Smile Politely

DJ is a helicopter

Boy are my arms tired.

Who put a conference rival in the Great Plains? Does Jim Delaney know how many cows there are between here and Lincoln, NE? Five-hundred and two miles worth-of-cows is the answer (if you take Route 2, which I recommend, but only if you have three days off).

I like Lincoln, though. I saw a lot of mid-century architecture and ornamental horticulture. It’s almost as if there were an agricultural & mechanical university there.


I couldn’t write about the Northwestern game. The internets were already way ahead of me by the time I got done interviewing the genial Dave Sobolewski. (I waited forever while he shot the shit with pals Joe LaTulip and Reilly O’Toole.)

The internets were wrong, of course. But arguing with the internets is pissing in the ocean.

The Northwestern game was a tragedy, certainly. But there’s no shame in losing to a team that screens, cuts and shoots as well as the Wildcats did that night. They were 83% for the game until Reggie Hearn clanged one with 2:20 to go in the first. From that point on, the Illini actually outscored the Wildcats.

Yes. Really.

Still, it was the worst Illini performance I can remember. Painful, but pitiful. Tracy Abrams twice dribbled the ball off his own leg and out-of-bounds. Brandon Paul leapt for a three, recognized he was too well defended to follow through with his shot or pass the ball, and simply landed. He placed the ball on the floor, shaking his head, accepting the turnover.

Illinois failed on offense, but they failed pathetically. The pathos was almost artful.


Hey, let’s talk about “corn-fed.”

Nebraska has the biggest, fattest basketball player I’ve ever seen. Previous Poetries in the Motion chronicle my experience with mid-major guys named Lump. (Did you notice that Matt Stainbrook is now high-major?) By comparison, they were all slightly chubby.

This dude was as big as Texas.

But as it is with Texas, and the embarrassing unmentionable red states of the deep south, the state of Nebraska showcased impossibly good-looking women among its cheer-leading and dance squads.

The pep band was not so impressive. Oh the music was all right, I guess. They played Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire!” which is unusual. 

It’s just that they seemed too stereotypically “football school.” I think it was when they chanted “sit down Bruce!” at the Illinois bench. They don’t care about basketball, not enough to keep up.

Nebraska is not good.

Our leapers outleapt their leapers.  They made Sam McLaurin look like a skywalker, despite his one-and-a-half knees. (The fat guy, for the record, could jump. Maybe they don’t teach physics at that particular A&M.)

Their jumpers failed at Illinoisan rates (1-for-7 in each half from three). Our jumpers failed at Illinoisan rates. The Illini hit exactly zero shots from distance, 0-for-11, before Mike Shaw’s garbage time offering.

Except for DJ Richardson.


If there’s any remaining doubt that DJ Richardson is Illinois’ best player, it ended Tuesday it will continue among dullards.

DJ is enigmatic. DJ is phlegmatic. DJ is gregarious. DJ is soft-spoken. DJ is not a helicopter.

The Metaphysics of DJ Richardson will (should he progress through an historic and lucrative  professional career) be the title of my book.  What is real?

DJ’s sartorial tendencies could fill a pamphlet. His sense of irony & timing are well-known to insiders, and documented almost not at all. He’s the most comforting and the most easy-going of Illini. His personality never changes,  until the moment a camera is pointed at him.

For all you know, he’s defensive and uncomfortable; incapable of communicating thoughts outside coachspeak. That’s how he seems almost every time you’ve seen him. (There are notable exceptions, here for example.)

Maybe it’s the media training. Maybe it’s the ennui of obligations. Who wants to talk to a camera?

So he seems cold sometimes.  But don’t believe it. He’s probably the kindest Illini.  An example: at Western Michigan two years ago, DJ chased a loose ball out of bounds. Landing on Heather at press row, he gently took both her hands, peered in her eyes and grinned winsomely  in apology for his unannounced arrival. And then quickly hustled back to defend the subsequent inbound play.


John Groce earns $1.4 million dollars per year. That’s why he never says “the shots went in, so we won.”  Instead, he talks about energy and effort.

The Northwestern game is an outlier because it featured more boners per minute than Bukkake porn. But it’s actually a great representation of Illini basketball in the Weber era (yes, this is Weber’s team).

From 2005’s (incredibly still under-analyzed) run through the Tisdale-McCamey pick-n-pop miracle at Kohl (2009) to the Brandon Paul miracle of 2012, the fate of Illinois basketball is way, way too easily explained by 3PT FG%.

The difference between the Northwestern and Nebraska games was 3PT FG%. Do the math. It’s that simple.

Illinois loses when someone has a career night. It happens a lot, despite the seeming statistical unlikelihood. On the other hand, Illinois wins whenever an Illini has a career-best night. That seems to happen a lot as well.

I’m not good at math. That’s why I went to law school.


Tyler drove the lane at Nebraska, but he was equally ineffective from inside (0-for-3) as outside the arc (0-for-3). He got a put back, which is the best way to score, but it requires rebounding. Everybody knows that Tyler Griffey is allergic to rebounds.

But strangely, if you read the box score, you’ll see that Tyler is averaging 12 rebounds per 40 minutes over the last two games. (See Sam McLaurin, infra)

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