Smile Politely

No O

I should learn to eliminate details from my Illini basketball coverage. If I avoid opponents names, final scores and stats, I can simply copy and paste the same column for every game.

Meyers Leonard didn’t get enough touches. Relying on three-pointers is a fickle mistress. The (opposing team’s nickname) knew exactly how to defend Illini guards. Our screens yield no advantage. We passed around the arc too much. Illinois’ inability to (fundamental basketball skill) continues to haunt the team.

And of course, We lost.

Freeing myself from the tedium of redundancy, I could begin writing next season’s preview. The Illini plan to run more. “Pressure defense leads to offense,” said (Illini guard). “We finally have the talent and athleticism,” noted (Illini big man).

To add spice, I’ll create a familiar specter, leavening the optimism with stark pronouncements. “Addition by subtraction,” is the annual favorite, appearing every season since Shaun Pruitt. Now competing for yearly consideration are “We weren’t all on the same page last year. Some guys were playing for themselves.”

Because January 1st is the year’s most boring day, I’ll just go ahead and write about yesterday’s bludgeoning at West Lafayette. If January 2 turns out boring, you’re reading it right now. Hey, welcome!

Eerily, I didn’t think the Purdue game was all that bad. Perhaps my Expectations Gland is permanently damaged.

Illinois beat Purdue by a dozen in the final quarter. That’s when Bruce Weber employed his bench, pressed full-court and let the young guys run. It’s just what everybody (within the program) predicted in the pre-season, and it worked. It was fun to watch. Myke Henry scored in a variety of ways, Mike Shaw bulldozed through the paint. Tracy Abrams bulldogged right back at Lewis Jackson’s pit bull.

Illinois played the Boilers to a draw in the first half. Early on, Meyers Leonard exerted enormous effort to seal his man, and create high-low opportunities for himself. Unfortunately, Illini wings couldn’t feed the ball to his strong side before double teams dropped down to cut him off.

Meyers set high-post screens and cut hard to the basket. Unfortunately, Illini wings never found him en route. The high-post cutter frees himself for only a fraction of a second, and it may be that Illinois lacks the dexterity to catch and pass immediately.

In his post-game press conference, Paul Klee gently pressed Bruce Weber on The Meyers Problem. When Weber didn’t quite respond, Paul pressed the point again.

Weber attributed Leonard’s inability to find the open man when double-teamed. This effusion is, in my opinion, the finest buck-passing of Bruce Weber’s entire career. It was subtle, logical and wholly exonerating of Bruce Weber.

I suspect there must be numerous occasions, among countless teams, where NBA Lottery prospects get only four field-goal attempts. I’ll bet it happens every year, all over the country. It only seems unique to Illinois because you and I spend too much time focusing on Illini basketball, and fail to see the big picture.

Besides, it’s not just Meyers. Illinois wings couldn’t find Nnanna Egwu, too.

Meyers sustained a whiplash-inducing left cross to his right ear, early in the second half. After that, he wasn’t so active in the low post. When he picked up a foul moments later, he walked toward the Illinois bench, expecting to be yanked. “What?” Bruce Weber yelled, as if his substitution patterns were mysterious and ineffable. Meyers was soon effed for the remainder of the game.


As the media waited (a long, long time) between Purdue players’ and Bruce Weber’s mandatory face-time, a Boiler photog griped at me for resting my Coke can on a table otherwise occupied completely by him and his paraphernalia. “If you’re not going to watch this can,” he said, holding it toward me, “you’re not going to leave it next to my camera.”

Maybe Indiana cans are defective, just like cans in The Jerk. Or maybe jerks are defective in Indiana, just like this asshole. With no tables and certainly no cup-holders in the adjoining room (the room where the participants speak) there are few options for can placement, especially when prima donna photographers occupy entire tables by themselves.

But I say bully for him! I approve grouches, on general principles. Usually they’re right. In this case, he was obviously pissed that new media with a toy camera was destroying, disrupting and displacing his job prospects. By providing better pictures, freely and without subscription, Smile Politely ruins the newspaper/wire service monopoly. (Thanks also to Canon, for making great toy cameras.)

I’d also like to thank Asshole for reminding me of an important point about Purdue basketball and its supporters. For the last eight years, we’ve had to pretend we’re friendly with Boilermakers. As the Weber era winds down, let’s remind ourselves: We hate Purdue.

Bruce Weber wore a gold tie for Saturday’s game. Perhaps it was an oversight on his part. Or perhaps Weber, often regarded as a “nice guy,” intended to wink non-verbally to his lifelong friends in West Lafayette. Intentional or not, Weber continues his decades long tradition of helping Purdue to Big Ten championships.

Let’s reclaim ourselves: We aren’t Purdue.

Gene Keady is a gruff, crass misanthrope. He wears a melted vinyl LP in place of hair to demonstrate that he’s old school, and a hot head. Contrast Lou Henson, gentle and genteel yet firm of purpose.

But even nice guys with Final Four experience aren’t retained after long stretches of mediocrity. Some traditions are worth preserving.

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