Illini Basketball

A Final Act of Trailblazing

Retired U of I professor Steve Douglas died Tuesday morning, about 20 minutes after downing a physician-administered cocktail of  digoxin, morphine, diazepam, phenobarbital, and amitriptyline. He was 83.

Douglas had been hospitalized for three weeks as doctors tried to determine what types of cancer were spreading through his torso. But after consulting with his family, he invoked his right-to-die under California’s End of Life Option Act. Daughters Kate and Liz Douglas were with their dad in his Marina del Rey home, as was his wife Vianne Weintraub. Daughter Lauren Douglas joined them from Seattle, via Zoom.

Douglas was an associate professor of political science in the spring of 1974 when Women’s Athletic Director Karol Kahrs chose him to be head coach of the inaugural Illini Women’s Basketball team.

They’re all so young! (pic from

He was paid $1,000 for the season.*  Douglas earned the WBB job for two reasons: He’d coached the women’s national team in Malaysia, and he was team captain for Tex Winter’s top-ranked Kansas State Wildcats, playing in the 1958, ’59 and ’60 seasons.

His tenure as a WBB coach was always meant to be brief. After two seasons coaching the women, Douglas handed the job off to a full-time coach and returned his focus to Malaysian and Indonesian political studies — and raising three daughters, while their mom, Sara Umberger Douglas, earned a PhD of her own in 1983. Her dissertation, Labor’s New Voice: Unions and the Mass Media, was published in 1986, and she accepted a tenure-track position in the college eventually known as ACES.

Kate, Lauren, Liz & Steve in 2018

Stephen Arneal Douglas was born September 2, 1938, in Hastings, Nebraska. His parents, Louis H. Douglas and Mary Alice (Burton) Douglas, were both teachers, coaches and athletes. Mary was also a pilot, and her son’s biggest fan as he grew into an elite athlete. Lou Douglas accepted a job in the political science department at Kansas State, after spending a year in the Philippines, learning about its political systems. He became known as an early advocate for civil rights.

 Steve Douglas graduated high school in Manhattan, KS, and then stayed in town for college, and basketball. At the time, Kansas State was among the best basketball programs in the nation. Head coach Tex Winter is still remembered for his Triangle Offense, which he later taught to Michael Jordan and the NBA Champion Chicago Bulls. Douglas played alongside lifelong friend Bill Guthridge, who eventually became head men’s coach for the North Carolina Tarheels.

Steve & Lauren Douglas with the Guthridge family

Upon graduation from KSU, Steve Douglas enrolled in graduate school at UIUC, then married his sweetheart Sara Umberger in the summer of 1961. They lived in Indonesia in the early sixties while he studied political systems of the South Pacific, and she managed the Ford Foundation’s Jakarta guest house and taught English at the Indonesian American Friendship Institute. They returned to Urbana, where he earned his PhD and became a tenured professor of Political Science, and began a family. Daughter Kate arrived in 1966. Liz followed in 1968, and Lauren in 1973. 

Kate, Sara, Liz, Lauren & Steve

Steve Douglas’s dissertation was titled Political Socialization in Indonesia. Over his career he continued to study, and eventually meet with, the dictator Suharto. According to his daughters, he was never granted an interview for publication purposes. But in 2003, Douglas published an article Suharto: A political biography. That same year, Sara died of complications stemming from her treatment for thymic carcinoma.  Since her death, the family has been quiet about it. But in the wake of Steve’s passing, they’ve opted for transparency.

Mom died due to precautionary treatment after becoming cancer-free due to successful surgical removal of her tumor. It is abundantly clear that the precautionary treatment was executed incorrectly. 

We should have spoken honestly about the cause of Mom’s death from the beginning, but we’ve been perpetuating the glossed-over version for over 18 years.  I think at the time we (Dad especially) had no interest in making Mom the poster child for medical errors.

I’m sure there is no one left at Carle who was involved or even aware of her case so long ago, so this is not at all about blame, I just thought we were going for honesty in this article, especially regarding how our parents died.  Thanks to Dad’s handling of the situation, hopefully the errors were never repeated by Carle.  I’m sure we will never know because these things are not spoken of accurately.

Liz Douglas

In recent years, Steve Douglas suffered from rheumatoid lung disease. He took Prednisone to control it. An unfortunate side-effect was a weakening of his bones, which caused spinal problems. As he reached his 80s, his height dropped from 6’5″ to 5’11”.

In dealing with his ultimate illness, Steve Douglas was as patient and deferential as ever. But inevitably, he put his metaphorical foot, very gently, down.

His exact words to the attending doctor at UCLA (who couldn’t promise anything but more waiting and more tests) were, “Is there a way to bow out gracefully?” and from that time on he was very consistent and clear about that being his preference. We were advised that it could take a few weeks for the whole process. But because he was clear, we were too, and we all got things moving fast. It was empowering and it was a relief for all of us.

Kate Douglas

When he wasn’t advocating for himself, Kate says he spent a lot of time napping, or resting awake with his eyes closed. “That wasn’t unusual those last days.” Liz captured this photo, taken at the house.

“The hospice company provided the hospital bed,” added Kate.

With him is Lauren, who couldn’t sleep, and arguably hasn’t since. “I was also sitting next to him one of those last days.” she says. “And Dad was speaking so softly and I thought he said, ‘You’re breaking my heart.’ But he’d said, ‘You’re breaking my arm.’ ‘Oops. I’m sorry, Dad.'”

