Illini Basketball

Shifty, scheming

Brad Underwood announced today that Tevian Jones will “suit up” for the Maryland game.

No matter what that phrasing implies, it’s top-notch trolling.

Jones, you’ll recall, is the Terrapin killer whose career-best game stunned Madison Square Garden last winter. He’s the guy they didn’t see coming, and couldn’t stop going. Mark Turgeon still has nighthorses about Tevian Jones.

Jones sat out 8 games last year, so it might seem natural that this year’s suspension is also 8 games. But we know that his sophomore suspension is academics oriented, whereas last year’s was urine-based.

Perhaps DIA penalties for academic misdemeanors include, like a second positive pee test, sitting out for a quarter of the season.

But otherwise, the timing seems weird. The semester ends next weekend, not this one.

Underwood did not say Tevian will travel with the team. He did not say Tevian will play. We hope both of those potentialities come true. But it would be hilarious if Underwood made the announcement merely to keep Turgeon and staff up all night.

Tevian Jones was arguably the most improved sophomore coming into this season. The other candidate is Alan Griffin. Both showcased their improvement in Italy. But there’s no doubt that Tevian had the most dazzling European performance.

The book is still out on Underwood. He’s going to have to reach the NCAA tournament before any Illini fan can be sure he’s The Guy. But for those still recovering from Bruce Weber Syndrome, it’s refreshing to have a leader who’s willing to shift direction, change schemes, and plant misdirection in the minds of his opponents.

Well played, coach.

Illini basketball

The Press

Normally, an Illini Report column assumes you watched the game, got your factsy news from a reputable source, and came here for some verbal panache and pictures.

For the Nicholls State write-up, I’m going to assume you didn’t see the game, and need to know why Illinois choked away a late lead. I’ll even go to the extraordinary length of divulging the final score: Illini 78, Nicholls State 70 (OT)

Illinois’ 3-guard line-up couldn’t handle a trapping press. That’s the story of the game. It wouldn’t have been close if Trent Frazier could buy a shot, or Giorgi a rebound. But that’s the way the ball bounced for those two, and suddenly a comfortable 64-50 with five minutes remaining was a tense 66-64, in favor of the visitors. And there was the seven-foot freshman, trying to bring the ball up the court.

Trent didn’t score until hitting the free-throws that sent the game to overtime. Giorgi finished with only 4 rebounds, three of which came at the offensive end. But in crunch time, he just couldn’t get to the ball when it really mattered.

Ayo had five turnovers, and landed in a crumpled pile as often as usual, which is too often. It hurts to watch

Inevitably, it was Andres Feliz who willed the team to victory. Why is it that Andres Feliz was forgotten when everyone crafted his pre-season starting five? When will you people learn?

Giorgi hit a pair of threes, and he worked to give Kofi space in the paint. In the latter respect, his energy was not focused on putting a ball directly through a hoop.

But because those efforts garnered a double-double for Kofi, and 11 points for Giorgi … well, there was reason for optimism. But yes, Giorgi isn’t getting those same low-post isolation opportunities that launched Frank Kaminski into the NBA.

More significantly, Dre’s nose for rebounds provided an unflattering comparison for Giorgi. Certainly, it seemed that the ball bounced where Giorgi wasn’t. But when you compare Giorgi’s bad luck with guys like Dennis Rodman, or Dre (and Chester Frazier before him) you have to question whether it’s luck.

Either way, it doesn’t show that Giorgi is terrible. Rebounding is a rare skill. Most guys can grab a ball that comes toward them. Andres Feliz is one of those guys who always seems to be where the ball lands.

If you want reason for optimism, think of it this way: Almost everything that could go wrong for Illinois went wrong, and yet they won.

Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk followed his debut perfection with an 0-fer performance. Ayo couldn’t keep the ball in his own hands and Trent went 0-for-9 from the field.

The night’s loudest crowd reaction came on a rebound dunk that Alan Griffin missed. Come Monday, we’ll have a much better idea of how worried everyone should be.

Illini Basketball

About Rome

There’s no shame in losing to the big, butch Dutchmen. They were older, taller, quicker and they executed their schemes better than the Illini. If not for Ayo, the Illini would have lost by 25.

After the game, the Dutchmen did yoga

Nobody else could buy a basket, and Giogi had a difficult time with the Dutch bigs, and missed a lot of shots he generally makes against mid-level B1G teams. Illinois ran a couple of gorgeous sets, and those schemes would have been effective if the lads hadn’t kept bricking their lay-ups. Three-pointers flew wide of the basket, or clanged off the rim. It was not pretty.

