Smile Politely


Unless you were at ScotTrade on Wednesday, you don’t know the highlight of the night was Cathy Cox’s rendition of the national anthem. The Star-Spangled Banner has sounded better, but rarely more meaningful.

Her melisma was nothing new, but Cox seemed to understand that the words carry meaning, and are not merely a grouping of familiar phonics. For example, she substituted “over” for both “o’ers.”

So many renditions don’t even get the words right, much less give a feel for what they mean.

The Star-Spangled Banner recalls the dark night its author spent aboard an enemy ship as the Battle of Baltimore raged outside.

He’s helpless, and he doesn’t know what’s happening. He knows the battle may decide whether America’s experiment with republican democracy will continue.

At dawn the next morning, he’s overcome by the sight of Stars and Stripes waving in the wind over Fort McHenry. The British tried to take the fort, and thus the key American port of Baltimore. They failed.

Our flag was still there.


Tis’ the season to remind ourselves this Illini team features bright stars. They can run and jump and shoot. They bedazzle us with graceful skywalking. The campaign is not lost.

But the missing ingredient to their success may be the fabric binding them together. It’s not there. Our stars must be sewn together. We need a common thread.

These guys don’t have bad attitudes. I disagree that they display lack of effort. Demetri McCamey was almost crying with angry frustration as he addressed reporters in Georgia. Mike Davis works like a swan. He appears graceful, but he’s working hard underneath.

I think the guys are all playing hard, and want to share and help. They just don’t know exactly what to do. Their coach needs to give them some blueprints.


Pete Carril’s Princeton offense has a lot to say about coming to the ball. It’s not always good. But nor is an offense composed entirely of skip passes. That’s what Illini looked like in Saint Louis.

The Illinois offense is not a disaster. Bruce Weber teaches motion principles. It’s 1950s basketball theory. Weber knows it well. He’s okay to goodish at explaining it to modern youth. At that point he regards his job finished. I think he’s only halfway there.

Motion offense works best when augmented by a handful of really awesome set plays.

Set plays have worked well this season. Out of timeouts, and to open halves, the Illini have used set plays successfully. But during possessions, they rely solely on motion principles. This would be enough for a group of five guys who’ve played together for a few years. In that time, the five learn each other’s tendencies. They learn to anticipate each other.

With eight to ten guys sharing floor time, the mold never gels. Because two of those guys are freshmen, there’s no way they can recognize their own tendencies, much less anticipate those of their teammates.

But these Illini do fine when they receive explicit instructions. Bruce Weber may regard this as a learning year. Maybe he will not change his formula in hopes of salvaging a post-season tournament bid.


J.T. Tiller threads the needle.

Because SP is taking a holiday break, I had the opportunity to re-watch the Braggin’ Rights game on ESPN360 before submitting my thoughts.

Illinois looked much better on the small screen. From courtside, the game’s outcome never seemed in doubt. The Missourah offense clicked. Their kickouts repeatedly found open guys. Their defense always got a hand in our face. It was like watching a clinic.

As a biased reporter, I’ll tell you it was uncomfortable to watch. I enjoyed the artistry of it, but I knew we were in deep voodoo. At the other end, the Illinois motion offense looked easier and easier to defend.

Mike Davis was off balance, or in motion when he launched a lot of his shots. He missed nine, and he made five. Davis usually makes his shots. But usually he squares up.

Davis rebounds like Efrem Winters. He shoots jumpers like Winters. Efrem had George Montgomery to clear out the paint. Davis has no one.

The same could be said for Mike Tisdale. He needs a churlish helper.

Tisdale missed even from very close in.

Maybe Tisdale and Davis missed a lot of shots because they were rattled by Missouri’s aggressiveness. Or maybe they just missed a lot of shots. Neither Mike can play the George Montgomery role for the benefit of his fellow Mike. Neither is suited for the role once performed by Brian Johnson, and later by Sergio McClain.

There’s no indication that Dominique Keller is suited for this role. There’s no indication that Coach Weber will allow Richard Semrau to play it.

That means the current system will continue to fail in the same way you’ve watched it fail; unless Coach Weber issues explicit instructions which minimize his chosen players’ weaknesses, while utilizing their strengths.


The refs missed a lot of calls Wednesday. Sometimes they couldn’t see what happened. But they also missed a lot of calls they could see. The most obvious was the granting of a timeout to Justin Safford as he flew out of bounds — that’s not allowed anymore.

Foul on Tisdale!

I don’t blame Jim Burr, Steve Olson or Tom Eades for their preposterous interpretation of rules. I blame southern Illinois — not the university, the entire region. Intellectual discourse south of I-70 compares unfavorably with higher ape language.

Koko the Gorilla can sign a thousand words. Chimpanzees are capable of hundreds. The drunken, orange clad idiot crackers of southern Illinois have one word, and they’re stickin’ to it.

“Fuck you, you fuckin’ fucker” represents a genre of brain-free gurgitation best left for vertebrates of lower orders. I’m embarrassed — as a member of the order myself — to admit these Illini fans are primates.

“Fuck you! Retire for fuck’s sake you old fucker! Fuck!” blurted another.

There’s no doubt all three referees heard this abuse. It was so loud, so immediately near them, I can’t imagine they weren’t somewhat rattled by it. If I were them, I’d have done exactly the same thing they did: I’d take my vengeance from those fans by punishing the team dressed in their same colors.

We must be thankful for Southern Illinoisans. They remind us why we are right to hate Missouri.

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