Today was Media Day, so you’ll find your first interviews with Auto-Matic Vesel & Greg OingoBoingo on your favorite East Central Illinois news channel. I’ll be cutting and pasting my version for a few days, because I’m slow.
I interviewed barely half the players because, unlike years past, media had to get off the floor so the team could practice. Also unlike years past, we didn’t have to leave when the team started practicing.
Thus, here’s your practice update.
The team ran five man drills in various groupings. The grouping of Smith-Alstork-Jordan-Vesel-Black underlined the concept of positionless basketball. Yes, you could argue that those names match a typical 1-through-5 line-up, except that Vesel was mostly on the high post and the wing. Smith does seem to handle the ball at the beginning of a possession more than Alstork. If Leron Black really is going to play “center,” it will prove that Underwood has the imagination that Bruce Weber and John Groce lacked. i.e. he’ll seek to create mismatches rather than trying to compensate for them. (Can you imagine how many additional games Weber might have won if he played Mike Tisdale at small forward, and hid him in a zone? If not, go back and watch the 2010 game at Wisconsin.)
Drew Cayce (10) was the only player sent to the treadmill during the two hours I watched. I guess he didn’t cut sharply enough on a three man drill. So he had to run for a minute. And yes, they turned the speed to high. He was sprinting for that minute. Underwood didn’t yell, by the way. He just said “Drew – treadmill.”
There was one angry outburst from the coach, but it was directed at the entire team. A couple hours into practice, the body language had, perhaps, lagged a bit. Underwood lit a fire under them with a few choice words. Suddenly, the drills looked crisp again. Amazing how that works.
Brad Underwood says Greg OingoBoingo is that fastest guy on the team. Faster than Trent Frazier, even. And that proved true this afternoon. In single-trip wind sprints, Greg paced the team twice. I didn’t see any of the 2x up-and-back sprints, in which Mark Alstork separated himself from the team during September 30 practice. So we don’t know about Greg’s endurance, but his initial burst is unlike any 6’9″ dude I can recall.
Tyler Underwood will be a huge asset to this team. He talks and points constantly, whether it’s a route to run or an open man deserving a pass. In one drill, he grabbed Trent Frazier by the torso as Trent ran a curl route. Tyler flipped Trent 180° and pushed him toward the correct corner.
Some other players may be “vocal,” but Tyler’s at another level. That’s how it should be for point guards, of course. And perhaps Te’Jon Lucas has some of that quality. But Lucas was sitting out again, still abiding the concussion protocol. His right eye remains bloodshot from the blow that felled him.
Auto-Matic Vesel’s footwork will be a niche source of joy for basketball nerds. He moves like a gazelle. It’s the same as his shooting stroke. These motions seem so effortless, you wouldn’t even notice them if it weren’t for the ten other less poetically balletic dudes nearby.
You could see it when Orlando Antigua ran a pick-n-roll drill with the bigs. I was so mesmerized that I almost didn’t catch the odd thing that happened at the finish of each rep. At first I thought everyone had a crazy high release point. Then I realized what they were hoping to accomplish. i.e. using angles to evade rim protectors. The Underwood Administration has very particular opinions about angles.
In a later drill, Antigua instructed the bigs to employ a power bounce to gain position in the low post. Matic excelled here as well, because while he’s slight up top, his legs are solid and muscular. His core may be lacking, but his base is not. Matic does need to add some upper-body weight. That’s the challenge for Fletch, because Matic does not like American pizza.
Brad Underwood’s theory of rebounding is finely honed. It’s a departure from the traditional, but borne of statistical analysis. The rebounding drill he ran was unlike any rebounding drill I’ve ever seen, especially because it had nothing to do with putting a body on somebody.
Again, it was about geometry.
Underwood told the team that 76-80% of shots from a particular area will land on the weak side, somewhere between the low block and the short corner. You couldn’t possibly know that from just playing basketball.* You’d need a lot of data and a long-term analysis, plus some fancy computers, to determine that sort of thing.
But that’s where we are now. All this stuff is quantified and qualified by software companies, who get lotsa money to provide the analytics to deep-pocketed basketball programs
Official Visitor Elias Valtonen watched practice from the sidelines, with a beautiful woman who could very well have been his mother. Scandinavian women … wrowl.
*Maybe Dennis Rodman knew it instinctively, but more likely he learned it from playing basketball for years upon years, aided by an unusual memory for details.