The guy who looked like a more muscular Aaron White, and the guy who looked like a faster Fess Hawkins, were bigger than anyone available for Illinois. The #5 point guard, who looked like Nate Mast in the videos, was probably 6’2″ and would certainly be listed at 6’3″ in American college basketball.

Their wings cut sharply. Team sets, expertly run, got wide-open looks. The Dutchmen displayed excellent shooting form, and their shots didn’t waste any time grazing the rims. It’s surprising that the score was so close. But then again, for most of the game, it wasn’t.

You’ve read that the gym was 90-something degrees. Eventually, from a style perspective, the writer grows weary of typing “the gym was really hot.” I even felt embarrassed asking Kelsea Gartoff, for the fourth consecutive meeting “is it even hotter in here this time?” I always enjoy the banter with Kelsea, so I felt I was letting her down with such predictable dialogue.

Something that’s gone unmentioned, but might be obvious from the videos at is that repeated clock malfunction kept the Illini from developing any kind of flow. At the end of the first half, the local referees decided to ignore the clock altogether.

Rome is a dump.

When I left you last time, I was contemplating the utility of driving back from Livorno to Firenze, arriving around midnight, only to be back on the bus the next morning for a three-hour drive to Roma. The team is still in Roma, of course. And they will be tomorrow. So the utility, I suppose, was learning how to play on short rest, in a hellish environment, against a superior opponent. This experience might come in handy down the road, but only for those members of the 2019-20 Illini who experienced it.

From my current perspective, sitting in Flindt & Ørsted Café in Ørstedsparken, I’m just now fully appreciating the stupidity of playing basketball, in Italy, in August.


It’s 69.8 degrees here, with a light breeze.

Maybe Denmark doesn’t care about basketball. But surely there’s somewhere in northern Europe where the team could have found a worthy opponent?

The downside, perhaps, is that hotels in Scandanavia are expensive. Italy is cheap. And they couldn’t house the team in a charming AirBnB.

My Danish apartment

But of course, cost was not the issue. Heck, they paid for four entire humans to be here, none of whom participated in the games, and three of whom didn’t come at all.

Okay, enough kvetching. The video of the Nederland B game, on its own, is probably worth the cost. Brad Underwood can play it over and over again, showing each guy where he should have cut, why his man eluded him, etc.

After that Roma game, Underwood had a long talk with the team. He wasn’t angry. He probably foresaw those video sessions, despite having seen the live version from a folding chair in the corner (from which he occasionally burst forth to holler).

And he also sat alone with Tevian Jones, in two folding chairs at the far side of the gym, as the rest of the team made its way toward the team bus, in yet another of those Tevian Master Class sessions I wrote about the other day.

Maybe some day we’ll contemplate the Tevian Sessions, and understand what they nurtured.

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.

Illini Basketball

Varese, Day 1

The Italian Tour has been misrepresented in the media, likely because no one thought it would matter. The DIA gave only vague details until this weekend, when they found out.

So no one knew where the games would be played. Even the guy on the TrenNord from Malpensa, who wore a black Brooklyn jersey, number 8, with the name “Williams” on the back.

For example, did you know the next Illini basketball game is in Varese? It’s 25 miles from Milano, the first city on the posted itinerary, in which Illinois basketball will play zero games.

Milan is not known for its historical architecture or ancient cultural significance. It’s known for the banking and fashion industries. But that’s where the team is sleeping tonight. Would Varese have been more enriching? Well, it’s certainly diverse. So maybe not?

Groceries from Varese. Just the staples.

Or, at least, it wouldn’t have shown the lads a niche of quaint ethnocentrism, such as you might find in any of the Cinque Terre. Half the people milling the streets of downtown Varese are distinctly not of northern Italian origin. The odor of ancient urine could be found in any centre-ville. Local homeless haul their lives from park to park in the same backpacks you’d see in Seattle.

Cobblestone streets, narrow alleys and grandfathered not-to-code construction remind the visitor that he’s not in Orange County. The weather wouldn’t.

Still, I feel like they’re missing something by not staying in the small towns where they’ll be balling. Milan and Florence are international cities, packed with tourists. Varese, Gazzada and Livorno might be just as 21st Century as … everywhere, now that the world is flat. But I’ll tell you this: There’s no English-language TV in Varese. (Diamonds Are Forever is on right now, and Shady Tree dubbed as Sicilian tough guy unsettles the purist.)