After retiring from the Political Science department, Steve Douglas moved to southern California. He married Vianne Weintraub in 2008. She survives.

Lauren didn’t attempt to sum up her father’s life during a phone call Wednesday night, but she offered an observation: “A lot of people have used the word generous.”

Steve Douglas, wife Vianne and family on vacation, Cancun 2019

* Kahrs, director of women’s sports for the U of I Athletic Association, had a budget of $82,535 for the year, and it had to cover all the women’s sports. That’s according to former Illinois Sports Information Director Mike Pearson, who published a pair of stories earlier this month to chronicle the early days of Illini women’s athletics.

Those articles are here:


Illini Basketball

One & Done

Trayce Jackson-Davis is a great ambassador for college basketball. I’m happy that he’ll finally play in the NCAA Tournament. That it took an Illinois loss to get him there? That doesn’t bother me either.

The Illini need a weekend off. You got the feeling that they were willing to win another B1G Tourney if that’s how the chips fell. But they made it clear that their sights are scoping a different tourney.

Trayce Jackson-Davis is a good guy. It’s hard to root against him.

Their ability to win six in a row hasn’t changed because of Friday’s umpteenth consecutive uncomfortable performance. They still have the defense & rebounding. It’s much more likely that non-B1G opponents won’t have sussed Plummer, won’t comprehend — even after watching a boatload of videos — the intensity and (sorry to say) violence required to stymie Kofi in the low-post.

Brad Underwood was funny, but not joking, when he said he’s tired of playing this league. He should be. Giving Micah Shrewberry a three-month head start on scouting Illinois demonstrated just how effective B1G scouting can be.

The key with Kofi is to push his face. Meanwhile, Larry dreams of protein shakes.

So how great is it, from an Illini fan’s perspective, that if Illinois had to lose a game during this stretch, that it wasn’t one of the next six, nor one of the last three? Beating Michigan, Penn State and Iowa damn near killed you, so aggravating and trying were those games. But in the end, you got a shiny trophy. Win the next six, you get another trophy.

Lose Friday, and you get a weekend off to heal. Even the guys not recovering from a sprained shoulder will benefit.

We all wish Andre Curbelo were 100%, and that a 100% Belo will someday launch the type of unexpected 8-foot floaters that won him B1GS1Xth last year. He’s still launching unexpected floaters, and they still catch defenses offguard. But because they travel only 6 feet beefore landing, defenses aren’t as bothered.

The 100% Belo probably won’t emerge this year. And maybe not during his time at Illinois. But it feels too soon to say, given that we’re still just weeks from his hibernation. With every practice and game, he gets closer to his groove.

Thing is, Belo cares. If you think he’s just enjoying the circus, don’t.

After his game-winning drive that didn’t, Belo collapsed in horror, hands to cheeks, and crouched in disbelief on the baseline.

Nobody noticed. The camera pulled away to follow live action. If he hadn’t sat there in my lap for a solid 30 seconds, I mightn’t have noticed either.

#ISupportBelo remains an important concept because, as the young man recovers from an unexpectedly serious neurological problem, he’s also trying to figure out whether he can still basketball, and why all his tricks are broken.

Basketball got him off the island, and holds the potential for enormous riches. But if he can’t trust muscle memory and well-honed instincts to function at crunch time, his past stops being prologue. He’s just a kid who payed basketball when he was younger. Like us.

Your buddies, Bo & Donnie. They wear regular clothes, too.

Coleman Hawkins got out of his Coleman Hawkins funk, so we know it can be done. And the fact that last Sunday happened, that all the stars aligned, shows that it can happen to Illinois (despite what seems like a Goat-shaped curse).

You’ll probably root for Illinois in the tourney, andyou’ll probably invest some amount of your emotional health in their performance.

That’s fine.

It’s just possible that this team has all the tools. So aren’t you glad that they took this loss, and can now focus on the goal?

Illini Basketball

Tipoff Kids

Six patients from Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at Ascension St. Vincent (PMCH) have been selected as the Honorary Tipoff Kids for the 2022 Big Ten Conference Women’s and Men’s Basketball Tournaments.

Ashlyn Eldridge, Austin Fuquay, Parker Gossett, Elsa Ham, CJ Harris and Violet Rich were chosen by the children’s hospital’s care team to serve as the honorary tipoff kids for the tournaments. This year’s Honorary Tipoff Kids received a Big Ten gift bag and will be featured on the video board during the semifinal and championship games at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

Eleven-year-old Ashlyn Eldridge was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and is currently undergoing chemotherapy at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at Ascension St. Vincent. After she completes four rounds of chemotherapy, Ashlyn will have additional scans to determine if the treatment has worked. Ashlyn enjoys Anime, coloring, drawing, dining out, watching movies, tennis, and making slime.

