Illini basketball

The Baylor Scout

At about 1 a.m. Central Standard time, Paris Parham and Jamall Walker stood in the huge passageway connecting the Orleans Arena to its administrative areas, locker rooms, and public toilets. Jamall called to one of the organizers of the Las Vegas Invitational, inquiring about DVD  copies of the Baylor-Memphis game the two had just watched, along with Ryan Pedon.

The three assistants had different duties. Walker was responsible for scouting Memphis. Parham was responsible for Baylor. Pedon is responsible for advanced scouting, no matter the opponent.

Memphis led 32-29 at halftime. But by the 16:00 media timeout of the 2nd period, the Tigers were clearly out of gas. It was about midnight, body time. That was true for Baylor, too. And in fact, both teams got really sloppy at about that point. But Taurean Prince and Royce O’Neale found a second wind, and propelled Baylor to a 71-47 win. That’s the same margin of victory Illinois enjoyed over Indiana State.

The staff of the Las Vegas Invitational, Indiana State SID Achim “Ace” Hunt plus a couple of volunteers, had been up since … well, probably even earlier than the Illini assistants. They delivered a stack of game books (box score + play-by-play) to Pedon. Maybe they tracked down the DVDs, too.

If not, it’s a trifling matter. Both Parham and Walker had video of all the other Memphis and Baylor games, already stored & broken down, on their laptops. In fact, as the live game played out on the Orleans Arena court, the three of them compared live plays to stored video from previous games.

The players wouldn’t see anything until the morning. Presumably, they were already in bed. Parham’s wife Keisha and younger son Kai were (hopefully) also asleep, back at the Renaissance Hotel. Also making the trip were the Allison Groce and her boys, Erin Basgier, and Marcie Ford plus Max and Abbie. Neither Allison nor Marcie was thrilled with the activities Vegas provides for younger people.

“Younger people” is, of course, a relative term. Abbie and Kai are old enough to appreciate Vegas simply  for its 70 degrees and sun. Erin and Mike Basgier had a date for a restaurant named “Tao” after the game. (I don’t think they’re Buddhists, but they are interesting.) Max Ford, and the Groce boys, needed something to do. Guzzling liquor and cigarettes and the blackjack table is not yet an option. (Plenty of orange clad gamers did sit at those tables, feeding the Orleans coffers, before & after the 2 p.m. start, and they were plenty drunk throughout the game. So don’t worry about Vegas, it made its payroll.)

The only two “younger” people in a good position to enjoy Vegas nightlife were Sam McLaurin, and his girlfriend Noelle Paquette. Sam is currently located in San Marcos, Texas. He’s working in the construction industry, and it keeps him on the move. But he still makes it to an Illini game now and then.

I thought it was pretty fun that Noelle’s last name is “Paquette.” It would have worked so well in the Introducing Sam McLaurin video.

After this one, and before he and Noelle had a chance to sample Vegas nightlife, Sam took the time to greet intoxicated Illini fans, many of whom remembered who he was. “What year did you play?” asked one fifty-ish woman. “You’re ‘Canada’ right?” (referring to Jean Selus.)

More booze tonight, and headaches tomorrow, for Illini fans.  New Year’s resolutions are still a month away.

Illini basketball

O & B scrimmage 2014: The Malcolm Hill Show

Blog-reading Illini fans are the most likely, among all Illini fans, to watch streaming video. So my assumption is that most people who’ll read this post saw the Orange & Blue scrimmage for themselves.

Hence, I’ll try not to tell you things you already know, except to say that the team shot poorly at first. Overall, the very unofficial statistic was 33-of-83 on the day, for all FG attempts. That’s 39.7%. It’s not a terrible number, but little better than last year’s 38%.

About half of the teams’ total points were scored in the third of three periods. So it would seem that they needed to acclimate to the crowd, or the format.

Jaylon Tate and Ahmad Starks looked sharp, in completely different ways.

Jaylon’s passing impressed the small crowd, perhaps more than anything else. That’s nothing new. His 1-of-7 shooting shouldn’t be overlooked, but overall, Jaylon was solid. Most importantly, he’s entertaining. Until basketball morphs entirely into soccer with hands, entertainment will still be an important factor in drawing spectators.

Ahmad penetrated and dished. He penetrated and elevated for mid-range jumpers. He shot 1-of-6 from the arc, and that won’t get the job done. But otherwise, his offensive game looked good.