If the DIA had (as it did when Illini sports were relevant) pitched this European vacation to tourists, these smaller towns would be an easier sell. My apartment in Varese is huge, with high ceilings, French windows, a full kitchen, five minutes from the center of town by foot … and $28/night.

At least the parents will save money. Lali Bezhanishvili will, according to Giorgi, know exactly where the games are played. She’ll be on hand. Quam Dosunmu isn’t making the trip, but his wife and a lot of family are already here in Tuscany. Like me, they got a great deal on AirBnB. He showed me the video on his phone Saturday afternoon, while we were both at Ubben. Jamall Walker jumped in to ask how I’d be getting to Italy (The Groce administration was fascinated by tales of dollar fares on Megabus, and $20 deals on Spirit and Frontier. ) And the truth is you could have got here just as cheap as I (and Derek Piper) did, on the same planes, with the same stopover at Gatwick.

If only you’d known.

Tuscan Illini hoping to catch the action can probably just show up tomorrow night at the CUS Insubria gym. tomorrow at 19:00.

Wednesday night’s game is in Gazzada, one stop down the rail line from Varese. Unless it’s not. The address provided to the DIA shows a walled alley leaving the train station. We’ll see who can find that gym.

The Livorno game site can be found on a map. Same with Rome, where the game is on the south end of town, in a tennis complex.

C-U there.

Illini basketball

The Finishers

Brad Underwood has said it all along. It doesn’t matter who starts.

During crunch time Saturday, Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams were on the floor. Practice rotations have never suggested that Brad Underwood planned to move them into the starting line-up. And yet, it’s never been more clear that these two are finishers. Especially Williams.

Frazier was the social media darling of Christmas week, and Underwood wants everyone to know that Trent noticed. It went to his head. Underwood said the team worked all week on a specific ball-screen action, and Trent blew it three or four times during the game.

Trent Frazier defends against Longwood (Vashoune Russell)

The coaching staff had determined that this particular ball-screen action would draw GCU’s defense in such a way that the Illini wing would be ignored in the weak-side corner. They were right. It worked. But Trent failed to convert the opportunity.

So the really interesting thing about Underwood’s observation is that he put the ball in Trent Frazier’s hands in crunch time, despite Trent’s repeated failure to read and react.

Here’s what happened.

Sure enough, after Leron set the ball screen, Trent found his wing.  Da’Monte snapped the net, and Illinois held on to beat a team that played, frankly, much better than the Illini did.

Disappearing Illini , A/K/A The Players You Hate

Mark Smith is still putting it all together, defensively. I can relate.

I’m a life-long slow learner. I needed to see everything on a systemic level, and that need always set me behind kids who could compartmentalize tasks. Eventually I’d pass them, because understanding systems is complete knowledge. It’s why engineers get paid more than machinists.

Consequently, I have no doubts about Mark Smith. I’m not even worried about him. And at the same time, I understand why he’s a starter and not a finisher.

Mark Smith is learning his defensive positioning errors on a systemic level, with each mistake building his knowledge base. He knows it. The staff knows it.

During the GCU game, the most interesting thing that happened to Mark Smith was a foul call. He boxed out, and earned a foul. Brad Underwood thought it was a crazy call, too. So he probably can’t learn anything from that particular experience.

But there’s no doubt that right now, Mark Smith is the second-most-likely Illini to find himself out-of-position on defense, and Matic Vesel doesn’t play at all.

Maybe, having typed the full Mark Smith seven times now, I’ll start referring to him simplay as Mark. There’s another Mark on the team, of course, But everyone calls him Mookie. Maybe I’ll do that.

Matic had family was in town for the holidays, BTW. His mother and a sister got to see him watch a basketball game in front of 14,000 people.  I hope they’re as patient as he is.  Vesel has the highest ceiling of any player on the team. His court vision and passing continue to stun observers at Illini practices. And yet, you can see why he’s not playing at all.

Mookie Alstork does continue to play, and he continues to start and finish.  If you listen to the WDWS postgame, or read message boards, you’d think Alstork would have been benched by now.

But head coaches really like rebounding. They LOVE guys who expend all their energy on defense.

Whether Alstork is trying to get into The League by playing defense, or has simply been coached at the college level for four years; he’s kicking ass at Things Coaches Want.

What the coaches wanted to do against GCU was force them to drive. “No middle!” they yelled, meaning keep the ball out of the paint.

Illinois’ pressure defense is designed to keep the ball out of the lane, so they didn’t have to learn anything new. Brad Underwood’s goal was to force a dribble-drive, and he succeeded.

