Smile Politely

Meet Jon Ekey

If you watched all thirty-eight minutes of last week’s Media Day press conference online; you’ll know that thirty-five minutes in, John Groce had not once uttered the name “Ekey.”

Jon Ekey is the fifth-year graduate student who arrived this summer. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Illinois State this spring. He doesn’t go to class, doing all his schoolwork online.

That’s all we knew about him.

At that that thirty-five minute mark, Kent Brown, the associate AD for communications, was stepping toward the podium, signaling an end to the question & answer period.

Various pundits project Ekey as the starting power forward on this year’s Illini team. So it seemed like we ought to know something about him. I certainly wanted to know.  So I asked: Can Jon Ekey be a leader and a newcomer at the same time?

Groce said yes: Sam McLaurin did it last year.

The rest of Groce’s remarks suggest other McLaurinesque traits, such as footwork, knowledge of the game, and efficiency of execution. In a nutshell, according to Groce, Jon just plain gets it done. As Ian MacKaye raved in Fugazi’s seminal Waiting Room, “function is Ekey.” At least I think that’s what he said.

“Each person’s different,” Groce continued. “Jon is consistent, which is awesome. I know what I’m getting every day with Jon, when I go to practice.

“He’s going to be in the top third of our team in rebounds on that day in practice. He’s going to take and make open shots. His shot selection is excellent. He knows how to pass. He plays the game the right way, all the time.

“He’s very, very consistent in his approach mentally. He doesn’t get too high or too low. And it’s great to have a fifth-year senior with Jon’s mentality on our team, especially valuable when you’ve got a team with so many new faces that are younger.

“I think Jon’s very rock solid.

“Now, like Joe (Bertrand), could Jon communicate some of those things in a verbal way? You know, that’s what I’m kind of challenging him to do right now. He would tell you that.”

I hate predicting the future. I think it’s stupid to try. But I will say it seems likely that Illinois basketball 2013-14 will go as far as Jon Ekey goes. If things work out better than predicted, here’s the formula that will have produced the overachievement: Ray Rice will be the face, the personality and the engine of the team. The veterans will be like most soldiers. Tracy, Nnanna and Joe will bring it every day, work their asses off, and never get enough credit. Jon Ekey will be the assassin.

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