Smile Politely

40 minutes of smell

Illinois’ last-minute heroics were no match for Dayton’s entire-game heroics.

Dayton dominated from start to finish. They were faster, stronger. They jumped higher. Their shots went in.

Don’t be deceived by the 77–71 score. In the final minutes, all the game stats got screwed up. For posterity, it should be noted that this game was a blow out. The score makes the game look like a contest. It wasn’t.

The rebound margin is even more misleading. Individual rebounds (and deadball rebounds) stats say Illinois eeked out a 43 (+4) to 40(+5) advantage. Whatever. Dayton coach Brian Gregory was almost indignant about that tally, pointing out that the last two minutes — in which Illinois pressed and fouled and pressed and fouled — skewed the result.

Illinois’ best rebounder watches Dayton rebounding

Moreover, the profusion of missed shots, missed tips, missed putbacks padded the Illini rebound stats without providing any actual advantage.

Dayton’s brawny-yet-lithe 6’10” center Kurt Huelsman played only 24 minutes, but was somehow able to box out two or three Illini even while sitting on the bench.

Huelsman wasn’t the only one.

At the nine minute mark of the second half, Brandon Paul and Dominique Keller took turns trying to post-up Dayton star forward Chris Wright. Both times Wright easily moved his Illini opponent right off the block.


In the locker room, I had time to talk with five of the Illini.

With Bill Cole and Mike Tisdale, the talk was mostly about the game. With Mike Davis, Jeff Jordan and DJ Richardson, the focus was improving over the summer.

Tisdale speaks:

DJ speaks:

Bill Cole speaks:

Mike Davis speaks:

Jordan speaks:



In too many ways, the year’s Illini team never improved. Some things got worse.

As Coach Tate pointed out on Saint Patrick’s Day, the Illinois offense scheme dwindled to one play — the McCamey & Tisdale pick ‘n pop “over and over and over and over and over.”

Tate speaks:


As opponents increased their hedging, and quit buying the fake, the play morphed into the McCamey drive and leap. Sometimes it worked.

Hmm, what to do…

The freshmen finished the season looking no more conversant with the offense than they appeared in December. Against Dayton, DJ Richardson and Brandon Paul were noticeably out of position in different sets. If you couldn’t tell it by seeing two guys running side-by-side along identical routes, you could see it in the bemused countenances of the upperclassmen.

Brandon’s the real enigma.

He finished the year hitting 33% of his shots, and 28% from distance. He often appeared to be playing one-on-five, but seemed to have the green light all the way.

Contrast Jeff Jordan, who finished the season hitting 44% of his shots. When I asked him Jeff whether he had the green light he said, “I don’t know,” and added “they want me to concentrate on passing.”

Tyler Griffey acknowledges that he’s still not finding himself in the rights spots per the coach’s complicated hedging, switching, helping and yet otherwise “man-to-man” defense.


This season was expected to be better. Next year is predicted to be better. In each case, the most cited reason for higher expectations is the infusion of new talent is. The expected improved strength and maturity of the upperclassmen is second.

As of this moment, the team is Demetri McCamey.

Dayton played 11 guys and ran Illinois into the ground. Sometimes they’d already dunked by the time Illinois defenders made it to half court.

Demetri played all 40 minutes against Dayton. He played all 40 minutes at Stony Brook, too. And although not all 40 minutes are the same, these games were hectic. By crunch time, when Illinois most needed a jolt, McCamey was visibly dragging.

Coach Gregory said before the game that his longer bench is the product of having better recruits. He specified that these guys are superior athletes (as opposed to superior basketball players). i.e. he recognized and exploited his team’s strength.

It’s the same thing Illinois faced against Missouri and Minnesota. The results are consistent.

Demetri says he’s coming back next year. Will he play fewer minutes next year? Will Illinois press more? Will the short bench expand to include the new players? Will anyone go the way of Richard Semrau?


Northwestern point guard Michael “Juice” Thompson was in the stands on Wednesday. He came to watch his friend Jeff Jordan.

R-L Juice, his girlfriend Brittany, and Jeff’s girlfriend Share

Referee Pat Driscoll is the son of congressmen Fred Grandy and Bart Stupak.


Related Articles