Pick My Post III - Enemies
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I decided to spread these out. It's something I have to work on. I've always been very "no posts for two days, then three posts one morning" about how I publish things here, but I need to look at this more like the websites I read. The ones that space out articles over the day so that the site has consistent updates. SO, this one goes up Friday at 11:00 am.
Here's the next Pick My Post question:
I thought about this while watching Georgia beat Bruce Pearl last night: Are there any Illini enemies left? Growing up, I had so much bile for so many enemies: Knight, Pearl, Keady, Dr. Tom, Aaron Kraft, even Heathcote (lovable bile, anyway). Who are our biggest enemies now?
-- Will Leitch (@williamfleitch) February 20, 2020
The obvious first thought is Fran McCaffery after he told his team to not shake hands in Iowa City a few weeks ago. Fans across the conference dislike him to begin with, and there's the obvious Bruce Pearl history with Iowa (plus all of the Idiots Out Walking Around stuff), but to tell his team to leave the court without shaking hands because an Illini assistant coach said something to him about the called-off-the-dogs dunk, well, it's just perfect. We needed someone to hate.
In a way, it really is perfect. Illini fans have always just naturally gravitated towards Iowa hate ("corn leans to the east because Indiana sucks and Iowa blows"), even though Iowa is mostly focused on Minnesota and Wisconsin (and, football wise, desperately trying to get Nebraska to hate them). So it all kind of fits. Across the conference, twitter fanbases make fun of Fran and his anger issues (all of the "FRANCON 2" stuff), so for Illinois basketball to be good again with Iowa coming to town after their anger-issues coach called off the handshake line in the last game... it all kind of fits, you know?
I agree, though, that it doesn't feel like 1990 or even 2010. I don't nearly have the same "someone needs to wipe that smug grin off Chris Kingsbury's face" emotions as I used to. Even opposing fanbases struggle to hate Illini players like they hated Lucas Johnson in the past. Where did it all go?
For me, personally, I still feel the bubbling bile, but I try to keep it (mostly) contained given that, you know, I'll be applying for credentials in opposing arenas and even the Iowa SID reading "wipe that smug grin off Chris Kingsbury's face" could lead to a denied press pass. But let's pretend like no one is reading this and I'll give you three players who make my blood boil. Let Fran coach them in a 3-on-3 tournament and I'll pass out.
At the most recent Braggin' Rights game, Pinson yapped at an Illini fan standing directly behind me (with good reason, they were winning and the fan was all "Pinson, you suck") and then he turned to the fan and mouthed "bye-bye" after the Illini fouled down six with 10 seconds left (or whatever). Basically, I thought it was a test for me. Some guy in a van outside was in Pinson's ear and said "OK, now wave bye-bye to Illini fans while smiling and let's see what happens to Robert's blood pressure... OK, good - immediately spikes to 310 over 280". I passed the test, apparently. And I never want to see Pinson's "Illinois should have recruited me" smile again.
If Fran is coaching this three-on-three team, he'll demand that one of his players be on there. Why not the Big Ten Player of the Year?
The thing that puts Garza on this list, for me, is that I have a special anger spot for "what did I do?" opponents. I tweeted about this during the Illinois/Iowa game a few weeks ago. In the last 35 years, Iowa laps the field in having players who get called for a foul, turn to their coach, and say "what did I do?" with their body language. I call it "daaaaaad" (which is funny because Fran has two actual sons on the team). Garza, great as he is, is as "daaaaad" as any player in the Big Ten. Just look at his reaction to a foul call late in the Iowa/Minnesota game on Sunday. We all have that friend who lives for "oh my GOD, dude" appeals. Garza seemingly mutters "oh my GOD, dude" in his sleep. And that puts him on the list.
(Also, this will be a pretty good three-on-three team.)
No one likes a cheap shot artist, especially near the jewels. And Davison loves to "accidentally" nut punch while running around screens. After multiple infractions for it, he was finally suspended for a game earlier this season. The best part about the whole thing is that he's the perfect Wisconsin basketball player. Go find some random Wisconsin fan on the street. While speaking to him, attach a remote mic to his coat. Ask him about Brad Davison and he'll tell you how there's no place for that in the game and that Bo would have never tolerated that. Then walk away and listen to what that fan says to his wife. Guarantee it's "I lied - I freaking love Brad Davison".
One more thing: re-reading this, I think this list proves the point. There's not much here that comes close to Bruce Pearl/Iowa hate in 1993, or Aaron Craft hate 10 years ago, or even "Chris Kingsbury better wipe that smug grin off his face". It's probably a function of us, you know, not going to the Tournament for the last seven years and more-or-less not mattering in the world of college basketball.
Thank God that's changing.