And Now For Something Completely Different
I mean, if you want to design my perfect day, go ahead and put an Illini football practice open to the media in the morning and an Illini basketball practice open to the media in the afternoon. And then give me a nice cold hotel room where I can just sit and write afterwards. And maybe a nice steak dinner. And could we get my wife here? Also, I recently discovered this Minute Maid fruit punch that tastes mostly like pear juice which is really good, so please bring me a glass of that.
I wrote up the football practice first, so now let's get to the basketball practice. I'll say this: I feel better about the basketball team being successful in 2019 than the football team. I think both should take a step forward, but I'm guessing the basketball team's step is bigger. This is not breaking news.
Why am I confident in that? Mostly because there's star power. Ask me who the star of the first two days of football practice has been and I'm not sure I could tell you. Punter Blake Hayes is maybe the only player out there who makes you say "he could be one of the best in the country at his position". But for basketball, you do get that feeling. There was star power (Ayo) but there was also surprising outbursts of where-did-he-come-from (Alan Griffin). I left feeling warm.
Let's start with the bad (to get it out of the way) and then get to the good.
I'd say that the "bad" was the team of Ayo-Trent-Da'Monte-Tevian-Giorgi losing to the team of Feliz-Underwood-Griffin-Kipper-Kofi. That very well could be the starters and the bench, and you don't want your bench beating your starters. I mean, you do - everyone wants to feel good about their depth - but I kept waiting for the blue team to take over and put away the orange team and it never happened.
The way they did the scrimmage at the end of practice: Two 10-minute scrimmages, three officials on the court calling everything, first scrimmage is regular defense and second scrimmage is zone defense. Plays could be blown dead for fouls/ball out of bounds or blown dead by Underwood when he sees something he doesn't like. They were using the FIBA shot clock (24 seconds) and all FIBA rules (if there's a non-shooting foul, the shot clock resets to 14 seconds). They were using these rules, obviously, in anticipation of the trip to Italy tomorrow.
The first scrimmage was won by the orange team (Feliz-Underwood-Griffin-Kipper-Kofi plus walkon Zach Griffith rotating in) and the second scrimmage finished in a tie (they didn't play an overtime). I guess it was one stretch where Griffith had rotated in and it was Feliz-Underwood-Griffin-Kipper-Griffith stretching the lead against Ayo-Trent-Da'Monte-Tevian-Giorgi and I was all "um, there's two walkons out there and Feliz and Griffin shouldn't be able to hang with this other team all by themselves". But they did.
As you will see below, that's can fall under "good" because if this Alan Griffin shows up next season, we're in great shape. But it's also bad because if Alan Griffin can take Tevian Jones to school, other Big Ten opponents are going to take Tevian Jones to school. Tevian Jones was me when I wandered over to IMPE a few times to play pick-up basketball as a freshman (sorry, I know it's not IMPE anymore but I can't remember the new name and it will always be IMPE and wIMPE to me) while Alan Griffin was... the dudes who always took it right to me at IMPE because they could sense my fear.
Ayo was great, but it just wasn't clicking for Ayo-Trent-Giorgi like it should have. Which is totally fine. This was basically one half of basketball (20 minutes, split into two games), and their team almost won the first one (they got the ball back at midcourt with 3.2 seconds on the clock and a chance to tie but Ayo turned it over trying to rush for an open shot). It's no big alarming thing. But this was "the bad".
(Oh, and also, Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk was there and in uniform but not practicing. Looked like he was underneath doing strength work the whole time. So that was a little disappointing - I wanted to see what we have there.)
Alan Griffin! Well, there was a lot of good all over, but Griffin was great. So, so many rebounds. There's highlights here of Griffin's put-back dunk over Giorgi (watch him shove Giorgi in the back after dunking it on him - awesome). That's the kind of competition you need in these practices.
Griffin obviously has a lot to work on to round out his game (I don't remember him knocking down many threes today), so it's not like this is some "Griffin has already made the sophomore leap! All is saved!" post. But if he can be that guy off the bench getting tip dunks and hitting threes and grabbing way too many offensive rebounds for a guy his size, man, would that help a ton next season. The void to be filled on the court from last year to this year is simply "Aaron Jordan graduated and we need to replace his minutes", and after today, I feel really good about Alan Griffin taking most of those minutes.
There was more good than that, obviously. Ayo was Ayo, Trent was maybe a little off but mostly still Trent, and Giorgi showed his footwork with a variety of post moves (although it's difficult to use some of those moves when the guy he's trying to back down is built like the Armory). Feliz was crafty, Kofi was as massive as advertised... it was a pleasant practice to watch.
Maybe the best way to do this is to make a list of the five best things from today.
- Ayo pushed the ball and pushed the ball and made layups and pullups from all different angles. He wasn't clicking with Trent (that's still our number one thing to figure out next season - repetitive Ayo/Trent clicking), but he was still the best player on the court at all times. As it should be.
- Feliz is such a heady player. Seems to always know what he's doing. Like, you just feel confident when watching him. Whatever decision he makes will probably be the right one.
- Giorgi's ability to use either hand is still so crazy. He made a layup with his left hand where he basically reached wide past Kofi and flicked it in off the glass with his wrist. It's like when you're playing keep-away and you reach past the person and flick it to the other guy. I was great at keep-away.
- The first time you walk into the State Farm Center next winter and see Kofi warming up you're going to say "I saw pictures and was expecting a big dude but I had no idea he was that massive". He's so, so massive. Huge legs. Huge hands. Just an oversized person. Can he play tight end?
- Alan Griffin
Really looking forward to seeing these box scores from Italy. Really curious how the stats will sort out. 24-second shot clock (and Euro defense), so I'm hoping for some big offensive numbers.
And maybe 19 rebounds from Alan Griffin.