Unprecedented

It means nothing.  But it’s never happened before, so it means something.  But if nothing comes from it, it didn’t mean a thing.  Of course, if something comes from it, this is a wildly significant time period in Illini basketball history, because this has never happened before.  But it still might end up to be nothing.

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Basketball Schedule Thoughts

The August Question is dead. Long live the August Question.

If you’ve been on any Illini website the last 15 years, you know the August Question. Some message board user, or some article commenter, will ask “when does the Illini basketball schedule come out?” The safe answer became “mid-to-late August”. It was usually out by August 15th or so, but sometimes it was almost Labor Day. This year? July 25th.

Granted, the wait was usually for the Big Ten to settle the TV times for the conference schedule, and those still aren’t out yet. They released the opponents in February, but the times and dates won’t be released until, wait for it, mid-to-late August.

Still, I like it this way. I like knowing the full slate of games this early. And when I look over this schedule, I spy a watershed moment.

Our last Sweet 16 appearance was nearly 10 years ago. (Our last Sweet 16 appearance was nearly 10 years ago?) Our last Sweet 16 appearance was nearly 10 years ago. Not since Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Arizona at Rosemont – March of 2005 – has Illinois made it to the Sweet 16. If the Weber era ever needed an exclamation point, there it is. Illinois. 10 years between Sweet 16′s.

I say 10 years because I expect to get there this season. It’s time. 10 years is too long. Roster that returns all of the starters from the late-season surge, freshmen becoming sophomores, Cosby and Starks, Finke and Black, it’s time.

When do we announce it’s our time? My first thought was at the Las Vegas Tournament in November, but I don’t think a win over Baylor or Memphis is enough to say HELLO WORLD WE’RE BACK.

(As an aside, how interesting is Thanksgiving weekend? A basketball game against Indiana State on Thanksgiving night. Then a game against either Baylor or Memphis that Friday night. And then a football game on Saturday at Northwestern, possibly with a bowl on the line. Sweep that weekend with a bowl berth on the football end and the new uniforms will be shining brightly.)

But for basketball, I still don’t think that’s the watershed moment. I actually think we lose one of either Baylor/Memphis or the game at Miami four days later in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Miami might not be very good, but road game, early in the season, plus Baylor and Memphis might both be good – I could see a loss in there.

Beat American at home, so then we’re 7-1 (or 8-0), maybe on the fringe of the rankings, heading to New York City on a Tuesday night in December to face top-15 Villanova on ESPN. I’ll be cheering for Villanova to win the Legends Classic in November (Michigan, Oregon, VCU, Villanova), because if they do, I could see Nova at something like #7 in the polls. And if that’s the case…

HELLO WORLD.

Win that game, and let’s roll. We’ll beat Oregon at the United Center (they were probably going to be good, but three of their projected starters were arrested for sexual assault and kicked off the team in May). We’ll beat Hampton at home (Hampton is the one with the coach kicking the air after beating 2-seed Iowa State, right?), and then it’s Missouri in St. Louis.

Missouri lost… everything. Earnest Ross and Tony Criswell graduated. Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson declared for the NBA. Zach Price was kicked off the team. Shane Rector transferred. Of the players who played against us last year in the Braggin’ Rights game, they return two: Wes Clark, who scored three points, and Johnathan Williams, who scored six. They return one starter and 22% of their scoring with a new coach fresh from Division II (and that’s all from a team we beat). They should be awful.

Beat them, beat Kennesaw State, and we should be ranked and rolling as we enter the Big Ten schedule. That is, of course, if we beat Villanova. Lose to Villanova, and maybe it’s not the roll that I can picture from here. But, well, just picture it this way:

*Takes a sip from orange Kool-Aid, wipes mouth, begins typing*

November arrives, and we sign two four stars and a five star to go along with Williams and Jordan, making it one of the top three recruiting classes in school history,

*Takes a big long gulp of Kool-Aid*

A few nights later, our first look at the 2014/15 team, where we see that Aaron Cosby is pretty good and that Nunn and Hill are sophomore leapin’ and Tracy/Ray/Nnanna show us that senior-heavy teams are usually successful. We also get to see Ahmad Starks and Leron Black for the first time, and maybe even a bulked-up Maverick Morgan.

*Puts on Kool-Aid Man costume, runs through wall*

We win our first four easily and then go to Vegas and win it, beating Baylor in the final. And then we go to Miami and get revenge. And we also knock off an Oregon team that beat us last year and a Missouri team that lost everything. Illinois Basketball, new uniforms, third-of-the-way-there renovated State Farm Center, top recruiting class coming in, on an unstoppable roll.

The one thing I didn’t mention? The Villanova game. To me, from this vantage point, that could be the watershed moment. A tumble from 2006 to 2012, and then a rebuild, kick-started by the Maui Invitational win in November 2012. Now it’s two years later, December game, highly ranked Villanova, Madison Square Garden, national TV, our experienced, senior-heavy team…

Let’s announce our full return.

Fall Visits

Feels like 1991 up in here.  In those days, back when and you’d rush back to your dorm room after class to watch Saved By The Bell on TBS at 3:00 (just me?), you followed basketball recruiting through fall visits.  That’s when you knew a player was interested in your school, and when he verballed, you found out in the newspaper or on the evening news.  No, really, that’s what we did. [Read more...]