Kipper Nichols’ new mop-top makes him look like a Beatle and/or a mop.

Unfortunately, it’s killed his game. Where Aaron Jordan’s haircut revived his career, Kipper’s barberism quashed all momentum. GCU was his worst game as an Illini, posterizing him at both ends of the court.



If the NCAA were a government agency rather than a pretend government agency, they’d be susceptible to FOIA, sunshine laws, etc.

Unfortunately, we can’t ask them why they do what they do, and they won’t tell us.

Illinois seems to be the progenitor of rules improving the regulation of college basketball. The Kentucky Rule (1984) deemed that NCAA tournament games should not afford a home-court advantage. The Miami Rule (2013) allowed for review of bullshit officiating rulings that cost teams a trip to the Sweet 16.

Now, here comes the Malcolm Hill Rule.

Watch for it.


And now a digression.

Speaking of the WDWS postgame show: My friend Michael Kiser fielded an anti-Lucas phone call after the Grand Canyon game. He defended Te’Jon by making a comparison to Jaylon Tate. He said Jaylon couldn’t penetrate.

Jaylon Tate had limitations to be sure. Driving was not one of them.

Jay’s grandmother texted recently to share some good news.

Those of you who aren’t THaters will appreciate knowing that Jaylon is finding success at the professional level.


Illini basketball

Exonerating Jaylon Tate: Why the delay?

UPDATE: Surveillance video will clear Jaylon Tate 

I have a theory about the Jaylon Tate case. Specifically, I have a theory about its continued existence.

I assume the state’s attorney’s office, U of I and Champaign police departments have not dropped the case because doing so would start the clock on release of FOIA materials. As long as formal charges are pending, those materials remain privileged.

All three of those agencies have an interest in keeping Jaylon Tate’s police reports secret, for two reasons.

The main reason should be obvious: law enforcement is still investigating the case, whether in hopes of charging the real perpetrator, or to bring obstruction/false statements charges. The other reason is Kendrick Nunn’s arrest on similar charges, and how the Tate case might affect that investigation.

That’s speculation. Now, here are some facts: The victim was hit in the face, yes. Jaylon Tate didn’t do it. The victim did not want Jaylon Tate arrested.

Did she falsely claim that she had a relationship with Jaylon Tate? Probably not. We’d want to know the specifics: What exactly were the questions, and what precisely were her answers?  They were never boyfriend and girlfriend, but as you’ll see below, Illinois law is murky, giving cops great leeway to charge domestic battery. In fact, because this particular Illinois statute gives cops an option to arrest without a warrant, it tacitly encourages them to make inferences about relationships.

All of that should be in the police report, which will be publicly available at some point.

Complicating the matter is the fact that the victim also didn’t want, and likely continues not to want the culpable party arrested. We’ll call that person C, for culpable.

The person who seems to have done the most communicating with the police is neither the victim nor C, but is closely acquainted with both of them. Perhaps she didn’t know she was giving false statements to the police. Perhaps she was merely naïve. We’ll call her N, for naïve.

Here’s what happened: The victim arrived at N’s apartment late at night. N saw the the victim had been injured, and naturally wanted to know what happened, to see justice served, etc.

To be clear, the preceding paragraph is not speculation. It’s not my theory. It’s fact.

Although I’m speculating about the mindset of the persons involved, and the state’s attorney’s delay in exonerating Jaylon Tate;  I am not speculating about who punched the victim, nor who reported it to the police.

Now, let’s jump back in time. Earlier that night, as has been well documented publicly, two girls were asked to leave a party.  One of those girls was the victim. Reports have already told you Tate was at the party.

So you can infer that Tate was a subject of discussion with those two girls. N was not one of these two girls. She enters the story only after the victim got hit in the face.


  • alcohol
  • the very late hour
  • the fact that the victim didn’t want to talk about what happened

and you can see why N was confused.

Much more important, however, is whether C was standing in the room while N demanded to know what happened. Did the victim tell N that Jaylon Tate punched her? Did C tell N that Tate was the perpetrator? Did neither the victim, nor C tell N that Jaylon Tate did it, only to have N conclude it was Jaylon after hearing a separate (and let’s assume hazily told) story of Tate telling them to leave the party?

(For what it’s worth, Tate was not — per any source queried on this question — the person that asked the girls to leave the party.)