Contrast Aaron Cosby, who faded into the background from the opening tip. Did Cosby play poorly? John Groce didn’t think so. He reiterated that Cosby’s on-ball defense is a great strength, and a facet of Cosby’s game that goes largely unnoticed.

The player of the game, on his 19th birthday, was Malcolm Hill. The game seems to come to him. He never appears to be moving fast, but no one seems able to stop him.

Malcolm’s personality has changed drastically since he first arrived on campus. His mother, Machanda, says he’s always been outgoing and funny. But until recently, only a select few got to see it. Malcolm admitted as much after the scrimmage.

The college experience does that to a lot of people, and Malcolm seems to be soaking up everything. His mother was beaming for most of the day. I visited with her and Keisha Parham while the team sat for its autograph session. These are two Power Moms. (I like Paris Parham a lot, but Keisha is clearly the star of the family.) They enjoyed talking about their sons’ intellectual development.

Keisha was happy to report that middle-schooler Kai came home the other day asking whether she was familiar with MLA Style. Kai still wants to be an entomologist and not an English professor, but even research papers on millipedes need a works cited page.

Machanda reported that Malcolm had a similar question, after taking an economics course over the summer: Was she familiar with GDP?

“Malcolm,” the Senior Budget Analyst at Washington University replied, “I have a degree in finance. Yes, I know about GDP.”

That was funny.

Leron Black looked solid at the four. He presented as advertised. He nailed mid-range jumpers, and rebounded.

I met Leron, really for the first time, after the scrimmage. Previously, we’d never really talked. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Some college freshmen are shy, and still seem like children. Some seem like full grown adults. I’d assumed that Leron might veer toward the former, personality-wise. I have nothing to base that assumption on, other than the fact that he’s been reported to be devout, quiet, humble, etc. things you’ve already read about him on the Internet.

But Leron is definitely the latter. In fact, I’d be surprised if he was ever a child.

I’d asked his roommate, Michael Finke, to stick around, just in case Leron might be uncomfortable with my quirky questions. But Leron totally got it. He was a riot. I’m looking forward to more.

John Groce introduced the entire support staff, including team yogi Kristina Reese. “We bow to her,” Groce said. And then they all literally bowed to her.

I’m glad he pointed her out, because I was very confused. First I thought Miley Cyrus was in the gym. Gosh, I told myself, my story will be linked on the front page of Huffington Post!

It’s not unusual to see a perfect physical specimen at the Ubben. It happens all the time. Fit student-athletes routinely parade through, in exercise gear. What’s rare is blue hair and thrift store chic. (Possibly Furniture Lounge?)

I love the fact that John Groce (let’s face it, a conservative Midwestern .. okay, I’ll just say it:  Indiana guy) looks beyond the conventional to make his team better, and healthier. I LOVE it that these guys bow to a pixie with blue hair.

Kristina teaches mostly at The Refinery, but you can also find her at the Mettler Center and the Y.

Nnanna Egwu played a lot of minutes at the power-forward position, and attempted four three-pointers. (He shot at least one of those while playing the five.)

Although his long-distance shot looks smooth, the niftiest Egwu bucket came on a left-handed hook shot, from about four feet out.

He also buried a hook with his right hand. Nnanna’s experimentation with ball-handling didn’t always work:  In trying to dribble at the high-post, Nnanna was stripped of the ball.

Michael Finke also brought the ball below his waist, after taking a pass in the short corner. He may need to correct that tendency, especially if he’s going to play primarily at the five.


On the other hand, Finke’s footwork was much better than even the referees gave him credit for. I asked both Michael and Jamall Walker for their opinions on Finke’s two traveling calls.

They both conceded the second one. But the first call was wrong. Michael made an excellent spin move. It still wasn’t legal, because he reached out with his left hand to hook Leron Black. “He’s gotta use his elbow to do that,” said Walker.

Were we expecting that move from Finke?  I wasn’t.

Walker also mentioned that Kendrick Nunn’s absence from the scrimmage was completely precautionary. He expects Nunn to be back in practice, at full strength, next week.


Take Italy of your summer travel schedule. Or at least, change the dates. Mark Morris says it’s looking like Belgium and France instead. That’s August 9 through 19, between summer school and the fall semester.