It seemed like old times when Illini basketball fell behind Lewis 14-2 Friday night. After all, my first-ever write up of an Illini basketball contest was titled Illinois almost Lewis-es.
Then there was Chaos and Lewis.
Friday’s exhibition featured new faces prompting new story lines. The youngsters deserve the spotlight. They performed.
Kofi Cockburn tallied a double-double. His footwork seemed natural. He looked comfortable on the floor. He didn’t panic under pressure, but instead found Da’Monte Williams for an open three.
Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk converted three of three attempts from three. He converted two of two attempts from one.
Eleven points in eight minutes. Three rebounds. No fouls. And Brad Underwood was even more impressed by his defense than his O.
That last point is significant for two reasons. As Underwood pointed out, BBV has been fully cleared to practice for a total of five days in his career. And more importantly, what freshman big man was ever praised for his defense in a first-ever appearance?
Cockburn was so reliable in the paint, he was almost boring to watch. The hi-lo didn’t work right away because, as Underwood reported, Giorgi was a little too excited to get it going. i.e. Giorgi forced things. i.e. Giorgi was enthusiastic about passing to another guy so the other guy could score. It’s an excellent problem to have.
But Kofi didn’t show nerves. He merely executed.
Eventually the hi-lo worked. Giorgi and Kofi both finished with points, and Giorgi and Kofi both finished with assists. Kofi had 16 & 3. Giorgi had 12 & 2.
Kipper Nichols played the hi-lo as well. He threw two dimes, called out defenses, and rebounded/converted a missed Alan Griffin lay-up, despite much harassment.
Fellow old man Da’Monte Williams was up to his old man tricks. Even older Underwood mentioned these two in his postgame comments, and he probably wasn’t simply throwing a bone to the Groce recruits, who’ve been bypassed in the starting line-up.
Underwood can count on Williams in the same way that he counts on his son Tyler. And he did on Friday, when flashier players’ turnovers mounted.
Brad Underwood likes turnovers as much as the average basketball coach. Possibly less. He also enjoys watching his players shift out of position, reach in, foul jumpshooters, etc. just as much as the average coach.
When Alan Griffin had another Alan Griffin Moment, Underwood gave Griffin another Alan Griffin Brad Underwood Moment.
If Underwood is as hard on any other single player as he is on Alan Griffin, it hasn’t happened in public moments. It’s therefore almost impossible to avoid assuming that Underwood wouldn’t be so hard on Griffin if
- Underwood didn’t see enormous potential waiting to be tapped
- Griffin’s dad were not also a hard-nosed coach
Contrast Underwood’s praise for Jermaine Hamlin, whose performance was statistically the worst of any Illini. Five minutes, two rebounds – one of which was immediately stripped by a tiny D-II guard.
Underwood said he didn’t know how Hamlin could help the team this year, which should get Redshirt talk churning. But Underwood said he’d like Hamlin to be involved this year. Does that mean in games, or just practice?
The oldest guy in the house was Aaron Jordan.
He was present for the last Illini game at State Farm Center, of course. But that seems like ages ago, for a lot of reasons.
Aaron was working for money on Friday, not just for your enjoyment. He was part of the DIA marketing team. More fundamentally, Aaron attended his first Illini game where Rob Jordan wasn’t also in attendance.
People who didn’t know Rob Jordan might assume that his attendance streak would have ended with Aaron’s eligibility. People who knew Rob Jordan understand that he would have been there Friday night, not just to cheer Aaron’s new job, but only about 85% to cheer Aaron’s new job.
Had Rob Jordan not died suddenly this year, he would have continued to attend Illini games even after Aaron moved on and up in the world. Fundamentally, Rob was put on earth to yell at referees, to buy Cracker Jack (and tip the hawkers who brought it to his seat) and to socialize and enlighten people through networking. He was, after all, the Fiber Guru.
Rob Jordan was more important to Illini basketball than almost anyone understands, so it was especially nice to see his scion in attendance Friday. If you’re bored with reading about him, don’t check back next week. It’ll only get worse for you.