Why would the victim cover for C?  Perhaps it’s due to the chronic psychological condition which, in the old days, people called Battered Wives Syndrome. Now it’s been redefined as battered person syndrome, which is a lot more inclusive but sounds far less chilling.

It’s also possible that the victim simply felt as if she’d gotten the worse of a fight for which she was equally responsible, and didn’t feel it was right to press charges. Maybe that’s fair. It certainly doesn’t fall outside the parameters of BPS.

Does theory one suggest the victim and C were/are involved in a relationship of some description? Yes, it does, especially in the loosely defined sense contemplated by Illinois law, cited below.

N may or may not have known about this relationship. And if you’ve ever been a teenager in love, lust or infatuation, you can imagine how the victim felt about it. Does C really like me? Are we “officially” going out?


Talking to one player’s family this year, I remember a particular colloquy about modern dating: “They’ve been going out for 8 months, and (student-athlete) still doesn’t call (seemingly significant other) his girlfriend.”

Maybe C hit the victim out of jealousy, specifically because the victim wanted to attend a party at Jaylon Tate’s place.  How would the victim respond, emotionally? Wow, C really cares about me! I should not have goaded C this way. Something along those lines sounds depressingly familiar.

All of this would be irrelevant except that the victim surely perceived something dire in the line of questioning from the cops. Can we assume that a kind, calm police officer explained to the victim — perhaps in the immediate presence of C and N — that a charge of domestic battery would  remove of the perpetrator and/or require mandatory jail custody?

Illinois is not among the states that requires police to remove abusive husbands from any home investigated for a domestic disturbance. But Illinois specifically allows sworn officers to arrest suspected domestic offenders without a warrant.

(750 ILCS 60/Art. III heading)


Sec. 301. Arrest without warrant. (a) Any law enforcement officer may make an arrest without warrant if the officer has probable cause to believe that the person has committed or is committing any crime, including but not limited to violation of an order of protection, under Section 12-3.4 or 12-30 of the Criminal Code of 1961 or the Criminal Code of 2012, even if the crime was not committed in the presence of the officer.

The Illinois Domestic Violence Act of 1986 comes under the heading FAMILIES. But the text includes language which broadens its scope dramatically.The victim did know Jaylon Tate, yes. Do they have, or did they ever have the type of relationship that might spawn a charge of domestic battery under Illinois law?

(6) “Family or household members” include spouses, former spouses, parents, children, stepchildren and other persons related by blood or by present or prior marriage, persons who share or formerly shared a common dwelling, persons who have or allegedly have a child in common, persons who share or allegedly share a blood relationship through a child, persons who have or have had a dating or engagement relationship, persons with disabilities and their personal assistants, and caregivers as defined in Section 12-4.4a of the Criminal Code of 2012. For purposes of this paragraph, neither a casual acquaintanceship nor ordinary fraternization between 2 individuals in business or social contexts shall be deemed to constitute a dating relationship. In the case of a high-risk adult with disabilities, “family or household members” includes any person who has the responsibility for a high-risk adult as a result of a family relationship or who has assumed responsibility for all or a portion of the care of a high-risk adult with disabilities voluntarily, or by express or implied contract, or by court order.

Tate’s attorney Tom Bruno explained over the phone that he and I don’t have a dating relationship, because we’ve never had lunch together. But he asked rhetorically whether, if we’d had lunch three times, that might constitute a dating relationship?

Whatever benefits her friendship with Tate entailed, they did not include dinner and movies. All Illinois student-athletes eat lunch together at Memorial Stadium. Do they all have a dating relationship? Michael Finke and Leron Black slept in the same room for an entire year. Do they have a dating relationship?

I’m excluding at least three crucial details from this report. The most obvious is the victim’s name. Why? BECAUSE SHE’S THE VICTIM. She doesn’t deserve this article — or any story relating to this saga — to be a top search hit for future Googlers. Let that honor remain with stories of academic awards & accomplishments in the classroom.

The second detail might shed let light on why N was naïve, or why the victim chose reticence. It will become public if she wants it public. But it doesn’t bear any relationship to Jaylon Tate’s innocence, except perhaps to further cement it.

The third detail, like the second, involves the personal lives of young people. Attendees of Illini games appear, by and large, to be persons who grew up watching Ozzie & Harriett (and not in re-runs). Many were children in the Golden Age of Radio. They’re living in the age of Tinder, but they probably don’t know it.  So I’m going to follow the example of Rule 403, perhaps the most famous (among lawyers) of the Federal Rules of Evidence.

I hope the victim is getting a lot of support and unconditional love from her family right now. She’s going through some difficult stuff.


