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COVID-19 Illini Basketball

The Cameron Streak

It doesn’t matter that this year’s Duke team is overrated because its name is Duke. It doesn’t matter that it’s inexperienced and young.

Illinois is in the middle of a win streak at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and that streak is heading into its 26th year. That’s the important thing.

Whether it’s Chris Collins or Shaun Livingston or even John Scheyer; some Illinoisans need to be reminded that there’s only one team that’s undefeated in a quarter-century at Cameron Indoor Stadium. It’s the Illinois Fighting Illini.*

Also important is that any uncertainty following the Baylor loss is now forgotten by the people whose haunted memories matter most: Illini players.

Yes, it’s also nice that AP Top 25 voters will regard the Triumph at Cameron as proving something something undeniable pedigree.

A week after Baylor’s pre-game prep and in-game execution pantsed the Illini for 89 consecutive seconds, Illinois pounded Duke for about 37 minutes, while still committing enough boneheaded errors to provide the coaching staff with talking points, and keep practice interesting.

At most, two or three of those AP voters will remember that Kofi was inconsistent around the rim. Some of them know who Andre Curbelo is, but as long as the Illini narrative begins and ends with Ayo; Belo won’t be praised for igniting the offense, nor blamed for his wild rampages through Duke’s press.

Brad Underwood said Belo’s never faced a press. By the same token, Kofi and Giorgi have rarely battled defenders who combine freakish height with freakish athleticism.

Duke was a great lesson in that sense. The Illini bigs learned they can’t rely on low-post moves that lesser opponents were physically incapable of stopping.

Can one declare a coming out party for a chap as taciturn as Da’Monte Williams? Before a crowd of dozens, with millions more watching on TV, Monte continued his recent Arc Odyssey, swatted & recovered an alley-oop, and perpetrated Little Things on unsuspecting Dukies.

People should start comparing Monte to Lucas Johnson. He gets in people’s heads. And armpits.

Ayo won praise for an all-around effort, and he wasn’t humble about it. He blew off the notion that beating Duke means something, but accepted the suggestion that he played a complete game.

If you’ve seen any references to Bryant Notree, Matt Heldman or Chris Gandy over the last ten days, you can rest assured that Tuesday’s game at Cameron has already cemented itself a place in Illini lore.

It doesn’t matter whether it was a good game. It was A Great Game.

*Even if this statistic is not true, it’s true anyway. You know it in your heart.

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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.