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Illini Basketball

HexFinity

The last time Illinois visited College Park was also the last game before The Ayo Era truly began. Like a lot of games against Maryland, it ended stupidly.

You’ve tried to forget Anthony Cowan’s 35-footer, and in part, you’ve been successful: You still remember it, but you think it won the game.

It didn’t. It tied the game.

Then things got stupider.

Illinois had this game in its pocket, until it didn’t.

The Illini had a chance to win in regulation. Or just kill the clock.

Instead, Cowan & Sticks Smith tackled Andres Feliz, stole his ball, and ran to the other end. One free-throw and one intentional miss later, Maryland had capped off yet another improbable defeat of Illinois.

Illinois led 57-48 with 4:12 remaining. Closing a game on a 1-11 run was the only way they could manage to lose, so that’s what they did.

It was arguably even stupider than the statistically impossible Terrapin comeback in Brad Underwood’s first year, when Da’Monte Williams had not yet become the unshakablest Illini.

After the December Debacle, Quam Dosunmu (the elder) was possessed by frustration. He hadn’t steered his son to the Illinois program to watch Andres Feliz get ripped in crunch time. His family hadn’t traveled to Washington to witness ignominious defeat.

Quam’s rant went on for quite some time, and I probably wasn’t the only one who listened to it. I was however, the only one present while he was ranting to me.

I never asked Quam’s permission to share his words, and I didn’t record them, or even make notes afterward. But none of that matters. Once The Legend of Ayo became a matter of record, the Dosunmu family no longer needed to campaign.

It wasn’t unreasonable to put the ball in Andre Feliz’s hands. After all, he’d closed the first half of that same game effectively.

But obviously, Illinois needed to ensure, from that point on, that Ayo Dosunmu had the ball when the game was on the line.

The rest is history.

Brad Underwood remembers the violence and the non-call, but he doesn’t remember the Xfinity Center as the place where he realized that, going forward, Illinois basketball would look to Ayo Dosunmu to close the door.

Or at least he’s not saying it.

Presumably, Quam shared his thoughts with Brad, too. The Dosunmus had an access that most families don’t enjoy. Was that part of the deal? Your guess is as good as mine.

Underwood probably wouldn’t like to develop a reputation for heeding the demands of disgruntled parents, because all parents are disgruntled at some point, and many carry a low intensity grudge throughout their son’s eligibility.

All we know is that after the game at Maryland, Things Changed.

Underwood is not the kind of guy who’s put off by a grudge, of course. He thrives on them. You noticed, as the team prepared for its first B1G road trip of this season, that winless at Carver-Hawkeye was made known to everyone. It’s a chip that Underwood carries. He carries that chip for the Xfinity Center, too.

Because Maryland is bad this year, Illinois has a good chance to get Brad his first College Park roadkill. And the truth is, this is a must win for the Illini. They can’t expect to compete for a B1G title if they lose to the last place teams.

Maryland is 1-6 in conference, and 9-9 overall. Their coach quit before the angry mob arrived. Interim coach Danny Manning has already been drummed out of P5 basketball. After getting Tulsa to the dance in his second year, he went 78–111 at Wake Forest.

But he’s 1-and-1 versus Underwood. And Brad knows that, too.

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Illini basketball Illini football

Lovie asked me to take a stand

A couple weeks ago, Lovie Smith asked me (and the Illini media pool) to declare our opinions about Charlottesville, Trump and The Star-Spangled Banner.

I decided this week would be an appropriate time to make that declaration. This week, Ayo Dosunmu will Officially Visit Illinois Basketball.

Everyone’s thinking about Ayo Dosunmu. I want Ayo Dosunmu to think about Lovie’s challenge.

I met Ayo once, with his dad, Quamdeen. I thought he said “Kwame,” a name I’ve heard before. If you’re descended from Europeans, you might not guess that their family name is pronounced Doh-SOO-moo.

Paris Parham was showing them around at a football game.  I asked Quamdeen (or “Coach Q” as he’s called by the pronunciation-challenged) “can I catch up with you guys at halftime?”

“Sure,” he said,  “cool.”

It didn’t work out. Like a lot of football games of the John Groce era, there wasn’t a whole lot of excitement on the field. The Dosunmus were gone by halftime.

At some point after his Official Visit this weekend, Ayo will choose between the University of Illinois and Danny Manning’s Demon Deacons of Wake Forest.

It just  happens that I was scouting Wake Forest yesterday. That is, I was StreetViewing Winston-Salem,  its hometown. Illini basketball will travel there in a few weeks, and I was looking at hotels, etc.

It’s gorgeous.

If I were coaching at Wake-Forest, I’d sell a kid on the beauty of that town.

But then I realized something. Winston-Salem is tobacco country. Their Kimpton Hotel (The Cardinal) is in the old RJ Reynolds building. Their town is named for two packs of cigarettes!

It’s the deep south.

This is Trump territory. These are the people who cheer every time Trump lambastes a conscientious objector. Their gorgeous centreville, old-timey and historic, is where slaves worked the fields. Those fields have been preserved.

