Smile Politely

Cold in Austin

When the clock hit 00:00, I immediately went on vacation.

My season was over. I was already in Austin, Texas. It just made sense to take some time off and compose my thoughts.

I did not lay out by the pool: It was 43 degrees in Austin, and my native hosts were outraged. They don’t hold with ornery weather.

In the afternoon, it was 64 and sunny. The next day was 63 and sunny. So my friends were pissed. That’s too cold. From their perspective, the weather was simply unacceptable.

Where I come from, the roads were closed. The airport was closed. I couldn’t have left Austin if I’d wanted to go. I was stuck there. Fortunately, I like it.

Oh shit, I’m about to make that a metaphor for basketball, amn’t I? Isn’t it funny how expectations direct satisfaction?

On Monday, UCLA fired its coach, who’d just won a Pac-12 Championship. It was the right move. He’d become tedious.

The 2013 Illini finished with six more wins, and two fewer losses than 2012’s team. But this time around, Illinois fans are excited about their coach. He’s not boring yet. We’re not stuck in a rut.

Why does it feel like a successful season? Thirteen losses?

Maui and Spokane are a big part of it. The Indiana and Ohio State wins. The win at Williams Arena. These accomplishments parceled excitement among the home base, the traveling Illini, and our diaspora.

Winning the Colorado game was huge too. Ending the season with a lovely weekend in sunny Texas — optimism swelling — and then punctuating that lovely weekend with a heartbreaking loss that wasn’t our fault, that’s a perfect combination: It gave the major donors something fun to do, and something to feel indignant about.

Yes, Antonio Petty fucked up. The call was obvious. Everyone could see it. Even unflappable Mike Thomas turned beet red, jumping up and down in anger.

The good news is that NCAA president Mark Emmert was sitting courtside. He had perhaps the worst view of the live action, but he certainly saw the replay, and felt the crowd reaction.

When Illinois got screwed in the 1984 tourney, the NCAA changed its rules. Maybe our tragedy can prevent future umpiring abominations. Faculty Representative Matthew Wheeler was also on hand for the games. Perhaps it’s not his job to seek rule changes that might avert future officiating catastrophes. I hope he tries to do it anyhow.

After careering through his career, it was nice to see Tyler Griffey go out “on top” of his game.

Brandon Paul’s draft status would have skyrocketed with a Final Four. Maybe it improved in the last month of the season. He stopped flailing toward the basket, mugging for whistles. 

In his final Illini game, Brandon did everything in his power to oust the ACC’s top team. When he stuffed his two-handed jam with 3:23 remaining, the momentum seemed to shift permanently to Illinois. Illini pep band director Barry Houser held up a dry-erase board exclaiming, “I’m a believer.” It may have been simply a cue to play Neil Diamond, but it seemed to capture the moment.

Brandon’s postgame interview saw a composed adult, collecting and presenting his thoughts as if he’d written a script. He thanked and commended Bruce Weber. He moved on to the new coaching staff, and praised their attributes. He promised to follow Illini basketball, wherever he’s playing next year. He reassured our fans that the team will be even better next year. He gave special props to his buddy Mike LaTulip.

Had it beaten Miami, the team would’ve returned to Champaign for only a matter of hours. Their Sunday evening charter was grounded by Champaign’s blizzard. Monday’s 10 a.m. flight landed too late to get the guys to class. Thus, flying to Willard rather than Dulles would have served the purpose of “picking up their books,” said academic adviser Kristin Kane. The support staff would likely have appreciated a chance to do their laundry.

Kane was along for the trip, even though it occurred during spring break. A couple of players take online classes that don’t get the time off. They worked on “writing a couple of papers.”

Now that the season’s ended, and we’re all back from Texas (which nearly killed me and Ethan Asofsky, but especially Ethan Asofsky), you’d think “the dream” would be over. But this afternoon, Mike Thomas announces the Assembly Hall Renaissance. BP3 says the team will be better next year. It’s like Karen Carpenter said: We’ve only just begun.

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