Returning to square one: Why was Jaylon Tate arrested? Did he have bruised knuckles?

The Illinois Domestic Violence Act of 1986 is not as stringent as state laws that require separation of domestic partners, but the arrest was clearly made in that spirit. The goal, as stated in the article linked above, is to allow a cooling off period, so the man doesn’t batter his wife to death in retaliation for calling the cops to their house.

But Jaylon Tate doesn’t share a house with the victim. He was not present. He was at a party, and later at a bar, in both cases among plenty of witnesses. He was not a threat to the victim.

Tate is famously friendly and good-natured.  Along with Mike LaTulip, he’s the calming influence among his teammates and larger social group. In the Word Association game I played with the team two years ago, plenty of personality types were presented. Tate was chosen by his peers as Jokester and Playful. Not all the categories were so friendly.

But he’s a black man.

It’s fair to ask, even if you detest Jesse Jackson, would a white girl have gone to jail that night, assuming all other facts being equal?

C, on the other hand, was not arrested. Was C questioned? Did C have bruised knuckles? Why were the police so uninterested in C?

The University of Illinois is focused like a laser on this topic. They brought in the Vice President of the United States to address it. Is that heightened scrutiny to blame for Jaylon Tate’s arrest?

Last week, I emailed  state’s attorney Julia Rietz asking “Will there be any investigation of the arresting officers? Any disciplinary action?”

The 1986 law requires

(750 ILCS 60/301.1) (from Ch. 40, par. 2313-1.1)

Sec. 301.1. Law enforcement policies. Every law enforcement agency shall develop, adopt, and implement written policies regarding arrest procedures for domestic violence incidents consistent with the provisions of this Act. In developing these policies, each law enforcement agency is encouraged to consult with community organizations and other law enforcement agencies with expertise in recognizing and handling domestic violence incidents.

Rietz has been responsive to such inquires in the past, and I believe she is dedicated to just outcomes. But so far, no response.

Nevertheless, I promise you, there will be an investigation.

Illini basketball

Pictures & Captions – Catamounts

Open any and all images in a separate tab/window to make them really, really big.


Illini basketball


The Illini men lost a season opener for the first time this century. Don’t worry about it. It just doesn’t matter.

Illinois found its on-court leader Friday night. And then it lost him. Worry about that, until a favorable prognosis is announced.

“AJ, get the fuck in the game” yelled Jaylon Tate to freshman Aaron Jordan, as the latter’s defensive lapses allowed North Florida to grab an early lead.

Tate is a beloved character on the team. Light-hearted, smart and wickedly funny. But he’s not a jokester about execution. Jordan and Jalen Coleman-Lands spent much of Friday out-of-position on defense. That’s not the reason Illinois lost. It was freshmen being freshmen.  In this case, the freshmen played their first game versus an NCAA tournament team of upperclassmen who played the game of their lives.

It happens.

On the drive to Springfield last week, Matt Campbell asked me to describe Mike Thorne’s game. Like a lot of Illini fans, he’s stopped paying year-round attention.

“He’ll shoot about 53% from the floor this year,” I told him. “He’ll miss 47% of his 2-to-3 footers,  so I think a lot of fans will find it maddening to watch him, because he’ll miss so many bunnies, and he refuses to use the backboard. But he’s got really quick feet.”

On Friday, “Big Bo” connected on 52% of his bunnies, and 3-of-8 free throws.  This will be your constant for the 2015-16 season. Everything else is subject to change.

John Groce scheduled this season as a precisely tuned entreaty to the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. He knew North Florida, North Dakota State and Chattanooga would boost his team’s RPI.

He didn’t know he’d be starting freshmen, and giving significant minutes to a walk-on.

“I’m not gonna sit here and tell ya that I thought Abrams, Black, Nunn … and Jaylon Tate would play half the game. I’d be lying if I said that to you.”

If those guys were all available, this team would still be behind Northern Florida. The Ospreys have chemistry. They’ve been together for a while. The Illini are all newcomers. Malcolm Hill is a newcomer to everyone he’s playing with (now that Jaylon Tate is gone).

This Illini team needs time to assimilate team defense. “Man-to-man” principles don’t apply in the John Groce era (nor Bruce Weber before him). It’s now about helping & hedging in the Pack-Line. Or it’s two-three zone. They’re both zone defenses, in traditional terms. And most Illini newcomers (and most Illini are newcomers) don’t get it yet.