There aren’t as many historic slave quarters in Winston-Salem as there are in some towns,  partly because the Moravian Church didn’t allow white locals to own slaves.

Instead, the church owned them.

I don’t know whether one can tour slave quarters anywhere near Wake Forest University. I toured them in Savannah, GA. They didn’t look very comfortable.

Savannah, perhaps because it’s so strongly associated with ante-bellum southern history, might avoid the anti-Confederate protests that toppled statues in Charlottesville and New Orleans.

I thought Savannah’s memorial to Confederate General Lafayette McLaws was an outstanding example of late 19th Century landscape architecture.

 

I don’t have any particular respect for the man memorialized here. But as art, I thought it was pretty cool. Then again, I’m a middle-aged white man. I’ve never been shot at. I’ve never even been billy-clubbed. That’s what the NFL protests are about, in case anyone forgot. Brutality.

I have been in Charlottesville, though. Two of my sisters lived there. Dave Matthews was their bartender at Miller’s. It seemed like a pleasant if humid place.

Except for this one time.

I was in the Food Lion, just before Thanksgiving 1993. I had a fancy Marantz tape recorder, which I got from the Quartermaster in NPR’s basement. I had the job of asking shoppers which one food item simply had to be on the table to make or break Thanksgiving.

I approached an old black woman in the frozen foods section. Her son was helping her shop. I introduced myself and posed my question.

The old woman did not look me in the eye. She didn’t look up at all. Then her son leaned close to her ear, and whispered “it’s okay.”

And then she answered me.

I don’t remember what her favorite Thanksgiving item was. Her answer probably made the cut for the Morning Edition special that ran the following Thursday. It was an authentic American voice.

But I’ll never forget that she was afraid of me, that she needed permission to talk to me.

I saw her everywhere as I continued my StreetView tour of Winston-Salem. I imagined her bent over in the tobacco drying barn, just like she leaned over the freezer in that Food Lion. I have no doubt she worked hard all her life.

It was great that North Carolina voted for Barack Obama in 2008.  It seemed like progress for a state that foisted Jesse Helms on us for three decades. But then in 2012, the state reverted to red. And last year, it swung the presidency to Donald Trump.

When Lovie asked me to declare my opinion about Trump and the NFL protests, he was too late. I wrote about this issue last year.

But this column is about Ayo Dosunmu, not Colin Kaepernick. This week, Ayo will choose between the state that gave the world Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama, and the state that gave us Donald Trump.

I want Ayo to think about that before he makes his decision.

I don’t know if the rest of the Illini media pool will follow Lovie’s directive to voice an opinion on Trump v. NFL Players. But before Lovie arrived that day, we were already talking about the issue. So whether any of my colleagues declares a stance on the issue, it’s important to recognize that they’re an informed, engaged group of people.

Loren Tate spent the lunch hour Googling the history of The Star-Spangled Banner as a sports tradition. He announced, shortly before the presser began, that Woodrow Wilson had ordered the anthem to be performed during military ceremonies in 1916.

“Loren, you do realize Woodrow Wilson was the worst president in U.S. history,” I observed.

I believe this to be true.  The usual suspects can’t hold a candle to Wilson’s malfeasance because they were incompetent.

“I think Buchanan’s got that one wrapped up,” Jeremy Werner retorted.

Wilson was the worst because he wasn’t incompetent.  He was extremely intelligent, and used his power to suppress freedoms we take for granted today.

Shannon Ryan perked up at the Wilson criticism, reminding the group of Wilson’s fanatical white supremacism. “And he resegregated the civil service,” I responded.

“What about Andrew Jackson?” asked Scott Beatty.

“He killed a lot of Indians,” I answered. “So there’s that. But you have to understand the time …” I finished, weakly, not quite sure why that rationalization would exonerate any military leader.

Scott Richey asked about the Trail of Tears, having not heard other Scott’s question.

Turning back to Jeremy, wanting to make a point, I outed myself as a Buchanan apologist. “I disagree with 99% of U.S historian, including my father, about Buchanan,” I told them. “I think there’s strong Constitutional argument against keeping states that don’t want to be a part of the union.”

Abraham Lincoln disagreed with me, of course.   A few hundred thousand people died, and we still haven’t really won back the south. In fact, they seem to be running the show.

I don’t know whether any of these considerations will factor into Ayo’s decision. Our state is bankrupt, for sure. It’s because we provided health care for all children, and codified pension rights in our constitution.  Whatever we’ve built here in Illinois, the workers got paid to build it. In North Carolina, the labor was “free.”

And now that white nationalists feel emboldened by their president to rally in public, we know that a lot of those unreconstructed southerners wish to return to those “good ole days.”

Not me.

My defense of James Buchanan is theoretical. As a matter of principle, Lincoln won the argument.

I hope Ayo gets a chance to meet with the football staff during his Official Visit. In these difficult times, it’s reassuring to have Lovie Smith, Hardy Nickerson and Garrick McGee representing the state of Illinois.  For the country, it’s never been more urgent to have capable,  talented, erudite black men who aren’t afraid to speak their minds intelligently and compassionately about the importance of free speech, peaceful protest, and fundamental rights.

For the record, I agree with them. That’s my opinion.