Illini basketball

Jalen Coleman-Lands attends his first Illini game

Saturday’s game in Columbus was not entirely disastrous for Illinois.

For one thing, Rayvonte Rice continued to prove himself a deadly shooter, which was decidedly not his M.O. as a state champion high school tweener. Ray connected on 7-of-8 from the field, including 4-of-5 from downtown. When his non-shooting hand heals from Wednesday’s surgery, we can all hope his muscle-memory remains intact.

Ray’s replacement as dead-eye-two-guard-who’ll-sometimes-play-point, Jalen Coleman-Lands, was in attendance for The Rayvonte Show.

Behind the Ohio State bench, the entire La Lumiere team watched the game, along with coach Shane Heirman and assistant headmaster Kevin Kunst, who is also Jalen’s A.P. Econ instructor.

Jalen’s brother Isaiah is a member of the La Lumiere team as well. He sat to Jalen’s right, in the row of folding chairs immediately behind the Buckeye bench. Their parents, Dionne Coleman Lands and Piankhi Lands, sat to Jalen’s left.

Finding all the Coleman-Landses in one spot is a little bit like stumbling upon a pack of snow leopards. Their reputation among the Illini media pool has developed entirely in their absence.  They’re just not all that interested in talking to sports reporters. That’s why you never read interviews from Jalen.

Another reason you’ve not read/viewed many interviews with JC-L is that, as far as we know, he’s never attended an Illini game before Saturday. I asked John Groce if that game in Columbus was Jalen’s first. He wasn’t sure. News-Gazette beat writer Marcus Jackson said “I think so.”

Heck, most of us didn’t even know his name was Coleman-Lands until the day he committed to Illinois.

Piankhi Lands pointed out that his family is not averse to media. He contrasted his son to a different variety of high school phenom, the type that loves the hype. “He just doesn’t need that,” said Lands Sr.

Jalen’s only question regarding a potential interview was “how long will it take?” And he asked it twice.

That’s not to be read as implying a sense of ennui. Rather, Jalen’s team had a tight schedule, and as Heirman said, La Lumiere needed to hang out with the Ohio State people, because they were hosting his team.

Isaiah and his parents’ primary post-game responsibilities also involved the OSU program. Assistant coach Jeff Boals was their tour guide for an unofficial visit, which began with a look at the facilities in the bowels of Value City Arena. (Illinois is not recruiting the younger Coleman-Lands.)

La Lumiere is, like Chicago Simeon, a school that attracts great basketball players. You might even say it poaches them from other schools. Jalen Coleman-Lands might still be playing for Indianapolis Cathedral this year. But La Lu offered a full ride for both brothers, which Cathedral couldn’t match.

So Jalen & Isaiah study, eat and sleep in LaPorte, Indiana. Kunst also lives on the La Lu campus. “My house is right behind my office.”

To Americans, it might seem odd to send one’s teenagers away to a dormitory boarding school.

But the English upper-class have been doing it for centuries. And honestly, what parents wouldn’t want to get their teenagers out of the house? If there’s a first rate education and free meals involved, it’s a difficult proposition to turn down.

On the other hand, Heirman describes the family as a cohesive unit. “They’re phenomenal people. You’re not going to find parents giving a better message to their kids. You go back to their house, they’re playing board games, they’re hanging out and talking about life & current events. They’re watching documentaries.

“It’s a pretty cool household.”

For what it’s worth, Illinois basketball has now played a game in front of the entire Simeon and La Lu rosters, this season. Although the Groce Administration has cast a wider net than any previous Illinois coaching staff, they could stock Big Ten contenders just by recruiting these two schools.

Simeon’s freshman phenom point guard Marquise “Kezo” Brown has already visited, unofficially, this season. He arrived late to that game, but his assistant coach Melvin Nunn had the BTN2Go streamcasting all the way down I-57, so Kezo didn’t actually miss any of the game.

Now we’ll just have to wait and see whether La Lu’s Nolan Narain makes the trip to Champaign.