But even if Aaron Jordan and Jalen Coleman-Lands had done everything right, defensively, on Friday; it just wouldn’t matter. Because all the really good-looking girls would still go out with guys from Mohawk because they’ve got all the money.

The Ospreys hit 52% from three. Their 6’8″ shooting guard/slasher hit 7-of-8 from deep. You can’t blame yourself for that kind of performance.

When Demetri McCamey and Mike Tisdale pulled a similar stunt on Bo Ryan, at Kohl in 2010, Wisconsin’s coaching legend was unruffled and unconcerned. There’s nothing you can do when a team drops threes from that distance, and that rate. (I write about this all the time, often referencing Illini anomalies versus Bo. Dee Champaign 2005, McBride 2006 and Jack @ Kohl 2005 are the other examples.)

You can blame yourself for Dallas Moore’s continual forays into the paint. The Illini haven’t figured out help defense.  There was no Sam McLaurin to shift into Victor Oladipo’s path to the basket. Maverick Morgan performed this role in the second half, but the game was already out of reach.

Groce gets a pass on all of this. Recruiting is not on the level we were promised. But this spate of injuries is unprecedented. If memory serves, you’ll know this author doesn’t go easy on coaches who deserve criticism.

Illini basketball

October 2015

This post has little entertainment value.  It’s not funny, and there’s not much insight into basketball, except for the Mike Thorne video, below. There’s some maudlin ranting at the bottom, but it’s not based on data.

Instead, this post is a behind-the-scenes wrap-up of October’s three Illini basketball events, two “media days” and one scrimmage. If you’re trying to kill time in an airport, and your free wi-fi just expired, this is the column for you.


You’ve read the coverage and the commentary. You already know the most-talked-about story is Big Bo, fifth-year senior Mike Thorne. The most impressive aspect of his performance, in my mind, was his footwork. He moves like a circus acrobat. He has phenomenal balance.

Here’s a video collage of his performance.

The biggest storyline went under-the-radar: Malcolm Hill acquitted himself at point guard. He handled a zone press, and distributed effectively. He dribbled between his legs just the way point guards are expected to do.

Malcolm as point guard is the solution to all of John Groce’s problems, if he can pull it off. It’s also Malcolm’s best position for NBA purposes. If John Groce can transform Malcolm Hill into an NBA point guard, he’ll have a hell of a story to tell prospective recruits.

If there’s anything this staff should be able to produce, it’s a point guard. Think about it. John Groce = D-III point guard. Paris Parham = D-II point guard. Dustin Ford = D-I point guard (mid-major). Jamall Walker = D-I point guard. Special Assistant to the Director of Atletics Dee Brown = Bob Cousy Award-Winning D-I point guard.

The All-In crowd was as big as fire code allows, which is not big.

No one paid to get in, and the DIA provided lunch catered by Hickory River Smokehouse. I ate pulled pork while gossiping off-the-record with Kathi LaTulip. (The LaTulip family will continue to travel for games, even though Mike’s potential for PT is now 0%.)

After the three 8 minute scrimmages, and a speech from John Groce, everyone lined up to get an autographed poster of the team. This poster had the season schedule printed, conveniently, right at the bottom, which reminded everyone that plenty of tickets remain for all games. DIA needs to remind people about each and every one of those games, at any opportunity.

These autographed posters have serious collector value, because each one was signed by Jerel Pitts, a 6’3″ freshman walk-on SG from Maywood (Proviso West) and nobody knows whether he’ll actually play on the team.


The B1G event moved across the street, from the Hyatt Regency O’Hare to the Marriott. The Marriott space is far more compact, which made the event feel smaller.

Stephen Bardo & Howard Moore stood chatting at the corner of the two hallways which housed all meeting and work rooms, effectively blocking traffic throughout the event. They were occasionally joined in conversation by players, coaches and fellow members of the media. When two or more persons joined in, it was literally impossible to get through.

I was one of those persons for a while. Afterward, I wondered if I should say “hey guys, you’re too big to stand here blocking traffic.” I chose against it. Bardo and Moore are super friendly, and would certainly have accommodated.  But a lot of the people they were blocking are insufferable assholes. So it kinda worked out.

B1G SID Brett McWethy shook things up this year, staggering the time slots of conference coaches’ availability, thus allowing reporters more face time. That was nice. Whether it translates for fan purposes, media logistics stuff has improved since Brett took the job a couple of years ago.

