Some have told me that their favorite IlliniBoard posts are the ones where I just randomly talk about the Illini football thoughts bouncing around in my head. I should probably do that more often, because they’re always there. With Spring Ball underway, those thoughts have increased thirteen-fold, so it’s fairly easy for me to just capture three of them and write them down. [Read more...]
First, a few things that I’ve put on Twitter in the last few weeks but I’m not sure I linked them on the blog. The We Love No Other podcast is on iTunes and can be found here, so if you want to subscribe that way, go for it. We also have an RSS feed which is available here. Or you can just come to the site to listen. And thanks to Dave from Limelightbookcovers.com for designing the podcast logo (which will be updated on iTunes soon).
I think that covers everything. Here’s this week’s podcast with Tyler Griffey where we discuss playing hoops in Austria, turning around a losing streak, and Rick Majerus’ unique recruiting methods. And I actually kept it to a half hour this week, so three points for Robert.
I fully realized the folly of blogging like this yesterday. Houston Bates announced he was leaving a week ago today. Most sites had a story up by the next morning. I’m now sharing my feelings on the subject ONE WEEK LATER. I shall call this pony express blogging. The Greyhound Bus of blogging. Because sometimes, you want to take four days to get to Missoula, Montana.
You don’t care about my real world life. I’m not sure why I talk about it so much, other than the fact that I feel all this obligation to write more but there are times I just can’t. When news like Houston Bates or Charles Matthews breaks and I just can’t find time to write about it because I’m staying up until 4:00 am working on a project for my real job, I feel all this pressure to carve out an hour to write about these things here. Part of that is overinflated ego; part of that is catharsis. If Illini thoughts in my head go unwritten, pressure builds.
When I read Steve’s book, I promised to do an interview with him on the blog. That was around 18 months ago. So now that I finally have the podcast up and going, I was able to get Steve to join me to talk about his book (for 15 minutes) and Illini Football (for 45 minutes). So if you have an hour, and you want to listen to two rabid Illini football fans go on and on about how six wins might be possible, do I have a WLNO for you.
And if you’re interested in Steve’s book – and you should be – you can find it here. The Kindle version is $3. You spend that on tacos daily. Skip the tacos, read Steve’s book.
Not too many people get to play in the Big Ten conference for four years. Here is a collection of stories and tidbits I’ve gathered from playing in opposing team’s arenas in the nation’s best basketball conference.
*I acknowledge that some of these facts may be incorrect. Since this a blog and not a research article, I tried to keep the Googling to a minimum and recount everything from memory.
Let’s start off with the schools from the North.
Michigan State – The Breslin Center – Capacity 14,979
From just standing outside the building, it’s easy to tell that the Breslin Center is one of the nicest arenas in the league, but that just doesn’t do it justice for what it’s like playing there. My first experience at the Breslin Center will be one I’ll never forget and it’s not because I had the best game of my freshman year there either; it was because of something that happened prior to the game even starting that made it so special.
When we arrive to an arena for an away game, I always like to be the first player out on the court for warm-ups. I had been doing this for the entire season up until this point, and nobody had said a word about it. Until this game.
As I’m getting dressed in the locker room with lightning speed like I always do, I catch a glimpse of my teammate Mike Tisdale, who is watching me and is just beside himself in a fit of silent giggling. I ask him, “What is the matter?” and he responds by shaking his head like nothing is wrong.
I am left wondering what could possibly be so funny.
Shrugging it off, I finish lacing up my sneakers and head out to the court. This is the part where it all makes sense. As soon as I stepped onto the hardwood, my ears were assaulted with the loudest, most deafening boos I have ever heard in my life. And the best part was they were all directed at me and at me alone.
I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Never again will I have that many boos directed at me at one time. Here I am a mere little freshman and I’ve got thousands of people booing every shot I make and cheering every shot I missed. It was awesome.
It turns out Michigan State is one of the few schools that allow fans into the arena two hours before tip off. Most of the time when I walk out onto the court the fans aren’t there yet, but at Michigan State, the Izzone is already packed.
It’s an intimidating place to play and unfortunately, I never got a win there in the three games I played, which makes this year’s win at the Breslin even more impressive for our current team.
Michigan – Crisler Center – Capacity 12,707
I played here once before they renovated the place and the only reason it was a pleasurable experience was because we won the game. I remember it being just a regular old arena and nothing special about it.
However, after the renovation, it became one of my favorite places to play. Some of you dedicated Illini fans might say, “Well Tyler, of course it’s your favorite place to play, you scored your career high in this building.” I promise that’s not the real reason.
