Smile Politely

In the pink, seeing red

Do not adjust your sets.*

Dressed as ballerinas, the Illini men toyed with Indiana for 39:59.6 Saturday afternoon before becoming bored with the Hoosiers, and icing them.

Demetri McCamey fashioned future frames for his hoops highlight reel, including the floating game-winner as time expired. Buttressing his likelihood of leaving early, McCamey also dished assists with joyful abandon, and occasional pinpoint accuracy.

Even with the game’s outcome in question, Demetri sought to dazzle. I think that’s a good thing. We’re in this for the entertainment, yes?

At 7:40 of the second, McCamey bounced a long pass into enemy hands. Undeterred by the outcome, he did it again 12 seconds later. This time it worked.

Then, down three with four minutes left and a shot clock nearing zero, McCamey drove the lane only to kick out over two defenders. Bill Cole buried the open three this penetration produced.

Easily flustered guys would do what in these situations?

DMac’s chillax confounds the coach. But iced veins sink shots where more fiery-collared players fizzle.

Similarly serene Mike Davis seemed sanguine beginning the game waiting in the wings. Maybe he’s not getting enough rebounds these days. Maybe he’s not making enough shots.

I don’t see much change in Davis’ game. I think opposing coaches have adapted to his game. Maybe our coaches will devise a countermeasures. For now they seem content to prod him.

His tranquility tries them. It always has. On occasion it makes them scream.

And thus a disagreement arises between fans of equal faith and fervor: Is it the player’s job to contrive capabilities alien to his physique and his natural skill set? Or is it incumbent upon the coaching staff to build around the foundation they’ve recruited?

Is it possible to get to the NBA without developing a fiery personality? Are there any examples of tall, thin mellow guys who made it in the league?

Davis sparked the second-half rally that staved off a collective massive cardiac-arrest among the faithful. A key blocked shot, a significant steal, an enervating slam all lifted the Illini. Maybe Davis’ best play came at 3:19 when he zipped Mike Tisdale a gorgeous pass for two.

He moves smoothly. It’s fun to watch.

It’s nice to think that Tyler Griffey might play by his side, setting screens, and not in his place. As it is, Illinois competes well with certain types of teams, and not at all well with others. As more and more teams learn how to flummox us, we’ll have to adapt.

Case in point: Indiana competes well with Illinois, despite “rebuilding” their program. They nearly beat us twice this season. What does that mean?


It’s been said before, but mostly by people referring to the late Jeff’s dad, the late Tim.

IU Assistant Coach Tim Buckley is still alive, and he’s figured us out. As I’ve said before, it’s not really that hard: Beat Mike Tisdale around the midsection while hoping Bruce Weber doesn’t substitute much.

Indiana rotated four large dudes in the pivot. Tom Pritchard is just big generally. Bobby Copobianco is big and bouncy.

Tijan Jobe’s biceps circumference brought Indiana scouts all the way to Africa. (“Came to the United States through the African Hoop Opportunities Providing an Education Foundation (A-HOPE) which is run by Bloomington resident Mark Adams.”)

Finally, the Hoosiers got five minutes and one foul out of Ghanaian Bawa Muniru. Who said there are no horses in Ghana?

But the beating worked especially well when performed by shorter players. In the early moments of the second half, Jeremiah Rivers and Devan Dumes manned the low-post, and played patty-cake with Tisdale’s pelvis.

The reason the Illini survived the attack? We countered with high-post pick-and-roll. The Thins got a lot of back door looks by drawing Indiana’s bigs to the top of the key.

Lots of credit should go to the team and the staff for making this adjustment. Lots of sympathy and admiration should go to Tisdale for withstanding the beating and still swishing four vital free throws in the closing seconds.

Two of those free-throws were borne of a basic over-the-back call. With a minute to go, Rivers entangled Tisdale from behind.

Cue whistle.

“Un-fucking-believable!” the fat guy from Inside Indiana growled from press row. “Un-fucking-believable,” he repeated. For emphasis, he added “un-fucking-believable.”

It was not a surprising call. But credulity towards calls have a lot to do with one’s loyalties and prejudices. Illini fans saw nothing remarkable about the call. The player closer to the basket (and thus the ball) — rather than the player creating the contact — got the benefit of the rule, not the benefit of the doubt.

Stranger was the non-call at 1:35 when the two little guys mercilessly hacked Tisdale, forcing a crucial turnover as Mike tried to kick-out from the lane. (Oh … and also the previous thirty-eight minutes.)

“Un-fucking-believable!” the fat guy testified.

Southern Indiana’s synonym shortage affects even its writers. It’s like their gene pool, and their viewpoints. They have a lot of one kind.

Thing is, press row is expected to be neutral. Team colors are not worn. Cheering is verboten.

The rest of press row nervously patted its pockets, hoping to find a spare doughnut, unfinished Twizzlers, anything to sate the maddened beast.


So, after nearly collapsing versus the hapless Hoosiers, Illinois won and won excitingly. Having gotten its breath back, the orange clad crowd happily filed out to their cars, and drove back to farm towns around the state.

Whether the game was closer than it should have been, everyone seemed pleased. There’s something about beating Indiana just feels right.

The victory knotted the all-time series at 82 wins apiece. So a big thanks to the people of southern Indiana for running their last final four coach out of town. They also did us a favor in hiring Cellvin Samsung. We got Mike Davis out of the deal, and they got a 1-17 Big Ten black-eye.

Now all we need is five banners, and we’ll have some serious gloating to do. That is, if we ever beat them again.

I asked Bill Cole what’s still bugging the team, and what’s encouraging.


Bobby Copobianco’s twitter-toed high-post dance display brings a ballsy new boisterousness to the art of the moving screen.

There’s nothing nuanced about it; by turning his body at just the right times, by keeping his hands on his nuts, and by maintaining a straight back; Bobby managed to move one solid pick all the way from the free-throw line to the top of the key without drawing any reaction from stripey shirted persons.

The best one came at 11:20, for those of you with espn360 or a DVR of the game. The next best one came at 9:11 when Eugene Crawford almost called it. Bobby was saved by Curtis Shaw’s fantasy of a frozen clock, which stopped the game for a few moments while Shaw collected his sense of reality.

Anyway, Bobby got through the game without a single call for screening. I just had to ask him about it.




The stats were nearly even in all categories, including the score. Illinois had better FG percentage, but the Hoosiers shot better from three and free. Rebounds were 35 to 33 in Indiana’s favor. Turnovers were 15 and 13, respectively. Steals split even at four and five.

The difference of the game, from a statistical analysis, is either that Illinois had six blocked shots to Indiana’s one; or that Verdell Jones shot too much. The Champaign Central alum was 5 for 20 from the field.

Right there sits a strong reminder to avoid reducing sports analysis to numbers. Verdell played a great game.

He was both happy and sad about it afterward. His team lost, but they’re getting closer. And his grandmother got to see him lead the way.

Verdell Jones has corrupted many good Illinoisans into mortal Hoosiery.


ESPN’s crack crew diverted disaster when color commenter Steve Lavin crashed. The systems failure did not interfere with Saturday’s telecast, but Lavin had to be operated manually.

Illini football star Terry Hawthorne watched the game with old friends from the East Saint Louis Flyers. It was juniors weekend, in terms of recruitingwise.

*Illinois coaches please disregard.


Related Articles