Smile Politely

Fun at crunch time


Most of the Illini showed up for the taping of Big Ten Network’s Hoops on Campus Thursday night at the ARC (formerly IMPE).

Flyin’ Illini Kendall Gill joined a crew of eight to ten at the shoot, which took place on the middle of three indoor basketball courts in the northeast gym. The show will air tonight at 9 p.m. CST, just before its time to go (out drinking/to bed).

The basketball band came, tubas and all. The Illini Wheelchair Basketball team joi ned in made-for-TV skills competitions. Dominique Keller, Jeff Jordan and DJ Richardson sat for interviews. Girls in tight shorts ran counterclockwise loops around the third floor track.

Lots of football players were there, too, and seeing them play basketball gave me pause.

Strong Safety Walt Aikens was the star on the court. He executed a lob dunk from Brandon Paul which I predict will be a YouTube favorite for years to come. I think Brandon bounced it off the backboard from behind. I think Walt pinned it to the backboard and then (still elevating) picked it off the board and slammed it with two hands. I’m not sure if that’s what I saw. Whatever the architecture or alchemy of design, magic was involved.

The entire room went nuts, including the basketball team. But stupid journalist didn’t have his camera out for that one.

Lesson learned.

Moments later Tight End Jeff Cumberland brought his 41″ vertical to bear on the poor, unfortunate rims (which survived).

Walt is no brawnier than any of the current basketball team. But Jeff could probably eat both of the Mikes and still have room for doughnuts. So I asked, “why aren’t you playing? Coach Weber clearly wants a football guy on the team.”

Cumberland says his two foot surgeries preempted him from trying out. Twice.

Brandon Paul observes Jeff Cumberland (in red)

Mike Davis recalled past pick-up games at the ARC with Cumberland. “Yeah, he can get up.” But although his hops appeal, it’s Cumberland’s horizontal capabilities that compel the question.

The Illini Thins continue to win games in which umpiring and/or match-ups suit their skill sets. Illinois could win the NCAA Tournament if it consistently confronts a trio of referees willing to call every body foul underneath while ignoring all hand-checks.


Before they flew to Ann Arbor, I asked the starters whether they were feeling late season leg weariness. DJ attributed his recent poor shooting to lame legs. Everyone else said nope, no big deal. But Illinois looked tired in Ann Arbor.

I didn’t bug any of them about journalistic stuff at the TV shoot, but I did notice Mike Davis lallygagging.

I’ll probably ask about legs again at this afternoon’s media availability, so come back to SP later for an update.


I am dumb, as my regular readers will have noticed. I am evidently in the minority for thinking Illinois must win two of their remaining four games (including the BTT) to hope for an NCAA bid.

A lot of people think 11–7 in conference is sufficient. That would leave Illinois at 19-13 on Selection Sunday.

Reasonably well-respected journalists say Illinois needed only one of its final five games to get in (which logic contends they’re in now).

An 11–7 conference mark looks good, historically. But this Illini team suffered terrible losses to terrible teams.

We are ideal fodder for arguments from mid-major athletic directors pleading for parity. This year, the Mountain West should get four berths as should the Atlantic-10. (The A-10 might have had seven but for strength-of-schedule liabilities endemic among non-BCS conferences.)

The Colonial Athletic Conference should have had more teams in 2006, when George Mason made the Final Four. (Hofstra got screwed.) That was the year Craig Littlepage guided more mid-majors into the field. Billy Packer argued for more major conference mediocrity. Bradley, George Mason, Wichita State and Gonzaga made the Sweet Sixteen.

I’m not ready to give an opinion on the 96-team expansion of the NCAA field. But I’m plenty ready to cut out the mediocre major conference teams that stunk up seeds 5 through 13 since Ricky Blanton masterfully channeled The Goonies Sloth in for 11-seed LSU in 1986.

It could be that this year’s committee feels the same way. Smaller conferences (this year Southland, MAC, A-10, and Big West) ostensibly control only 40% of the membership. But the newly mid-major Pac-10 evens the playing field. UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero is committee chair. Will he have the gall to suggest more than one Pac-10 team for this tourney?)

Fortunately, the team is not content with winning one more. They still think they can win out. (Bill Cole gave a more realistic four of five before heading off to Michigan.)


Here are some more brief videos I caught Thursday on my toy camera. IlliniLoyalty photographer extraordinaire Cary Frye was the on hand. I assume he’ll post some excellent pics of the event in the next couple of days.

DMac takes it to Lil Sergio

Lil Sergio takes it to DMac

DJ practices with Walt Aikens

Jeff Cumberland dribbles against Lil Sergio

A gelling Minnesota team comes to town on Saturday. It’s a must win for Illinois.

The Illini lost the last two games following columns in which I described the team’s mood as “loose.”

So I won’t.

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