After the renovation, the Crisler Center became the arena in the Big Ten with the best visiting locker room. They now put visiting teams in the locker room that Michigan abandoned when they had their new locker room built on the other side of the building. It’s the only place in the Big Ten where the visiting team has the luxury of wooden lockers with personal electrical outlets and individual showers.
One thing that Coach Weber was a big fan of was practicing at the opposing team’s arena the night before. When scheduling allowed, instead of practicing at Ubben and then flying out at night, we would fly out in the afternoon and immediately have a practice at the arena.
In my junior year, at a time when we were struggling and I wasn’t seeing a lot of playing time, we did this. Afterwards, instead of getting shots up after practice like the rest of the team, I wanted to get away so I went off exploring the arena to admire the new building.
Eventually, I made my way down a long hallway and found myself in their new practice facility. It was jaw dropping. Aside from what you can see from the pictures at this link, the thing that was most impressive was they had a soda fountain on the court that served every flavor of Gatorade you could think of. Maybe even more impressive was the 50+ inch flat screen TV on the court that I can only assume would be used by coach Beilein during practice to go over a play they had just ran on the court.
It was a good thing that Coach Price had wandered down there before me because a student-manager from our team had to come find us as we were late for the bus.
Minnesota – Williams Arena aka “The Barn” – Capacity 14,625
Rodney Williams was one of those players in the conference that just seemed to “never graduate.” Even though I think we are the same age and entered college the same year, I still felt as if he should have been gone every time we played Minnesota. It only makes sense that they’d name the arena after him…
Anyway, this arena is known for having the playing court on a raised floor. This didn’t really affect gameplay at all, but after having played there for three years, I am a bit disappointed I never got the chance to chase down a ball and propel myself off the stage.
Coach Weber actually had us practice for this once. At the end of a rather light practice in their arena, Coach Weber stood on the baseline and rolled balls off the raised playing surface, fully expecting us to dive off the court in an attempt to save them.
Now if this situation ever presented itself in a real game, I would have no problem diving head first onto a slab of concrete that’s 3-feet below. I’d do anything to help my team win, but this was practice and I’m not really a fan of sacrificing the well being of my body for no reason at all.
I made sure to voice my concerns, but they fell on deaf ears. I tried explaining to Coach that adrenaline is a hell of a drug and during the game I would be full of it, but he wasn’t willing to listen.
Wisconsin – Kohl Center – Capacity 17,230
When you think of the Kohl Center, you probably think about how successful Wisconsin has been there under current coach Bo Ryan. All I think about is Sterling basketballs. (And the win we got there my freshman year.)
This statistic could have changed since I last read it, but I remember reading somewhere that Wisconsin is 1 of 12 schools in the country that uses the Sterling basketball for their home games.
Now there is nothing particularly wrong with a Sterling basketball; I’m sure if I played with it long enough I would grow accustomed to it, but it really is a disadvantage when you go from playing with a Nike or Adidas ball the whole season and then have to switch up for a couple of days of practice leading up to one game a season.
*****A little side note here: During my sophomore year, we had to use five different brands of basketballs. Nike for the Nike schools, Adidas for the Adidas schools, Sterling for Wisconsin, Spalding for the Big Ten tournament, and Wilson for the NCAA tournament.
I know you’re thinking that it’s not that big of a deal; it’s just a basketball, but it does make a slight difference. It’s just one more adjustment you have to make during a season.
I was fortunate enough to be on one of the few teams to get a win at the Kohl Center. (Thanks a lot to Michigan, Ohio State, and especially Northwestern for discrediting that a little bit this year.)
I don’t remember too much about the game, but the locker room afterwards was awesome. Coach Weber walked into the room, didn’t say a word, wrote 50-1 on the whiteboard and then said, “Let’s go home.”
50-1 being Wisconsin’s record against unranked teams at the Kohl Center. We were that 1.
It’s FOLD Week! FOLD stands for February Offensive Line Discussion week. Happens the last week of February every year around here. Why the last week of February? Because a certain internet troll once told me that I was “the only person on earth who wanted to talk about the Illini offensive line in February”. And I set out to prove him wrong. [Read more...]
I’m in a bit of a writing holding pattern right now. No basketball game for a week. Spring football hasn’t started yet. And FOLD week (February Offensive Line Discussion week) isn’t until next week. What do I do in situations like this? Just slap something together haphazardly.
Yes, really. It took me 15 days to do this LLUOI post. In fact, until someone reminded me in the comments the other day, I completely forgot that I hadn’t done one. He verballed the day before Signing Day, I wrote him up in the Signing Day post, and I completely forgot to LLUOI him. But I committed to Tom Cruise each and every Illini football and basketball recruit from here until eternity, so better late than never.
