Categories
Illini basketball

The Grinding

Jamall Walker and Ryan Pedon both know what it’s like to be Geoff Alexander right now. Both are recent Illini SPAHCs (Special Assistant to the Head Coach). Both are current assistant coaches, and both had been assistant coaches before becoming SPAHCs.

They know about the transition from a coaching role. They know how to operate as an advance scout and administrator, and then transition back to a coaching role.

Ryan Pedon, during his time at Illinois

Walker was just pulling up to the Grand Canyon Lopes Basketball offices this morning, on his way to a meeting. He had just enough time to say he was excited about Geoff’s promotion, and wishes him well.

Pedon was happy for Geoff as well. When he heard about the promotion, he dashed off a letter of congratulations to his new B1G rival.

I just wrote him a note the other day and said I was really happy for him. I admire guys who worked their way up in the profession. I’ve always felt like he was one of those guys. Respectful guy. Has a very good reputation.


I know he’s kind of grinded his way through this profession and I appreciate guys like that.

When Brad Underwood announced Alexander’s promotion to assistant coach, he denied that there’d been An Understanding between them. Alexander did not become Special Assistant to the Head Coach with the assurance that he’d get a shot, when an opening cropped up, at his current job.

Jamall Walker (top middle) and Geoff Alexander watch a huddle during the 2017-18 season.

Underwood was a SPAHC as recently as Bob Huggins’s lone year at Kansas State. Like (and occasionally with) Geoff, he’s toiled in obscurity, working his way up through the profession. So you can see why he’d want to give Alexander the chance, and also why he’d demand that Geoff earn that chance.

Are the jobs really that different? The SPAHC job doesn’t pay as much. But you get more time at home, because you’re not responsible for evaluating prospects, and then recruiting them.

Pedon said the SPAHC job is pretty labor intensive, even without the excess travel. But the recruiting assistant is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.

I think it is a big change for families. There’s a really dramatic difference. All families & all wives adjust to that differently. But it’s not like you’re going from “9 to 5” to that (always on the road).

I’m sure Geoff was not anywhere close to “9 to 5,” so there is a little bit of an understanding already. But, just the travel, and the amount he’ll not be around, That’ll be fairly different. Especially at certain times of the year, like springtime on weekends, and summertime when you’re chasing 17 and 18 year-olds all over the damn country.

Pedon said the hardest part of the SPAHC job, as you might expect, is learning not to coach. The NCAA allows its member programs just three assistants. If anyone else joins in the coaching duties, whether it’s off-campus recruiting or offering verbal instructions in the practice gym; that’s a violation.

Ryan Pedon (just left of referee Terry Wymer) watches from the sidelines during the Groce Era

Instinctually, it’s the hardest. Not to speak up when you see something.  You have to be aware of what you can and can’t do.

I’m a big believer, not just in this profession, in staying in your lane. I tried to do that, as much as I could, in that role. ‘Cause I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. And I wanted to be there as a resource, and something positive for our program. For my boss, our head coach.

I wanted to give John (Groce) exactly what he wanted out of me.
And sometimes that varies, from coach to coach. Part of my deal was trying to be an extra set of eyes and ears for him, and the rest of the coaches. And help them in their particular areas. But I didn’t necessarily need to, or want to be, the guy that Had All The Answers. That’s not what that role is for.

It’s a delicate balance. That’s just my take on it. So I tried to be aware, and respectful, of what my role was.

The Illinois program should hope that Geoff Alexander’s career mirrors Pedon’s. Their career arcs, to this point, are similar. Both played college ball, but not at the high-major level. Alexander was at Western Illinois, Pedon at College of Wooster. Both got assistant coaching gigs in competitive mid-majors conferences (Missouri Valley and MAC) before accepting the SPAHC job at Illinois.

OhioStateBuckeyes.com

Pedon is now a top candidate for a major head coaching gig, having developed Chris Holtmann’s tOSU program into a perennial B1G contender, via cunning game-planning and unexpectedly good recruiting. If Geoff Alexander can mimic that success, the Illini might keep the next E.J Liddell at home.

Pedon didn’t want to share his scouting report with IlliniReport after the Buckeyes win in Champaign this year, pointing out in the days that followed that the two teams would meet again. But he was happy to offer some observations and encouragement to a man who’ll be chasing those same 17 and 18 year-olds all around the damn country.

He’ll also get to know Geoff Alexander better. Up ’til now, it’s mostly been word of mouth.

(Do you know Geoff?)

Just a little bit. Not on a real personal level. Just having worked with some of the same guys. I’ve known of him for a long time and he’s always seemed like a really good guy to me.

Categories
Illini Basketball

Varese, Day 2 – Illini all over CUS Insubria

Geoff Alexander said “That’s it. I’m retiring,” His head coaching debut was that good.

Geoff Alexander led the team in Varese

The Special Assistant to the Head Coach is not normally allowed to instruct players, much less lead a game. But Jamall Walker is stuck in Miami, looking after Kofi Cockburn and Andres Feliz, whose passports don’t work smoothly with the EU. NCAA rules allow an exception in such cases, so Alexander got the first game assignment.

His starting line-up featured Zach Griffith and Tyler Underwood. If this Illini team wins the national championship, that tidbit of lore will be noted and memorized by a generation of ten-year-olds. Otherwise, it was a sloppy start.

That’s not a diss to the walk-ons. They weren’t especially bad. In fact, Samson Oladimeji was nearly dominant in his court time. A smart, older guy, given a chance … who knew?

Things got moving when non-starters Ayo Dosunmu and Giorgi Bezhanishvili entered the game. One wishes, in deference to the not-as-publicized players, that the difference weren’t so obvious.

Woof. Man did Ayo bring something special to this game. It’s not as though he’s unusually tall, or dead-eyed. It’s that he recognizes the opponent’s response, and reacts. Read & react is normally what the defense does. It sucks to be on the other end of read & react read reaction.

You can see the CUS Insubria gym in the background

The gym was hot-ish at tip time. 31 degrees is normal for basketball season, but this time it was in centigrade, which makes your skin bubble. Ayo liked it, comparing it to Morgan Park.

There were two electrical outlets in the gym, and one functional pair of toilets per assigned sex identity. Oddly, no crowds ensued around these facilities. The Italians went outside at halftime, to smoke. The Americans didn’t. No one peed.

@IlliniHDProductions used the northern outlet to power the camera which may someday show reasonably good video of the Insubria game, and which may just as likely stay in the can for in-house reference. I used the southern outlet to re-charge my phone.

The crowd was small, but above capacity. Local fans started wandering in once they realized no one was stopping them, and that a game was in progress. Illini fans were limited to Extra Special Friends of the DIA. If you donated more money than my house is worth, you were on the list. Jeff and Tami Verbin were there. The State Farm Center has a wing named for their interest in the betterment of Illini sports, and that’s worth much more than my house.

Keiko Price was also in attendance, in addition to @IlliniAD. Price is the associate director of athletics responsible for oversight of the men’s basketball program. Chris Span was there as faculty representative.

Everyone came on one bus. The team came on another.

After the final horn, Orlando Antigua asked the official scorers to clear the scoreboard. The hosts didn’t need a reminder of the beatdown. CUS Insubria players hugged and asked for photos with the victors.

Price and Joey Biggs wrangled pizzas and cans of Coca-Cola for the players. (Big bottles of water were also available, although the local tap is perfectly potable.)

Tyler Underwood said players got to choose their toppings. Kipper Nichols had zucchini.

Kipper chose zucchini pizza

I walked back to downtown Varese, enjoying the weather and my $28/night apartment. Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues watched my progress from a head shop named Urbana Botanica.