Smile Politely

Boiler Over

A streak ends, a streak begins. After trying for four years, the once-ballyhooed Class of 2009 finally beat Purdue.

It wasn’t hard. Purdue stinks like the fruit of a rotting Keady Tree.

In truth, it’s hard to envision Purdue as anything but shitty for the foreseeable future. Matt Painter got a lot of mileage from that one recruiting class, but 2007 is finally over. 

Their most reliable player will graduate this year. Their best scorer will play another year at SG, ostensibly keeping their best reserve and their best prospect on the bench for another season — unless Painter decides to play Raphael Davis or Kendall Stephens at the wing.  That would be outside-the-box thinking. You know how flexible the Keady Tree is.

And where does that leave Anthony Johnson?

You can see why Gary Harris chose MSU over his mother’s alma mater. Where on the depth chart would Harris appear?

Meanwhile, Painter is grooming Donnie Hale to be the next Todd Jadlow. And why not? When AJ Hammons leaves for the NBA, Jacob Lawson will have to play at the the 5. Jay Simpson may turn out to be Brian Cardinal Part II, but you’d get excellent odds on such a bet.

If Hammons stays for a sophomore season, he might produce some variety of excitement. But will it be the scoring kind, or the ham-fisting the ball into the third row kind of excitement? And who will get him the ball? Ronnie Johnson had five get him the balls against Illinois, but he also had five ham-fisting the ball into the third rows. It’s too soon to say whether Ronnie will be the next Muggsy Bogues.

You can see why Painter is so angry.

Last night he was on Tim Clougherty’s jock pretty much from the get go. So I wasn’t surprised by Painter’s two technicals, I was surprised it took so long. Painter said he wanted the officials to stop Illini players from pushing Purdue players off the block. Yep, that’s right: a Purdue coach complained about rough stuff. (He also called Mike Tisdale and JaJuan Johnson “frail.”)

Contemplating my radio script, I asked a member of the Athletics staff how to pronounce Clougherty’s name.

“I’m not sure, but Matt Painter pronounced it  ˈmə-thər-ˌfə-kər”

Another member of the Athletics staff then pointed out that Smile Politely prints such words, and they both decided that the information should be left unattributed.


Tyler Griffey made the best play of his career Wednesday. He followed his own missed three-pointer, rebounded the ball and laid it in. For a guy who seemed to be watching for most of his career, it was stunning.

It’d be interesting to see how many put-backs Tyler had in his first 3.6 years at Illinois. I’d bet there weren’t many. Since the Indiana game, he seems like a junk collector.  Because he’s been asked to play the power forward position, it’s great to see him playing like a power forward. Since Michael Jordan, much attention has been paid to the shooting guard (maybe that’s why Matt Painter seems obsessed with stocking them). But junk collection opportunities have always made power forward the best position for scoring. That’s what I think, anyhow.


Tyler’s coming out party is about aggressiveness. It’s not natural to him. He’s naturally mellow.

But he’s coachable too. Something about Dustin Ford and John Groce has finally tripped the switch in Tyler’s brain.


He still relapses. Against Indiana, Tyler was caught napping while his man stepped out for a three. “C’mon Tyler!” growled Chris Griffey, from the bleachers. Last year, that play might have found Tyler riding pine for the remainder of the game. So you wonder how it might have ended.

The power of redemption.


The player-of-the-game was probably Sam McLaurin. But the POG was obviously Joe Bertrand (12 rebounds!) And yet it was Myke Henry who sparked the team’s first half run. DJ Richardson led everybody in scoring.

Why don’t I just say it in pictures…


I don’t like the concept of humility, generally. But I felt some kind of awe sitting among the likes of Dave Downey, Tal Brody, Skip Thoren, Bogie Redmon,  and Big Bill Burwell.

Brody was the most visible. He looks a decade younger than the rest.  Burwell was the only one who seemed — when the 1963 B1G Championship team was assembled — to cross-country ski across the court. That is, he walked with two copper canes.

One wonders about the knees. When a man reaches his mid-sixties, and stands in the mid-sixes, it’s hard on his joints.

But Burwell said his knees are fine. It’s his balance that’s gone bad. He had a brain tumor removed five years ago, and it’s made him unsteady on his feet. “I can still walk just fine,” he said. “These (the canes) are for insurance. If I do fall down, nobody wants to help pick me up at 370 lbs.”

The guards age better. Once the Old Bigs had limped off court, Brody stood alone for his investiture. He practically radiated vigor.

It was a bittersweet reminder of Illini history.

When you’re thinking about devastation, specifically how much damage a guy named Bruce might wreak on a program, remember the 1963 champions. Harry Combes had Illinois at the peak of the basketball world. But instead of winning ten NCAA championships, the Illini spent the next decade in basketball wilderness. UCLA’s players got the big money. Illini players got some money for laundry.

What could have been?


After seeing Tracy and Nnanna fail to connect on numerous early-season opportunities, it was fascinating to watch them read each other’s mind Wednesday.

Tracy’s also limited his turnovers recently.

Dribble-penetration is the redeeming quality-slash-difficult adjustment to John Groce’s system. Thus the newfound frequency of the phrase “dribbled off his leg,” which has replaced the phrase “slack-jawed loser” is my Poetry arsenal.

It’s refreshing to see a team improving in mid-February.

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