Smile Politely

Active Hands

Too much to process.

Saturday afternoon, the Gods of Illini basketball descended en masse. The current Illini pummeled Penn State (actual fists were involved). Aaron Jordan brought his whole family, and a verbal commitment.

Strangely, here’s what I’ll always remember about the day: Randy Chattic has a weird viral illness, and Andy Kaufmann is stunningly humble for a guy who’s borne the Arrogant Ballhog tag for a quarter century.

The basketball game was utterly forgettable. I barely remember it even now. (Of course, I don’t pay much attention to the games.)  For the record — I mean that literally, to preserve a recorded entry into the chronicles of Things That Happened — I’d better just go ahead and list some details.

Illinois 75, Penn State 55

The Illini started each half with a 9-0 run.

Rayvonte Rice led the team in scoring, again, despite converting only one (1) two-pointer.

Tracy Abrams also converted a single two-pointer. They both hit 2-of-3 from three.

Malcolm Hill and Jaylon Tate hit 4-of-4 from the charity stripe. In all, the Illini converted 28-of-35 free throws. I remember 4th grade really well, and that’s 80%. But to me, it’s the 35 that sticks out. It would be nice to see this team attempt 35 to 40 free throws every game. Guys like Rice have already figured out that you can make a living on the free throw line.

The Nittanys attempted only 22 freebies. They converted 16.

There’s a lesson in these statistics. The Illinois team has learned something about active hands (for the most part). *

They’ve learned from constant drilling. Coaches Dustin Ford and Jamall Walker are especially persistent in reminders about defensive positioning, and hands. By now, most of the team knows when to reach in. They keep their hands high to avoid contact fouls. 

*(Austin Colbert fouled out in only four minutes, because he hasn’t quite cottoned on to the lessons, yet.)

It seemed like Illinois grabbed all the rebounds, but the final tally was 44-33.

PSU came in averaging about 80 points per game. The Illini held them just under 30% from the field.

Tim Frazier and DJ Newbill are pretty good at basketball. John Johnson torched the Illini from deep (team-high 18 points). So maybe the return game will be more interesting than this one. I hope not. I’d like to exorcise the Ghost of Ed DeChellis once and for all. PSU doesn’t care about basketball. Illinois should beat them twice per year, without a whole lot of drama.

Frazier scored a season low 10 points, and Newbill made only 1-of-6 first half shots. In the second half, he bit at Kendrick Nunn’s bait, and was ejected. I suppose that’s what most people will remember about this game. As fights go, it was pretty tame stuff. Still, it doesn’t make Penn State look any better. As if they didn’t already have a PR problem.

I’d intended to ask Patrick Chambers about the current mood in his athletic department. But his postgame presser started before many of us media types could make it downstairs. I don’t think there were any traveling PSU media.  Wait, hold on. This is the information age. I’ll find out.

OK, I’m back.

No, there were no media from Penn State. Only their radio network people, who probably travel with the team, just like Jerry, Brian and Ed. That’s how little PSU cares about basketball.

Here’s what I got of Chambers’s minute long postgame. About half.

The B1G mandates postgame face time, and Chambers didn’t meet the time allotment. But surely we’ve punished Penn State enough, right?


Randy Chattic, you’ll recall, is Lorita Bertrand’s brother. Joe Bertrand has something like 68 aunts and uncles, and Randy is one of them. He just spent two weeks in the hospital, with a pain in his right kidney. He lost 30 pounds. Medical science can’t figure out what was wrong with him, but they think he’s going to be back to normal in a couple more weeks.

He was well enough to attend the PSU game, just in time to land a commitment from Aaron Jordan.

I may be imagining that Randy was vital to the recruitment of Jordan. I may also be imagining that Gary LaTulip was vital in that recruitment. (You’ll also recall Gary was the point man in the unofficial recruitment process.) But I can tell you this much, for sure: The culture of Illini as Family grew Saturday.

The Bertrands are a diverse bunch. There’s a lot of personality. The Jordans, as a family, have a lot of personality. Both Cliff Pauls were on hand Saturday, as well.

And the Finke brigade:

It was like a full-court press of good-natured elders. The Jordans were surrounded on all sides.

I don’t like it when “family values” is exploited for political purposes. But I’m fine with it for basketball recruiting. These people are all genuinely nice, and entertaining. I’m sure that weighed heavily in the Jordans’ analysis.

The 25th reunion of the Flyin’ Illini, a team nursing a hairline fracture following the release of Steve Bardo’s memoirs, produced a photo op. 

Otherwise, the team kept to itself. The attendees — greying one-and-all — sat with their SOs and offspring, behind the Illini bench.

Kendall Gill’s youngest (about two years old and two feet high) dunked a handful of orange peel in an adjacent 30-gallon garbage can. That was the highlight of the day.

They had a private party on Friday night, where they mingled with the 2014 team. But despite the ongoing, perhaps undying love for that team in the hearts of longtime Illini fans; the reunion was not for the public. It was for the people involved.

I’m impressed that Rod Cardinal somehow found everyone, and persuaded them to convene in the frozen Midwest for a Penn State game. The man is a magician. He even got Andy Kaufmann to come back, for the very first time.

But the person I was most surprised to see was Rodney Jones. I guess I never realized that he was on campus that year. His stay was brief, and relatively uneventful, apart from the fact that it began and ended badly. But he was on the squad that year. So Rod Cardinal found him, and got him to come back.

Andy Kaufmann came with his wife and children. He’d never been back since his college days. He gave the most remarkable interview I’ve ever recorded. Without further comment, here it is.

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