Bully Pulpit

It’s a dangerous thing. You make a statement on your blog, and then people respond that statement through email or Twitter, and then you have this ability to respond in public while they’re restricted to private conversation. Yes, they can maybe respond in the comments section, but really, a voice gives you the ability to set an agenda.  I try to avoid that, generally. [Read more...]

I Mean, How??

Once I hit age 40 (eighteen months ago), I started feeling all these dad emotions.  Not dad emotions as in fatherhood, but dad emotions as in “pull up a chair and let me tell you how things were”.  It’s weird.  41 is still young, right?  Why, when I hear great basketball recruiting news, is my go-to reaction “sit here, kids, and let Uncle Robert tell you how things used to be”? [Read more...]

Looks Like (He’s No Longer At The) University Of Illinois – Darius Paul

So… I guess he’s not “suspended” anymore. Because originally this whole thing was “Darius Paul suspended from team activities and will have to pay his own way”. He’s now chosen to attend Lamar State Port Arthur, a junior college in Texas, so he’s not “suspended” – he’s gone.

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8-4-2

Remember 4-2-1? Last summer, I wrote about my expectations for the 2014 basketball recruiting class. With Michael Finke already on board, we only had one more scholarship to give. So I wanted to shoot for the moon. Concentrate on four blue chip recruits, get two of them on campus for a visit, and get one of them to sign in November.

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Darius Paul Suspended

“How will we find room for everyone?”, I asked.  “Such a great problem to have”, I bragged.  We take last year’s team, subtract Ekey and Bertrand, add three transfers plus Black and Finke, and…. how will we find room for everyone?

Well, this is one way.

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A Good Problem

When writing about the future of basketball, lately I find myself saying the phrase “then you add Cosby, Paul, Starks, Black, and Finke…” a lot. That’s the hope, right? We lose two guys, add five guys, including three transfers who might be more ready to contribute than freshmen, so the team should be significantly better. Let’s dig into that math.

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1LL1N01S

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You are now reading Version Two of this post. Version One was never published. Because as I was writing Version One, someone on Illinois Loyalty cracked the code to the Nike website (they had all of the pictures there, just hidden from public view), and suddenly every photo of every uniform to be revealed in 20 hours was out there in public view.

I debated linking them here, realized that some people are vigilant about not opening presents until Christmas Day, so I decided to only link one photo here. Because even though someone at Nike is getting a demotion for putting up photos that the public could find, I don’t feel like being a ruiner.

For those who want to see them, just go to the front page at Illinois Loyalty. For those that want to be surprised at 7:00 pm, I’m only opening one present this Christmas Eve – the picture of the alternate gray basketball uniform above. Because I want to talk about the logo.

I’ll start here: I’m curious if some people will start writing “1LL1N01S” just like they write “B1G”, because the top left serif on our new font is certainly prominent (and makes it look like a 1). Someone else on some message board I read pointed out that there are six letters that get that serif: I-L-L-I-N-I. OK, I can work with that.

If you’ve been reading my thoughts on this whole thing, you know what I’ll say next: I’m thrilled that we’ll have a font that carries across letters and numbers. I’ve wanted a Michigan State-type scenario with this whole rebrand, and it looks like we’re getting a font which provides that. Here’s what I mean by “Michigan State scenario”:

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See how it’s a unique font with a unique feature that carries across the letters and numbers? Love that. Wanted that. Am getting that. The “I” in “ILLINOIS” and the 1 in the number “13″ on Tracy Abrams’ jersey match? I think I kind of really dig that.

It’s a popular thing with rebrands. Here’s what (gross) Mizzou did (yuck) when they rebranded (puke):

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See how they also get that little wedge serif on the side of the letters and numbers? That’s what we get. And we get it on the football jersey and the basketball jersey and the baseball jersey and everywhere else. An I that looks like a 1? It will be everywhere. Starting tomorrow.

How do I feel about it? Not completely sure yet. My very first reaction when I saw it for the first time was “is that a bunch of ones? Like, ‘we’re number one’?” Give me a week to think about it. I disliked the B1G logo at first – I was one of those “you pay six figures for THAT?” people – but now I love it and think that the Pac12 and SEC look like logos from 1997. So now, with this logo, I’m at “think I really like?” but not sure. I’m guessing that by June I love it.

Which is why you hire a Nike. They hire the best and the brightest designers, you walk into their office, you say “we don’t have an eye for these things”, they give you what will look good for 10 years, and you accept it at face value. At least, that’s how I’m approaching this. I still think my pleated khakis look good. (Wait, are pleats out or back in? Back out? See what I mean?) I don’t have a good eye for these things, so if Nike says it’s cool, I think it’s cool.

(And I showed some of the football stuff to my football-crazy son. His response was what I was hoping for: those are sooo siick”,)

Where I’m hung up with this logo is the endzone. How will that read in the endzones? From the side, will it just look like 1LL1N01S? A bunch of ones and zeros with some letters? (We ARE a solid computer science school…)

And how close does that “01″ in 1LL1N01S” look like the General Lee? Were Bo and Luke Duke involved? WAIT – the General Lee is orange. If John Groce doesn’t emerge from the General Lee at Midnight Madness next year, I’m gonna be upset.

OK, I need to get to bed. I have a long drive to Champaign tomorrow night to see some uniforms that made it 15 inches from the finish line before being leaked. My sister showed me where my parents hide the presents, and I feel bad for looking, so now I’m going to act really surprised tomorrow.

And probably fall in love with “1LL1N01S” by 7:15.