Geoff Alexander said “That’s it. I’m retiring,” His head coaching debut was that good.
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.
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.
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.