So If Griffin Is A Thing...
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I'm going to test you older fans for a moment. When I say "The Kevin Turner Game", what do you think of? His 32-point performance at UCLA in December of 1997, right? I was so frustrated by that team in November and December, but when Turner put up those 32 points at UCLA (two-years-removed-from-a-title UCLA), my whole outlook on the season turned around. If Kevin Turner, Offensive Powerhouse is a thing, then the outlook for this team changes significantly.
For your youngins, I'll give you a paragraph or two on how that season started and ended. The year before, Lon Kruger's first year in Champaign, went very well. Led by senior Kiwane Garris (2nd leading scorer in Illini basketball history Kiwane Garris), the Illini went from the NIT the year before to a 6-seed in 1997. We beat USC and then, uh, lost to 14-seed Chattanooga. That was a rough second round loss - after Chattanooga knocked off 3-seed Georgia, we all figured we'd skate through to the Sweet 16.
Garris (and Chris Gandy) graduated, but there was a lot of hope for 1997/98 because there were five senior starters (plus freshman 6th-man Sergio McClain). The issue: who would replace the scoring that Garris provided? In the first month, the answer was unclear. We were in the Puerto Rico Shootout and lost two of three. We played St. Louis in the new TWA Dome (I sat in my Rams season ticket seats for the game) and lost to Larry Hughes and the Billikens. We also lost to Missouri in the Braggin' Rights game. This season I thought was going somewhere didn't seem to be going anywhere.
But then we lost to #9 UCLA at Pauley Pavilion and my outlook changed. We played them tough, and Kevin Turner went off for 32 points. "If Kevin Turner is a thing, this team can compete in the Big Ten" was the talking point among my group of friends. We need a scorer, and if Turner is this kind of scorer, it changes things.
It did change things. Turner was first-team All Big Ten (averaging 17.7 ppg) and we won the Big Ten. Like, won the conference title (well, tied with Michigan State but we still got to hang a banner). That team was 8-5 after that loss at UCLA... and then went 13-3 in the Big Ten.
I didn't get to watch the game live last night (man, those Griffin threes must have been so much fun live), but on the re-watch, I was reminded of my feeling towards Turner 23 years ago. If Alan Griffin is a thing, then the whole outlook changes for this team. Not only this year, but next year as well.
It made me think of the basketball practice I attended in August. While I was up at training camp, there was an open basketball practice (the team was prepping for the Italy trip), so I hustled over there after football practice. Here's something I wrote that day regarding Griffin:
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.
Note: it has helped a ton this season. And after last night, I'm considering whether "Griffin has made the sophomore leap - all is saved" is coming true as well.
Because if Griffin is a thing, I feel better about the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament (which is totally a thing that the University of Illinois will be playing in this year). The issue for this team is shooting (in effective field goal percentage, Illinois is 14th out of 14 Big Ten teams), and if Griffin can shoot us out of some rough games, look out.
And then next year, it gets even more interesting. You main ten guys are probably something like:
With the wildcards then being the other three bigs (BBV, Jermaine Hamlin, and Coleman Hawkins). What's the one thing that makes that team so much better? A Kevin Turner. And if Alan Griffin can be Kevin Turner.....
I'm getting ahead of myself. Just a few weeks ago I was openly worrying about a step back next year without a Guy like Ayo. There's still a lot we need to learn (about the freshmen, about the transfers) before we can start predicting what next year might bring.
But if Alan Griffin is a thing...........