Austin Fuquay is 12 years old and was born missing part of his DNA. Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) doctors and nurses stated they were surprised he was even alive. His first year of life was wrought with challenges, from seizures to new surgeries, new diagnoses and numerous medications. Starting his second year and continuing until he was around 4 years old, Austin was challenged with a rotation of pneumonia, life-threatening GI infections and challenges that left doctors scratching their heads. Austin and his family continued to push through all of Austin’s therapies, knowing that the only way he would live was to get stronger, be able to sit upright and eventually be able to walk. At age 5, Austin was strong enough that he was no longer battling pneumonia and other secondary diseases whenever he got a common cold. It was a long journey with huge medical and physical setbacks. Austin loves people and being part of anything exciting. He has an infectious laugh and everyone he meets falls in love with him. In the summer of 2020, at the age of 11, Austin overcame the challenges and started walking with the least supportive walker and pushing it all on his own. Austin continues to receive new diagnoses, but the teams at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at Ascension St. Vincent are dedicated to providing him with the best medical care possible for a child with complex health challenges.

Twelve-year-old Parker Gossett was diagnosed with amniotic band syndrome shortly after birth. Born without her right foot, Parker received her first prosthetic at 10 months old and was walking by 14 months. When Parker was two-and-a-half years old, she started to have unknown fevers, and doctors discovered a mass on her stomach. Care teams at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at Ascension St. Vincent, led by Pediatric Surgeon Evan Kokoska, MD, removed her right kidney along with a two-pound tumor which turned out to be cancerous. Parker then began radiation and chemotherapy led by Bassem Razzouk, MD, and the Pediatric Oncology team at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital. During the cancer treatments, it was discovered that Parker was having issues with bone growth that were causing pain with her prosthetic. Parker was then referred to Jonathan Wilhite, MD, a Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital, where she has successfully undergone multiple bone revision surgeries. On October 22, 2013, Parker celebrated being cancer free.

Elsa Ham developed acute onset of left-sided weakness, vomiting, lethargy and fever on February 15, 2019. A head CT showed acute hemorrhage in her right thalamus. She was intubated due to declining mental status and was airlifted to Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at Ascension St. Vincent Hospital for emergency surgery performed by Dr. Jodi Smith. Pathology showed she had a low-grade glioma consistent with pilocytic astrocytoma. She was in the hospital for almost two months as she required inpatient therapies to try to regain some of the neurologic function she lost. Repeat imaging after she came home from the hospital showed the tumor increased in size, so Elsa began outpatient chemotherapy approximately once a week for 14 months. Elsa had her last chemotherapy treatment in oncology clinic on November 13, 2020, and she rang the bell signaling the end of treatment. She continues in outpatient occupational and physical therapies at Ascension St. Vincent Fishers and has made great progress. Elsa was selected for her strength and bravery, perseverance in the most challenging of times, and ability to bring a smile to the face of everyone that she meets.

CJ Harris woke up one night in November 2016 and knew something was wrong. When his mother brought him to the Emergency Room, doctors found that he had pneumonia, one of his lungs had collapsed, and he also had a high fever. CJ was quickly moved to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at Ascension St. Vincent Hospital. CJ remembers the doctors and nurses bringing him LEGO bricks and puzzles to make him feel more comfortable. His favorite memory of his experience was when his ER nurse came to visit him in the PICU, which made him feel more at home during his stay. Because of the toys that CJ received during his stay, he decided to fundraise and has purchased various toys for the patients at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at Ascension St. Vincent Hospital. CJ was selected for his philanthropic spirit and continued dedication to giving back and making a difference for other kids. CJ is still under the care of a pulmonologist, makes monthly visits to his pediatrician and sees an immunologist. CJ is doing much better with controlling his asthma attacks and has not had another as severe as the one when he was hospitalized in 2016. CJ plays football, participates in track and is currently playing on an elite travel football team. He enjoys spending time with his family, friends and his first pet, Rico, a hypoallergenic toy poodle. CJ is also in the band and plays the saxophone. He is looking forward to starting high school at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School this fall.

Eleven-year-old Violet Rich enjoys art, music, reading, playing with her friends, is a very talented storyteller and especially enjoys writing scary stories. In April of 2019, Violet was diagnosed with t-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She was immediately admitted to the Intensive Care Unit at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent. During her hospitalization, former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning stopped by her room for a visit. It is one of her fondest memories during that time. Over the next few months, Violet continued her treatment at home. In August, 2019, she was hospitalized again. One month later, an MRI revealed a mass had grown on her brain and she underwent several surgeries. After 54 days in the hospital, Violet went home and continued to improve while continuing her chemotherapy treatment for two years. The team at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital selected Violet for this opportunity because of her positive attitude and fun-loving spirit.

For more information on the Big Ten Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments, visit Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at Ascension St. Vincent (PMCH) is a full service, dedicated children’s medical center, providing the highest quality, family-centered care to children and adolescents in the state of Indiana and beyond. PMCH has more than 160 licensed beds, which includes a 23-bed pediatric intensive care unit, 17-bed Pediatric Emergency Department and a 97-bed Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) – the largest Level IV NICU in Indiana, providing the highest level of acute care, as established by the American Academy of Pediatrics. PMCH treats patients from all over the state, providing safe and streamlined critical care transport by ambulance and air. The hospital offers 24-hour on-site coverage by pediatric hospitalists, intensivists, neonatologists, and board-certified emergency physicians. PMCH is staffed by more than 100 experienced pediatric sub-specialists along with pediatric nurses, social workers, child life specialists, chaplains, and other health professionals with a multidisciplinary and collaborative approach to family-focused care. PMCH is part of Ascension, one of the nation’s leading non-profit and Catholic health systems. Visit

Illini Basketball

Aüldogs’ Nütrix

Ten minutes of unsustainable bliss. Twenty-five minutes of hell. One moment of recognition.

