwest ties & experience. Maybe he’ll be just as middle-of-the-pack at Illinois, although it’s interesting to note that UNC & Duke will need a new coaches before long.

The bright young star who’s now failing miserably

Tony Jasick
Remember how Ron Guenther observed mid-major coach Bruce Weber? Something about Weber appealed to Guenther, who hired him a few months later. Maybe I’m similarly wrong about Jasick, who led the IPFW Mastadons to a near upset over John Groce & Illinois

I felt this way about Brownell when he was at Wilmington. He parlayed that success into a MAC en route to a gig in America’s premier basketball conference, and has been thoroughly mediocre ever since. Does that mean he was never the shining star I thought him to be?
Maybe Tony Jasick will disappear. Maybe he’ll eventually get the Carolina job.
I thought he might be the next big thing. So keep that in mind while you’re choosing whether to allot  an ounce of credulity to my musings.
Illini football

Losing at Purdue – A History

Let’s take a trip down memory lane as we prepare for tomorrow’s loss at Purdue.

First up is the Bruce Weber Explains Losing At Purdue postgame video that everyone always forgets. The February 2012 video went viral after Weber pined for Robbie Hummel fours years after completely ignoring eager recruit Robbie Hummel.

But this was the game that exposed Weber. Illinois jumped out to a 13-point advantage, with Demetri McCamey leading the way. But then McCamey picked up his second foul. Weber, the hideboundest of hidebound coaches, sat McCamey for the duration of the half. And that was that.

Can a struggling Illini team conquer Matt Painter’s current Jekyll & Hyde?

Oh yeah, definitely.

First off, Isaac Haas sucks. He’s just an awful lummox. And while Caleb Swanigan is double-double machine, his team still finds ways to lose despite him. Against Minnesota he went for 28 & 22, and the Boilers still lost, at home, to Little Pitino.

But Painter is familiar with The Halftime Adjustment, and this would seem to give him an advantage over John Groce.

That’s not to say that Groce doesn’t make adjustments.

Anyway, here’s what the players had to say about Tuesday’s game. Michael Finke was getting his ankle wrapped. But we did get to speak with four other Illini.

Illini football

Vashoune Russell’s pictures from Illini season finale at Northwestern

I signed up to attend this game. I hoped to see the seniors out.

Unfortunately, we had a family emergency. So I spent the last week hanging out in Jamaica, and not the nice one. Walking around Donald Trump’s childhood turf, I was reminded once more that Illinois weather sucks.

For some reason, autumn lasts a lot longer out there. Like, right up until the end of autumn. Now that I’m back in frigid, gray Soybeanland, I finally have the time to post Vashoune Russell’s truly fantastic pictures from the Northwestern game.

Here they are.

Malik Turner hauls in a touchdown pass from Wes Lunt

Northwestern defenders tackle Malik Turner after a pass from Wes Lunt

Malik Turner

Carroll Phillips

Reggie Corbin runs toward the hole

Reggie Corbin evades an arm tackle

Gimel President celebrates a sack

Gimel President gets ANOTHER sack

Gimel President just has this thing about quarterbacks. They make him angry.

Zack Grant’s three yards and a cloud of dust


Justin Hardee strongly recommends sticky gloves

Reggie Corbin waits for Nick Allegretti to clock DB Trae Williams

Tanning in November is like Illinois winning at football – rare

Illini football

2016 Senior Day Pictures, Iowa @ Illinois football

Vashoune Russell is a hunter. He loves cold weather.

He and his fancy camera were on hand for a morning football game that some people might want to forget. But let’s say you’re reading this page in 2024, have no idea who won, and merely want to know where Hardy Nackerson’s son Hardy Nickerson played college ball.

This page could  misinform you on many levels.

You’ll also be looking for more info on 2021 Pro-Bowl QB Wes Lunt. And here it is.

Illini football

Joe Spencer’s Madison nightmare

Joe Spencer is a good guy, a person who cares. He works hard on behalf of himself and others. He’s a leader, the kind of guy you’d want to emulate, even if you’re twice his age.

On a beautiful autumn afternoon, in a great college town thronging with excitable undergrads & a Homecoming swarm of excitable overgrads; Joe Spencer might have had the day of his life.