I got the feeling that most media outlets were not interested in John Groce. Chicago TV stations got a few seconds of soundbites, but spent less than two minutes with him. Illini beat writers spent more time listening to Malcolm Hill, whose availability was simultaneous to Groce’s, and one table over. Mark Tupper and Marcus Jackson barely attended Groce at all. Steve Greenberg and Shannon Ryan checked in and out and in.

Loren Tate dropped in to Groce’s availability to question Groce about availability (which is awesome, and one of the reasons why Loren Tate is still the best).  Tate’s latest column contrasts Groce’s secrecy with the openness of the coaches who preceded him, all of whom were more successful.

Malcolm Hill is good with the media. Groce is pretty far down the list of B1G coaches when it comes to public persona. He’s a numbers guy. You’d want him as your accountant, not a raconteur. Given the choices in the room, it made sense that Groce would spawn less interest than others. But that’s not the whole story.

Overall, it was plain that media outlets consider Illinois basketball an afterthought among conference contenders. Chris Collins fielded a larger entourage than Groce.  I always thought Al Gore got a bad rap, but Chris Collins is definitely wooden.

Tom Crean’s pack of onlookers was triple the size of Groce’s.  Crean enters his eighth season of Coaches on the Hot Seat. His teams routinely under-perform, and this year’s is more overrated than any of them. But Crean got more coverage.

That’s where Illini basketball is, October 2015.

Recalling Groce’s reaction to the Sun-Times Cliffmas headline “LOL ILL,” I wonder what his candid response would be to that question today: What kind of place is Illinois basketball in right now? (Excuse the syntax. That was the phrasing.)

Still, at least Groce had some interest. Eddie Jordan sat at the Rutgers table with a single beat reporter. Pat Chambers, Tim Miles and Richard Pitino hung out in the hallway rather than hiding in an off-limits greenroom. They and their programs all need more attention from the media, so they don’t hide from it.

These are the coaches expected to vie for first place … in the bottom half of the B1G.

The team arrived 30-40 minutes late, for some reason. They sat for a team photo.

Mark Jones, the primary in-house photographer of Illini sports for the last few decades, wanted a smiling version and a serious version. A few of the players tried to wipe the smirks from their faces while a few others attempted to put smirks on fellow players’ faces (i.e. to crack them up). Mike LaTulip played both sides of that fence.

There’s no format for interviews during the hour or so that players are available. Reporters and photographers huddle around individual players. If you absolutely need a quote from a guy, joining the huddle is the best way to ensure you get one.

That’s how most media operate. They don’t listen to everything an interviewee has to say. They “get a quote.”  In my opinion, it’s ethically bankrupt. Searching for quotes begets leading questions. Respondents respond. You get the story you seek. That’s bad reporting.

I try to hear and capture everything a person says. I’ll edit stuff for humor or concision purposes, but I try to record everything that’s made available for the record.

Anyway, back to Illini Media Day. Here’s how it works: The News-Gazette and the local TV stations set up photography stations in opposite corners of the men’s gym. I set up shop in the southwest corner.

I didn’t try to get time with D.J. Williams or Kendrick Nunn. Neither has ever seemed enamored of camera time.

I would have liked to talk with Leron Black and Tracy Abrams, but they’d disappeared by the time I finished my first six interviews. In fact, the gym was empty. SID Derrick Burson made it clear that he’d bring guys out of the team room if I wanted them, but I don’t like to do that. I made the exception with Jalen Coleman-Lands because he’s new. It was necessary to talk with him.

Thus, my annual pre-season video featured only half the team.

If you’ve watched any of my pre-season movies, it should be pretty obvious which players I prefer to interview. It has little to do with their prominence as on-court performers. Malcolm Hill is great with the camera and a star of the team. Mike LaTulip won’t play this year, and he’s a top go-to guy for me. (FYI, Mike was planning to redshirt last year, even after Abrams Injury #1. He won’t give up his final year of eligibility for  anything less than 10 minutes per game, and that would require four more season-ending injuries.)  Maverick Morgan and Jaylon Tate should work for Lorne Michaels, whatever their talents on court.

Guys who play a lot don’t necessarily have the perspective of guys who watch a lot.

Perspective is important this year. It won’t be the last for John Groce. It might be the penultimate. He’s  faced too many tribulations during the preceding months. Whatever happens this year, it’s not “on him.” Not this year.

But at the same time, this is the year Groce must make a statement to the people not buying tickets, to the point guards not choosing Illinois, to the media not lining up to hear his voice.

Illini basketball has wandered in the wilderness for ten years.  No one even argues about it at dinner anymore.  It’s simply not discussed.