The championship-squelching loss to Ohio State was the best & most important game of the 2021-22 Illini basketball season. Best because it featured amazing performances by future NBA players, plus a scrappy comeback by Every Day Guys. Most important because it allowed the Illini coaching staff, finally, to see what they need to do.

Teams with scouting budgets & good analysts have figured out how to stop Illinois.

Brad Underwood’s perspective changed when his view changed. Maybe he’d already thought about giving opponents a different look. But it wasn’t until he’d been ejected, and Kofi fouled out, that Illinois basketball actually tried something different.

Instead of Kofi + threes, it was …

Actually, the alternative doesn’t matter. Anything different does & will ruin opponents’ scouting reports and strategies.

EJ Liddell is a joy to watch. Also, Orange Krush needs new management.

Was it Underwood’s decision to go small? He said he was still coaching in the locker room. Does that mean he was texting Zach Hamer or Bobby Gikas with ideas? Did Chester, Tim or Geoff finally get his way while Big Mean Boss Man was sequestered?

Probably not. Illinois had to go small. Kofi fouled out, and Omar Payne can’t score. When you’re down by 14 with a couple of minutes left, you’re not thinking about rim protection.

But again, it didn’t really matter what Illinois did differently. It just mattered that they did something different. Underwood said they’d worked on their 5-out offense a lot in the early part of the season. That’s important. They were ready to employ it.

The thing that I’ve always liked about Brad Underwood is his quest. He’s never satisfied. He’s certainly not hidebound. He doesn’t sleep, and he loves a challenge.

And he drinks wine, which makes people creative. Especially late at night, when they can’t sleep.

The offense that worked against Mizzou stopped working by February, when #B1G opponents compiled enough scouting materials to scientifically, systematically shut down Kofi + threes.

So Illinois won’t win a B1G this year. Intriguingly, it’s never been a goal. Kofi talked about a national championship during a recent-ish availability. Trent mentioned it in the tOSU postgame. Even Brad, who generally reserves his word x 4 pronouncements to “elite” said it Thursday night: “March, March, March, March.”

Nobody questions Kofi’s effort or ability. This save was amazing.
The ball went to Jake, in the corner.
Jake scored easily on the broken play, because tOSU didn’t know what to do.

After Thursday’s loss, Underwood said he’s asked his assistants to identify his team’s vulnerabilities in preparation for the NCAA Tournament. He didn’t say they’re working on new actions/different sets to render well-trained teams defenseless. But if they aren’t studying different looks, they should all be shitcanned. Illinois’s obvious vulnerability is the facility with which its offense is scouted and stymied by opponents.

But that’s only true of #B1G opponents, and that’s why Illinois is much likelier to win the NCAA than the B1G.

Not all the #B1G foes scouted the ’22 Illini effectively, of course, Some of them don’t work as hard. Some aren’t as smart as others. Some probably figured it out and explained it well to their players, but the players didn’t execute. Some probably aren’t as good at explaining.

If a pattern emerges, it’s that Matt Brady (Maryland) and Ryan Pedon (Ohio State) are pretty good at scouting, explaining, and getting their players to adhere to the scouting report.

Other teams have had success against Kofi, but that’s because #B1G officials have decided, seemingly, to ignore most of the hard fouls that prevent him from scoring.

DJ Carstensen can’t see, and Lewis Garrison holds a grudge. Or maybe I’m imagining that. I don’t know how else to explain the B1G’s inability to officiate games.

Carstensen seemed oblivious to elbows until Kyle Young lost consciousness, or maybe just his footing (?) while defending Kofi on Thursday.

Despite Cockburn pleading for Carstensen’s personal attention, while actually concussed during the first Purdue game, Carstensen took no notice of #EdeyElbows during that game. Nor the second.


The Hightower Commission has failed.

Or maybe it’s a long-term study, designed to root-out the bad referees by 2025. I didn’t ask Dr. Hightower those specifics. Alls I know is that Ed Hightower, a retired schools superintendent and top-notch referee was commissioned (by the commissioner, who commissions things) to fix a problem that the Big Ten conference recognized.

It probably won’t help Kofi in 2022. Not in conference play, anyhow. But now that Illinois is dropping to 4+ seed territory, it won’t necessarily face B1G referees in the tourney.

Losing to Ohio State wasn’t fun. But at this point, the Illini could lose all their remaining games in the regular season. It doesn’t matter. The system was rigged against them, whether it’s officiating or scheduling.

But they don’t seem to care. They won the B1G last year. They have different goals now.

Quintuple team immediately closes on Kofi.
No whistles were blown.
COVID-19 Illini Basketball

We Are All Rutgers Fans

It’s almost 2 pm in New York. Michigan/Wisconsin just reached halftime, tied at 31. I know, because I turned on the 19” Philips TV to channel 2.1, on a hunch.

If yesterday’s Illini game hadn’t been moved forward in time – a rescheduling prompted by COVID postponements in other league programs – it would have been broadcast on Fox rather than ESPN. I could have watched it on this tiny TV.

The antenna, between window & screen, gets 30+ over-air channels.

