Smile Politely

A case of the runs

Ignore the $1.3 million you’ll be paying him on April 30; no one needs a kick in the nuts less, at this moment, than Bruce Weber.

He lost Friday, in a 413 seed match-up. Lots, no I really mean lots of media  attention has already been paid to his in-game strategic abilities.

Why, oh god why did I feel the need to bring him up, at the very start of my column? you may very well ask. Especially if you’ve been a protected Scout board Weber apologist for the last six, dreadful years.

Here’s my answer: Listen to the players. Hear what they say.  It’s not that they hate Weber. They don’t.

It’s that Weber failed to instill the je ne sais quoi that propels teams to victory.

John Groce, Dustin Ford, Jamall Walker, and Paris Parham combined to create a vibe that propels this team through tough situations. Maybe Mike Basgier and Paul Schmidt do it too.

Whatever the case, this Illini team responds to adversity where the last Illini team folded. Is Sam McLaurin that much better than Meyers Leonard? 

This Illini team withstood a 21–0 run, and answered. I’ve never seen anything like that in basketball. John Groce has never seen anything like that in basketball. But that doesn’t mean John Groce doesn’t know what he’s doing.

Because my time in Austin is so focused on parenting, I may be obsessing over Groce’s positive psychology and his emphasis on teaching. 

But I can’t ignore the outcomes. I wrote about Bruce Weber for a long time. I observed him and his teams, and their emotional make-up.

This is different.

I won’t say Weber would have lost this game. But I doubt Weber would have inspired this team to plow through the dark quarter. (Illinois scored zero FGs for the first eleven-and-a-fucking-half minutes of the second period, and three total after halftime.)

The players keep saying the same thing about Groce and his staff. “Positive” is the single word that might best express the message received. “Encouraging” is another.

Yes, most postgame media availabilities involve boring questions and prepared answers. The answers are always the same, and often don’t respond directly to the questions. Consequently, they’re dull. Subsequently, you tune out.

But sometimes it’s important to heed the message, even if it seems pedestrian, coachspeak, boilerplate.

All season you’ve heard about the encouragement, the positive vibe these new Illini coaches inflict on their recently woeful bunch. Ingrained cynicism notwithstanding, I am prepared to say the youngsters actually believe it. I think it’s real.

Illinois played two great quarters of basketball Friday afternoon. One quarter was awesome on both ends. The other was awesome only on the defensive end. It was enough, and the Illini advanced. It’s the results that matter.


Don and Terri Berardini do not express themselves as hoighty-toighty, not by any means. They do live in Lake Forest, but they always behave like wholly middle-class persons.

Don said he used all his miles to get them, Kevin’s parents, to Austin. Don is responsible for selling Notre Dame football to radio advertisers, so he’ll probably accrue more miles before you can say John Mackovic was awesome! Terri lamented the seniors’ parents’ absence, and the NCAA’s refusal to allow team plane traveling privileges to families, “especially the seniors.”

Only Chris Griffey, of all the senior families, made it to Austin. Redshirt junior parent Lorita Bertrand made it, along with Joe’s uncle Randy Chattic. Three LaTulips and Chris Griffey (dad) rounded out the Family Class.

Terri was especially upset that Cliff and Lynda (the Pauls) weren’t on hand. I agree with her: If there’s a plane chartered for billion-dollar purposes — and let me tell you, this March Madness extravaganza is as lucrative as madness gets, barring Howard Hughes’s estate settlement — parents should be allowed to fly on that charter.

The tournament demands travel within two to three days of its own (fancy, gilded) self-announcement. There’s no advanced booking = all travel is expensive.

While the NCAA collects the money, it treats the parents like tourists. It insists on referring to their children as “student-athletes” because “moneymaker” and “goldmine” might cause offense.


Sorry, I got all maudlin in the face of a win. I’ll concetrate on good things now.

The announced attendance for both Friday sessions was 3,000 fewer than Erwin capacity. You could still drive down for Sunday’s 7:40 tip. There are probably even more tickets for that game.

Austin is everything to all people, and if you join me, I’ll buy you a beer.

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