The second iteration of Julie Pioletti’s Chalk Talk, a basketball clinic for women, took place at Ubben & Corzine on Tuesday night.
Attendance was about a hundred, which is a shame because it really is a great event. For a fee, women get a catered meal, a slideshow and presentation from the head coach, instruction from the assistants, and insight on day-to-day operations from the support staff.
The money goes to Coaches Versus Cancer, but more importantly, it’s the best inside view of the team and its personalities. That was true again this year.
The format was altered slightly. Jamall Walker coached the Pack Line Defense. Paris Parham taught rebounding. Paul Schmidt opened his training room to talk about sports medicine. Those workstations were featured last year.
Everything else was new.
Last year Ryan Pedon provided a scouting report. This year Mark Morris discussed the hour-by-hour planning that keeps busy student-athletes fed, slept, taught and exercised on a tight schedule. This was a key difference, because the Pedon presentation showed how the coaches & team prepare for specific opponents. In hindsight, the staff must have concluded that too much insider information was being offered to anyone who showed up.
Instead, Morris offered a grid spreadsheet of Malcolm Hill’s weekly schedule. We learned that Malcolm started Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:15 with yoga, that he had Anthropology 104 at Foellinger Auditorium followed by a quick lunch and Econ 102.
Another graphic suggested traveling Illini men sleep in five-star hotels and eat in five-star restaurants, including Morton’s and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouses. Perhaps the star ratings were gleaned from TripAdvisor rather than Michelin. The Sheraton rarely earns such praise.
Pedon’s replacement, Darren Hertz, conducted the station dealing with offense. College basketball is universally committed to the option offense these days, just like Nebraska football in the Tom Osborne era. Hertz spent his ten minute segments teaching his groups how to recognize defensive actions, and opt accordingly.
At some points Dustin Ford joined the Hertz group. But for much of the night, Ford and Groce were in the upstairs office suite, on the phone with recruits.
Last year Chelsea Burkart talked about nutrition. That segment was eliminated from the program this year, and Burkart has moved on. Like former Strength & Conditioning coach Mike Basgier, she’s taken a similar position at James Madison University. Stephanie Horvath is the team’s new nutritionist.
Basgier’s replacement, Adam Fletcher, spoke about nutrition, as did Morris. We learned that Fletcher eats two meals every day with the team.
Last year Paris Parham told a bunch of funny jokes. This year Paris Parham told the same jokes. Newcomers probably thought they were just as funny. Cheryl Easter laughed as if she hadn’t heard them a year ago, and I thought that was very diplomatic of her.
“Paris needs some new material,” agreed the team’s tutor, Jessica Goerke.
Illini players once again participated in the demonstrations, if capable. Tracy Abrams, who moved around the Ubben on a Bariatric Knee Walker (and demurred from having his picture taken with same) stuck with Schmidt in the training room. Jalen Coleman-Lands, confined to a walking boot, stayed with Morris in the team room.
Newcomer Khalid Lewis joined Mike LaTulip, Michael Finke and grad assistant Walter Offutt in assisting Hertz’s demo. Aaron Jordan and Malcolm Hill assisted Fletcher in the weight room. Maverick Morgan, Leron Black and Cameron Liss assisted Parham. Alex Austin, Kendrick Nunn and Dennis “D.J” Williams assisted Walker. Newcomer Mike Thorne did not attend.
There was an obvious emphasis on the health and well-being of the student-athletes. John Groce downplayed any motivation stemming from Tim Beckman’s unceremonious ouster for lacking that emphasis. And Groce is right to do so. Sports medicine, conditioning and nutrition were just as much a part of last year’s event.
At one point during his presentation, Jamall Walker asked how many in his group had attended last year’s Chalk Talk. Three raised their hands. But the most obvious newcomer didn’t understand the question. She doesn’t speak English. Her name is Cate Groce, and last September she was living inside her mommy’s tummy.
Barb Steele, Groce’s mom, attended again. As did Laura Finke, Mike’s mom.
Everyone seemed to enjoy herself. The only problem is there weren’t enough participants. Publicizing the event is not a priority for Illini Athletics, because it’s only tangentially related to the program. Media got an email around lunchtime on Tuesday. Two reporters and two photographers showed up.
We’ll do better next year.
For completists, here’s an overly long movie chronicling the evening.