Yes, I’m still in New York. I’ve been in two ice-related accidents as an Illini basketball reporter. The totaled Dodge hemi wasn’t mine, and nobody was killed, so walking away after climbing up & out through the driver’s side window felt slightly triumphant. The other slip-n-slide broke a tie-rod, cost $600 and featured no spectacular flips and rolls. Not as exciting.

Point is, I don’t mess with ice storms anymore. Winter Storm Miles moved through Illinois, so Midway closed. Then Miles moved to Michigan, so I couldn’t go directly there. Then Miles came here, and the storm squalls have been howling for two days.

At least I have old TV shows. Star Trek TOS is on six nights a week, on channel 9.4. Then every other Star Trek brand runs until 2 AM. (I’d never even heard of Enterprise.) Yesterday, a Six Million Dollar Man marathon on Cozi prompted me to wonder how John Groce is faring in the MAC this year. All boys born in 1971 owned a Steve Austin action figure, with arm skin that could be rolled back to reveal the bionics inside.

But now I want to watch basketball. The B1Gest game of the year tips off at 4:30 CT, and it’s not on broadcast TV. It’s on FS1. I won’t be able to see it unless I go down to the lobby and watch online. (The apartment has been vacant since 2018. There’s no internet.)

I might go.

Perching a Surface is cumbersome, and a 6” Android screen is not ideal. But I watched Illini @ Minnesota there, the last time a snowstorm stopped me from leaving New York, two years ago. Of course, there was no mask requirement in the lobby back then.

I might go down. I want to watch Rutgers/Purdue. I really hope Ron Harper’s finger is healed.

The ball just landed wrong, I guess.

He seemed to jam it on a rebound. The quizzical grimace didn’t change, it’s always plastered across his face. But could it now mean “what just happened, and why does it hurt so much?”

It’s easy to root for Rutgers. Harper is a likeable chubster. You remember him from college. The funny, big-boned guy who keeps the girls amused but isn’t really competition. Paul Mulcahy is also unlikely to steal your girlfriend, but he’s tremendous threat to steal your basketball, because he never stops trying. You like to root for that guy, too (when it’s not your team opposing him).

And you have to appreciate, as a basketball fan, what Steve Pikiell did for a program that has a single season to remember, and decreasing numbers of people alive to remember it. I can’t recall the name of the elderly 1976er honored during a media timeout on Wednesday. I didn’t recognize his name at the time, either.

Imagine trying to recruit to a program that hasn’t seen success since Jimmy Carter was a maverick pipedream.

I wanna know what they talked about.

Pikiell makes his team play defense. His personal humility allows him to ask 100% effort from his players. They know they can’t outwork him, and they know he’s doing it for them. So they’ll sprint to Jacob Grandison in the corner. They’ll stay in front of Alfonso Plummer. They’ll hack-a-Kofi until B1G officials decide that whistle-hesitancy has become too obvious.

Illinois is not easy to defend. It takes a lot of hard work and effort. But there’s a formula, and anyone can do it.

Grandison spent a lot of RAC pre-game time practicing his shot from the arc. Grad assistant Marcus Anderson counted off his makes. When Jake got five in a row from the top of the key, he could move to the wing, and hit another five in a row. Then move to the corner.

Presumably, Jake did something similar six hours later, in Champaign. But his 3 AM workout with team managers was equally effective at prepping him for B1G defenses as was running a Princeton offense for Bill Carmody: Not at all.

Watching Jake shoot alone, you begin to understand the mechanics. He looks like your grandmother on TV. It’s almost a set shot. The low delivery makes it easy to block, and that’s something B1G opponents have noticed.

If RJ not kicking out has been preying on your mind, stop worrying. He probably couldn’t see Trent.
He doesn’t have a lot of experience with defenders as aggressive as Mulcahy & Caleb McConnell.

But it looks really smooth when he’s shooting uncontested. There’s a slight curveball action to his mechanics. It’s like watching a slider break over the inside corner. Jake can make 75% of his shots when defenders aren’t closing in. Same for Fonz. Maybe more.

When Illini media, social and traditional, cried out for Brad Underwood to shake-up the rotation, it’s this scoutability that prompted a call for change. What once surprised opponents no longer surprises opponents.

It’s not the starters’ fault, and replacing them isn’t the answer. Underwood needs to introduce some new actions, so opponents can’t call out the plays, like Trent does to them.

Tom Izzo was unable to motivate his players to defend Jake effectively. But MSU doesn’t match-up as well, either. Smaller guards, slower forwards. So Jake made 6-of-10 in East Lansing. That’s why Illinois won there. It’s why they lost at the RAC.

Purdue was successful against Illinois because it brought the effort on the wings, and DJ Carstensen called both games. Hack-a-Kofi was allowed.

Props to Cliff Omoruyi, tho. This block was clean.

I like Matt Painter. I don’t blame him for taking advantage. He gets paid to win basketball games. You use the tools available.

I like Steve Pikiell, too. I’d heard about Pikiell greeting & thanking everyone in the room after his RAC pressers finish, but I’d never seen it before Wednesday. We’re typically outside the Illini locker room while he’s speaking.

Kofi’s family was in town that night, so we cut that interview short. Hence, I was able to get back to the media room in time for Pikiell’s closing remarks. He came around and shook our hands. He knows we’re getting the word out: There’s a basketball program in Piscataway.