Joe Spencer (71) leads his team on to the Camp Randall gridiron.

Unfortunately for Joe, his current definition of happiness is determined by the final score of a sporting contest. Sun shining on fall foliage won’t do it. The smell of grilling bratwurst won’t do it. Ten-thousand co-eds in yoga pants won’t do it.

Joe didn’t walk around the Wisconsin campus just before the game, because he was busy getting ready for the game.

He didn’t see a happily inebriated posse of dudes on a balcony attempting to play catch with every passerby. He didn’t see the bearded passerby who played along despite not previously having touched a football, throwing like a girl, speaking English as a second language.

Joe Spencer, Nick Allegretti (53) & Christian DiLauro pass block for QB Wes Lunt at Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium

Joe didn’t get to see the American kid who came along to show the bearded kid how to throw a football, or the support post that hilariously blocked the American kid’s own toss. (Eventually, the drunks on the balcony did get their ball back.)

Joe didn’t walk down State Street. He joined none of the small, medium, large or GIGANTIC celebrations of On, Wisconsin! or Hooray For Our Side or even We Don’t Give a Shit About Sports But Oh My God Do We Like Beer gatherings which, no matter how hard they may have tried, failed to conceal themselves to anyone in their respective vicinities. Madison swarmed around a football game in a way which Champaign may have done in my lifetime. I wan’t old enough to see it.

Joe Spencer & Christian DiLauro (67) block for Kendrick Foster (22) at Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium

It’s the third of those groups, the ones who didn’t necessarily care about football,  that I especially admired. I’m not a nihilist in general, and I’m trying super-duper hard to not be a nihilist about Illini sports in particular, despite the temptation.

But when I see Joe Spencer crying after spending three and three-quarters years trying to make you happy; I’m reminded that sports is a great way to make great people feel like worthless people.

If you’re not invested in the outcome of a zero-sum game, you’re more likely to feel good about the time you spend on an unarguably wonderful afternoon.

Former Illini Mike Davis cried when his college career ended in Tulsa, in March 2011

Joe Spencer couldn’t control his tears. He apologized because he was unable to respond to post-game questions. He apologized.

I get it. Joe’s smart enough to recognize the business aspect of college football. He knows that responding to an incessant wave of boring questions feeds a media monster that, as far as you’ve been told, is crucial to keeping the general public interested in sportsing.

It’s not Joe’s fault that every single Badger is faster, taller and stronger than his Illini counterpart.*  But because major college sports doesn’t award participation ribbons, Joe spent Saturday night contemplating a bleak future (no bowl).

To his great credit, Joe took a moment to compose himself, and then came back to satisfy his media obligations, unembarrassed to reveal his raw emotions to the outside world.

Like any number of student-athletes from days gone by, Joe will recognize, at some point, that his life is not over. He’ll probably even recognize that he’s young, smart, motivated, kind … even inspirational.

Vashoune Russell captured pictures of the game. This first one shows Justin Hardee charging toward the field, while Jeff George approaches the gridiron with a steely determination. Joe Spencer’s expression is less visible, and therefore less telling, but probably somewhere in-between.

*It’s Ron Guenther’s fault**


**Allowing Lou Tepper to fire Greg Landry was the death blow from which the program never recovered, despite  blips in 2001 and 2007.

Illini football

Illini 31, MSU 27

AD Josh Whitman hugs Illini captain Joe Spencer

Hey, guess what? Illini 31, MSU 27. That’s what.

You might want to remember this game. So here are some pictures of it, snapped by Vashoune Russell. Postgame comments from the coaches and players are here, too.


Sam Mays hauls in the game-winner

Kendrick Foster disappears in the distance

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Foster rushed for 146 yards against the Spartans

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Ainslie Johnson found himself all alone in the end zone. Fortunately, so did Jeff George Jr.

Luke Butkus’s line got the job done

Lovie watches as Luke Butkus instructs the offense

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Ooh, ooh Jeff, over here! Over here Jeff!

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Reggie Corbin cuts left

Jaylen Dunlap returned a fumble recovery for 12 yards