And let me take a moment to recap LLUOI, because I’m always worried that people look at it like stars (i.e, four Tom Cruises equals a four-star player). That’s not the case at all. The scale of Tom Cruises goes from .5 cruises to five full cruises. There’s never been a five Cruiser, and there might not be for years. Five cruises is reserved for a “best recruit in a generation” recruit. Cliff would have received five Tom Cruises. Arrelious Benn and Martez Wilson are the only Illini players in the last decade – football or basketball – who would have received five Cruises. You have to beat every school in the country to get five Cruises.
Hey, while we’re recapping, this is a good time to describe why Tom Cruises again for those who are new to this site. There’s the quote in Risky Business where Tom Cruise, after finding out he’s “not Ivy League material”, puts on his shades, stands up, and says “looks like University Of Illinois”. So each recruit receives an LLUOI post and a Tom Cruise rating.
And it’s a hard thing to do. There’s a reason there’s no such thing as a one-star recruit (and the tw0-star recruit appears to be a dying breed). Nobody wants to be the guy who gives some player one star. What if his mom reads it? Just give them three, four, or five.
But for me, a scale with only three options isn’t satisfying. Give me a scale that means something. I want a scale with 10 options so that fans reading this site can see whether my take on a certain recruit is that he’s a seven or a three. If someone gets ten Tom Cruises, they’re a near lock to play the sport professionally. If someone gets half a Cruise, I don’t see much potential for that player to have much of a college career. (No half-Cruise players yet either, I should mention. In the last ten years, the only potential half-Cruiser I can think of was that Ron Turner offensive lineman who picked us over Elon College and only lasted one year.)
OK, Chris James. I see James as a Plan B recruit, similar to James Crawford and Jaylen Dunlap last year. We lost Reon Dawson to Michigan, so we offered Jaylen Dunlap. This isn’t really an insult or anything – the kids are fully aware of this. Kids going to Ohio State are fully aware of this. “We’re looking at four cornerbacks, you’re one of them, we have to see what some others do first before we can talk scholarship”. Happens all the time in college football.
I think that’s what happened with Chris James. We had Tyree Stone-Davis verballed, and even tried to enroll him early, but he couldn’t get past admissions. And given that his brother signed on Signing Day and Tyree did not, it’s apparent he just won’t be able to get into school. So we needed another defensive back, and James was that guy. We brought him in for a visit the final weekend, offered him, and he verballed.
I should note again – I really like it that Beckman does this. Zook didn’t have a “chart” like that (at least none that anyone could decipher). If he lost a recruit, I’m pretty sure he just wanted to land “next best available”, positions be damned. Certain positions were prioritized, but I never saw a pattern of “if we can’t get Dondi Kirby into school, here are the three lower-level safeties we add to replace him.”
Because James is a lower level recruit, there’s not much info out there on him (nor film). He had an offer from Iowa State, but all of the articles about that are from back in the summer, so I’m not certain of Iowa State’s interest in him this fall. Most other articles I could find said things like “going to the TCU camp and hoping for an offer” and things like that, but nothing materialized. Every article about his high school focused on his high school teammate, Deionte Thompson, who is going to Alabama.
So I’m left to speak in generalities. Texas, that’s good. Solid program with a lot of history, that’s good. I always think of kids from solid programs in Texas as having already redshirted – they’ve learned a lot more about football than a kid from Nebraska. James is also a track athlete (found lots of film of him running in 4×200 relays), and was mostly a running back in high school.
That’s the type of kid who will be a redshirt lock. Bring him in, test him a few places, anchor him at free safety, and then give him a few years to learn everything about the position. Then see what you have in 2017.
But for Tom Cruises, this is a kid I have to give one Cruise. As most know, I’m a percentages guy. Sign a five-star, and there’s a 79% chance you’ve signed a solid college contributor. Sign a three-star, and there’s a 42% chance. Sign a kid who is off the radar, camped a few places with no offers, and was a plan B that you added on signing day, and there’s only a 14% chance. That’s just how the percentages work.
Chris James. One Tom Cruise. (And any time I give a kid one Tom Cruise I feel obligated to add this tag: go prove me wrong, kid.)
Steve Greenberg from the Chicago Sun Times is my guest on this week’s We Love No Other podcast. This one goes a little bit longer – 41 minutes to be exact – but that’s a good thing. Steve discusses his first year as the Sun Times beat writer for the Illini, what it was like to cover some of the Illini football seniors, and what it’s like to start covering a team when they’re in the basement.
And yes, we discuss the Sun Times article after the Cliffmas nightmare, and John Groce’s reaction to the headline, and his thoughts on the whole ordeal. Link is below, RSS feed will be posted soon, and the iTunes thing will be set up once I finally get back to Brumby with some of the information needed to post it there. No, really, it will be there soon. Seriously.