Today, we’ll all be rooting for Pikiell. Not just people in Champaign and New Brunswick. Everybody.

The Badgers and Wolverines have concluded with a brawl, which is apt given their respective mascots. The Wolverines proved more vicious, and the Badgers more cunning. It figures.

I’m in the elevator now. The lobby has good WiFi.

New Yorkers have cable and satellite options, and those providers are now paying the BTN because, according to both Uncle Jim’s logic and NJ Transit timetables, Rutgers is part of the New York metropolitan area. At 4:30 pm, dozens if not hundreds of tri-state sets will be tuned to FS1,assuming there’s not an Islanders game, or LaCrosse on a different channel.

Go Knights.

Illini Basketball

Games Notes @ RAC ’22

It feels presumptuous to write a pre-game essay in mid-February. By this point, you know the Scarlet Knights as well as they know themselves. Not only did you see this Rutgers team play Illinois already, you’ve seen at least five of their games since then,* because what else were you going to do?

The Purdue finish was amazing. Basketball nerds might argue that the tOSU finish was even more amazing. And nobody bet against Wisconsin.

So why is Illinois favored to win at Submarine SandwichDome?

Steve Pikiell’s job at Rutgers should, and probably will, result in the publication of books. However great Tommy Lloyd does at Arizona, he was handed an amazing job. Pikiell took over a never-ran has, shockingly, established itself in the upper-half of the #B1G. i.e. the Tourney half.

Simultaneously, the Rutgers SID staff has upped its game, and organized itself into a first-rate organization. Hence, we already know who’s refereeing tonight’s game (Szelc, Ek, Wells).

They’ve built a new media workroom (the old one was fine). Their arena, still smallish by P5 standards, was built for watching basketball, and it’s loud. (And has frequent shuttle buses because the Boston-Washington corridor is civilized.)

For our purposes (you and me both), this info will help us figure out whom to follow on Twitter tonight. The best information actually does come from the color & play-by-play teams, because they have the best access, instant stats reports, and courtside view.

But there’s always something going on elsewhere, in the stands and on the sidelines. It’s good to know who’s watching it.

*Those of us who remember The Old Times are still amazed that we can watch every game, anywhere.*

Illini Basketball

The Emptiest of Feelings

Ask an objective observer who’s visited every basketball arena in the B1G, and you’re likely to get a unanimous response. Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall is tops. The best, bar none. It’s a purpose-built basketball emporium.

It’s not necessarily the best place to see a game. It’s the best place to experience a game.

For a team like the Illinois Fighting Illini, Assembly Hall II presents a magnificent opportunity for cruelty. 17,222 people — with perhaps 500 Illini fans sprinkled among them — means 16,722 despondent Hoosiers.

Saturday’s Illini performance took a scalpel to the beating, live heart of Indiana basketball, and harvested the organ.

Crushing the hopes of typical Indianans provides a cheap thrill. Brad’s lads did something far more perverse. Ripping the will from their opponents’ very souls, Da’Monte/Trent imposed long-term psychological damage on a group of nice guys who won’t finish last, but might (now that their souls have been ripped out) lose their next four straight, beginning with the Fuck You Miller Kopp, You Human Mediocrity festivities at Welsh-Ryan, Tuesday, 8pm CT, BTN (in case you don’t have anything else to do at 8 pm on Tuesday).

Saturday’s performance was workmanlike, a piecemeal performance-by-committee. Different dudes stepping up. A flash of Grandison to change fortunes. Alfonso extending the pain. Kofi converting at the worst possible moment for the locals. Trent finding his bag of nails, and putting a hammer to their coffin. The flashy moments buttressed by attention to details that always matter: ballhandling, defense & rebounding.

But until March, maybe April, we won’t be able to credibly say whether the Indiana outcome (like the Wisconsin outcome) was caused by the Illini.

Did Illinois convert 10-of-23 three-pointers because they set superior screens and threw better passes? Did Indiana miss 10 of its 13 arc attempts because the Illini consistently forced Indiana to rush their shots?

Ball Don’t Lie is predicated on individual outcomes, but championships are embedded in statistics. Wisconsin and Indiana converting three total attempts from the arc? That’s a coincidence, until it becomes a pattern.

For Illinois’s purposes, you want the Hoosiers to lose at Northwestern and MSU, which got pantsed Saturday at Rutgers. You then want the Hoosiers to beat tOSU on February 19.

As any competent dictator knows, its important to keep the victims demoralized.

As for schadenfreude, Indiana deserves every bit of bad karma it gets, as a collective. There’s a global pandemic afoot, and too many Hoosiers think it’s Fake News.

The SSAH public address announcer kept reminding Indiana fans that mask-wearing could keep crowds at The Skjodt. Those crowds invariably booed the message.

Lots of aerosols

Brad Underwood delivered his postgame Q & A in a room full of aerosols, and two Q-Anon followers on the Twit poked fun at me for mentioning it.

Here’s the thing, assholes: Whether you believe in science or not, Fran McCaffery is away from his team right now, with COVID. If Brad or Brad’s Lads experience a symptomatic infection, they’ll be pulled from action as well, like Belo last week.

Do you want Illinois Basketball to compete for a title? Then stop listening to car salesmen and wrestlers for medical advice. The Illini don’t need a quarantined coach, a quarantined Kofi, a quarantined Trent.

COVID-19 Illini Basketball Illini basketball

High Noon

Trayce Jackson-Davis has three names, but Brad Underwood used only one during his pre-game Zoom. “Trayce” needs no introduction. You know who he is.

An hour later and 167.7 miles east-by-southeast, new Hoosiers coach Mike Woodson conferred the same respect on “Kofi.”

Kofi Cockburn & Trayce Jackson-Davis

This feels like a fight where the top billing, Godzilla versus King Kong, might not determine the outcome. It oughta be entertaining. But you get the feeling that it’ll be someone else who puts his team on top.

Against Purdue, that other person was Rob Phinisee. Trayce needed only 12 minutes to collect four fouls. It worked out okay for the Hoosiers, because Trevion Williams was ineffective in his 15 of the #BoilerBigs 40 minutes, and Zach Edey got only six shots in his 25.

How did Indiana hold Purdue’s Power Duo to 10 FGA? It’s something to worry about.

Perhaps he was unable to hit them in the face?

The Hoosiers committed THREE total turnovers in that game, and Trayce had two of them. Phinisee came off the bench (as usual) for twenty points, four rebounds and four steals in 26 minutes. That’s a lot of steals. Purdue had none. It’s the product of different defensive philosophies. Woodson’s Hoosiers are doing something more akin to Underwood’s Pokes (and early Illini teams), less pack-line-ish.

But Phinsee won’t pick any pockets tomorrow. Plantar Fasciitis will keep him on the bench.

This won’t happen in Bloomington.

If you looked at early Hoosier results and thought meh, consider three factors.

  1. A new coach/style
  2. Many newcomers playing significant minutes
  3. Trey Galloway’s broken wrist
Galloway is the shaggy one.

Galloway broke his wrist in mid-November. Indiana missed his irritating peppiness for almost two months. He’ll be a pain.

What about Khristian Lander, the heralded super-recruit who arrived in Bloomington and then …

He’s played nine games, starting none. He missed eight straight with a leg injury. Indiana fans still believe in him. They think he’ll be the determining force in Saturday’s contretemps. He’s a turnover machine, and he fouls a lot. We’ll see how that works out.

Xavier Johnson, Parker Stewart and Miller Kopp are the new blood. The Transfer Portal was good to Indiana is how Underwood phrased it. Johnson and Stewart started at Pitt. Stewart left to play for his dad at UT-Martin. His dad died. He left Martin.

Xavier Johnson (IU Athletics)

Johnson arrived at Pitt after Stewart’s lone season, and stayed for three years. Now running the offense in Bloomington, he’s tallied 95 assists for the Hoosiers (and 48 turnovers). Compare Trent Frazier’s 72 (39) and top-ranked Auburn’s Wendell Green’s 110 (47).

The Frazier/Johnson match-up should be as fun to watch as the Bigs Battle, especially for Illini fans.

Stewart is the shooting guard, and he converts 45% from the arc. But he’s attempted only 87 of them. Alfonso Plummer has attempted 160. Frazier’s launched 130. Jacob Grandison 95.

Jake leads Illinois at 43.2% from downtown.

Indiana has attempted 390 3FGs on the year, and their opponents 481. The Illini are up to 537.

Miller Kopp is just as boring for Indiana as he was for Northwestern. Statistically speaking, he does almost nothing but not take away opportunities from his teammates, which is something. Not touted as a defensive stopper, and a proven disappointment as a rebounder, this is the guy you want on the floor to get RJ Melendez some highlight reel.


Covering an early game in (the other) Bloomington poses some obstacles to an Illini media pool still digging out from a foot of snow.

Sure, one could drive over on Friday evening, once the day’s pre-game availabilities have been edited, transcribed, uploaded. If one survived the snow drifts and howling winds while wending the hollers, one could get a room at The Graduate for just $499. Or Hyatt Place for just $439!

Thing is, Hoosiers basketball remains insanely popular in those hollers. Cityfolk like it too! And rather than get up early and drive, these folks have chosen to drive and drink. They’ll be boozing maskless in downtown Hoosierville ten hours before tip-off. The ones who get to bed before midnight will start again before the game.

So, much to Joey’s consternation, we’ll all get up at 5:30 am, lose an hour crossing the border, and hope that Indiana’s DOT plowed the tiny roads, too.

Your trusted sources, among others.

Illini Report will not have an assigned photography spot at The Skjodt. In fact, among Illini media, only WCIA gets a spot on the floor. COVID and big donors have eaten into floor space.

Instead, Illini Report will enjoy something it hasn’t done since the Indiana blowout of 2019 — watching a basketball game. (Illini Report got so depressed during that game, that it had to walk to the very top of the real Assembly Hall’s bowl to watch Archie Miller — remember him? — rip Andres Feliz’s heart out.)

Illini Report will provide postgame coverage from both media rooms at The Skjodt. Being all fancy about basketball, IU has two of them. The opponent’s room is actually an administrative office for IU softball, and it’s never set up until after the game. No A/V equipment, though. Just chairs.

But because the Illini media pool is so butch, and travels well, IU Athletics Communications made an 11th hour decision, on Friday afternoon, to move our postgame to Suite 1820 of The Skjodt.

If we can find that vending machine, we will communicate Brad’s thoughts about the big win.

Or so we can hope.

This game has, since the schedule came out, seemed like the linchpin of Illinois’s quest for a ’22 championship. A win at Bloomington would define the season.

People who forgot how good this IU team is, perhaps because their coach got fired, need only recall the UI-IU contests of the past three years.

We’ve always known that these particular Hoosiers are dangerous. We knew it when Illinois barely beat them last year, and we knew it when Illinois barely beat them the year before that.

See you bright and early.

Illini Basketball

Getting the Word Out

Brad Underwood got up and walked out of the Dennis and Katharine Swanson Media Room, just like he always does after the last answer to the last question of a live, pre-game press conference.

And then he turned around and walked back in, reminded that this Snowmaggedon Wisconsin tilt would feature an extra element of excitement: meteorology.

“Where do you want me?” he asked Courtney Bay, the new-ish Illini Director of Branding and Creative Media. They made a brief video, in which he implored Illini fans to sell or donate their tickets to other Illini fans, who might be able to get through mountains of snow and ice by 8 PM tonight.

It seemed kinda weird, but perhaps only if you’d been in the room forty minutes earlier, trying to prod official spokespersons into offering official statements about parking, snow removal, etc. Perhaps they’d been advised against such statements, for liability purposes.

It appears that there will be a game tonight, and that Johnny Davis, Tyler Wahl and Brad Davison will be a part of it, as will Andre Curbelo & Kofi Cockburn.

The outcome might figure prominently in National Player of the Year voting.

It might also determine the 2022 B1G basketball champion. That’s worth trudging through the snow, isn’t it?

But it made me wonder just how effective a Twitter message might be, compared to traditional media. And then I “fell down the rabbit hole” as people liked to say in 2021.

IlliniMBB has enough followers on Twitter that retweeting the @CoachUnderwood video might. effectively, get the message out. And most of them will likely understand the Prince & the Revolution-esque wording.

But just for the record, Illinois has the seventh-most followers among B1G schools.

  • Indiana – five national championships – 1M Followers
  • Michigan State – Flintstones national champions – 454.5K Followers
  • Michigan – 1989 national champions … grrrrrr – 343K Followers
  • Wisconsin – a scrappy group, with moxie – 307.7K Followers
  • Iowa – ineffective champions, 1980 Final Four – 167.7K Followers
  • Maryland – 1 national championship – 154.3K Followers
  • Illinois – Sean Higgins, Sean May – 143.6K Followers
  • Ohio State – 1 natty (black people included) – 139.7K Followers
  • Purdue – most championships in B1G history – 127.8K Followers
  • Nebraska – Eric Piatkowski, Wally Szczerbiak – 115K Followers
  • MN – vacated 1997 season still better than recent years – 57.3K Followers
  • Penn State – we’re across the street at the skating rink – 36.1K Followers
  • Rutgers – still played in the Atlantic 10 in 1995 – 30.1K Followers
  • Northwestern – they beat Rutgers! – 20.4K Followers
Illini Basketball

Working Trip

Suzuki Method fiddlers gathered at center-court, moments before the tip-off of Northwestern’s annual orange invasion. Both teams formed a single-file line, facing each other.

The children bowed their instruments, commemorating a flag that was still there.

Elyjah Williams did not foul Kofi Cockburn here.

Elyjah Williams looked over his shoulder, and spotted a fivesome of six year-olds in kimonos, or whatever martial artists wear. Karate kids. He motioned them toward him. They stepped into the line, between Williams and Pete Nance. He looked down at the youngsters, placed his hand on his heart, and turned back toward the Star Spangled Banner. The kids copied his motions.

Kofi Cockburn releases a shot, Da’Monte Williams sees a path to the basket
Da’Monte navigates a path between Greer & Audige

I don’t remember thinking I’m gonna root for this guy from here on out. I thought it was a nice gesture. I got the idea that he’s a good guy, and that he thinks of others. And then the fiddling stopped and the game began.

Tracking the trajectory

As I watched Williams frustrate Kofi Cockburn, I wasn’t rooting for him. I thought it was kind of funny, because Elyjah obviously had a good attitude about his mountain-sized task.

Kofi broke into a smile momentarily, after some shit-talking. I appreciated that Kofi appreciated Elyjah.

I feel like I’ve written “Kofi is a kind & sensitive person” enough, and I don’t want to be boring. But did I say it enough?

I enjoyed watching two kind, sensitive and enormous people battle vigorously. At an elite level might say this one coach I know.

It’s been a strenuous time in America. These moments gave me some hope.

Meanwhile, Da’Monte continued his years long slog at proving the value of hard work.

It was demonstrably the best moment of the day for Illini fans. But because it was so needed, so necessary; a lot of Illini fans are feeling down about their team.

Maybe that’s appropriate. The #EveryDayGuys have been plenty bad on most recent days. But they closed the deal against Michigan, Michigan State, and this group of NUrds that’s played everyone close, but hasn’t learned how to close the deal.

It took Chris Collins to remind everyone, in 13 heartfelt minutes, how good this Illini team is. How hard it is to shut them down. And how good his Wildcat team is. And how they shut the Illini down,

You’ll feel better for watching it. And it’ll make you feel better about the Illinois performance at Welsh-Ryan.