What's In A Name?

Mar 10, 2020

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I've written about this topic before - and I should note that I just went to look for the post but couldn't find it - but it feels right to write it again as we head off to the NCAA Tournament. Having a name player (or two) is pretty much everything in college hoops.

I'll get The Football Paragraph out of the way early this time. What I'm about to write really doesn't hold true in football unless it's a high-end quarterback. You can't recruit one good right guard and expect to exponentially improve. One great quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger at Miami-Ohio, for example) can turn a team around, sometimes, for the most part, but that's about it. Gotta spread your recruiting around.

In basketball, St. Louis University can somehow keep Larry Hughes at home and go to the dance just based on "we recruited Larry Hughes". Coaching is the same as the previous years of missing the Tournament, roster is the same, just one difference - add Larry Hughes, win a ton of games. Then he goes off to the NBA and you to to the Tournament once in the next 13 years.

My point in the past: we needed names. We hadn't had names in forever. We've had really good players, and we've had some fun teams, but we haven't had Guys. We've needed a Guy.

With the All Big Ten teams coming out, for the first time in forever, it's pretty clear we have one, maybe two Guys. And that's where my brain rests today. We can talk about Brad Underwood adjusting his schemes in the offseason, and we can talk about Alan Griffin's emergence as a deep threat off the bench, and we can talk about the heart shown by Andres Feliz or the grit shown by Trent Frazier but the reason this is a team that finished solo 4th in the Big Ten, one game away from a title, is that we added a Guy in Underwood's first class and then another Guy in Underwood's second class. Guy #1 is our first 1st-teamer in a decade. Guy #2 is our first Freshman of the Year in a decade.

When I wrote about this before (I really wish I could find that post), I noted how we always had a Kenny Norman or a Nick Anderson or a Frankie Williams or a Dee Brown, and that we hadn't had one of those guys in a while, and until we did, we'd be stuck where we were stuck. It's a spinoff to my "just recruit top-50 players and roll the ball out" point, but the main point of that post was simply "who is our next Guy?". It didn't have to be a 5-star recruit. We just needed a Guy.

As Tyler wrote after the Iowa game, we finally have a Guy, and he's lead us to where he promised to lead us. And yesterday's All Conference teams, with Ayo only our second 1st-teamer since Dee and Kofi only the fourth Freshman of the Year in program history, suggests were getting back to where we want to be.

It's a little chicken-egg, of course. They're great so we had a great season, and because we finished one win away from a Big Ten title, the coaches and media award our players with all-conference hardware. Had we finished 9th, we wouldn't have had All-Conference guys. But because we had these two guys, we didn't finish 9th.

OK, finally to my main point. I'm so, so excited that we have a team we'll remember by the player names. In 2036, when we look back on 2020, this will be "the season where Ayo and Kofi ended the Tournament drought. Even opposing fans will remember this as the Ayo Dosunmu team.

We do this with college basketball. Typically with NCAA Tournament success, but also with conference teams. Some examples.

Remember the Harold "The Show" Arceneaux Weber State teams? I do. That God Shammgod Providence team that made a run to the Elite Eight? Yep. Wally Szcerbiak at Miami (OH)? Luke Harangody elevated Notre Dame. Matt Howard carried Butler. Jameer Nelson carried Temple.

(Yes, you caught me. It was St. Joseph's. I was just seeing if you were paying attention. And no, this isn't an edit. I'm just trying to make my point.)

In the Big Ten we can name off the teams that drove us nuts. On my road trip to Ohio State my buddy kept talking about how he hated the Talor Battle Penn State teams. Just writing about the Devin Harris free throw the other day drove me insane (HATED those Wisconsin teams). Trey Burke at Michigan. Evan Turner at Ohio State. Carsen Edwards at Purdue for you 19 year-olds who are wondering what I'm blabbering about. There's always a Guy who the identity of the team was wrapped around.

For the first time in probably 15 years, we now have "the Ayo Dosunmu Illinois team". If we make a crazy Tournament run, that becomes "remember that Ayo Dosunmu team at Illinois?" in the same breath as Shammgod at Providence or Nelson at St. Joseph's. That's the opportunity in the NCAA Tournament when you have a Guy. I have so many names in my head, just from being a Guy in college basketball for a year. Adam Emmenecker at Drake, Big Country Reeves at Oklahoma State, DeJuan Blair at Pitt, Kevin Pittsnogle at West Virginia, Buddy Hield at Oklahoma.

And with Kofi winning Freshman of the Year, we might be developing a string of Guys again. The 2001 Elite Eight was built with two FOTY award winners in a row (Bradford in 1999 and Cook in 2000). Perhaps we get a huge performance out of Andre Curbelo or Adam Miller next season and put up back-to-back FOTY's again. That's how you can really get a program rolling downhill.

What's in a name? Find a guy to build around and you can put a program back on the map. Find another guy behind him (and another guy behind him) and you can return a program to where it belongs.

I'd like to get back to where we belong. You?


Southernillini on March 10, 2020 @ 12:23 PM

You were talking the other day about this team maybe lacking a little depth. It reminded me of a day when you wrote this long article about how teams with great depth means that they didn't have any Guys.
This team does have depth. But they also have a Guy. And most games they have another Guy. Good teams should really only go 7 or 8 deep anyway. You need 5 starters along with a big and a guard off the bench. Having a foul-trouble big and an extra guard are handy too but really not necessary. Let your Guy play all the minutes he wants, and sub on a schedule or pay attention to fouls.
Teams with a Guyor 2 dont have a ton of minutes to spread around. They shouldn't. Get your Guys the damn ball, play defense, rebound. That's it.

NC_OrangeKrush on March 10, 2020 @ 08:27 PM

Robert, your post on having 'guys' was around Burger boys back in the day I think.... regardless, Eddie Johnson, Efrem, Bruce, Derek Harper, Ken Norman, and on and on...

KnoxIllini2 on March 10, 2020 @ 10:32 PM

I want to say it was when we landed DJ Williams and we’re fantasizing about Charles Mathews? I could be wrong though, but it was for sure Burger Boy themed, I agree.

The Olaf Rules on March 11, 2020 @ 11:53 AM

I really think Curbelo is going to be another Guy. This is getting fun again.

OrangeBlazer on March 11, 2020 @ 12:18 PM

Regarding the chicken/egg question, I think it's more than just having a Guy. We had a Guy in Malcolm Hill for two years. But there was no supporting cast and terrible coaching. You might say by definition, because those teams fell short, Malcolm wasn't a Guy, but I would say he had arguably the two most impressive statistical seasons in Illini basketball history. Same might be said of Kiwane and Deon in the 90s.

Or, take Minnesota. They have several teams with a Guy over the years--Oturu this season is absolutely a Guy, but also think way back to the Kris Humphries or Rick Rickert era--those teams flopped not because those players weren't the Guy, but because the coaching and supporting cast wasn't enough.

In other words, it's more than just roll the ball out, and it's more than just one player becoming the Guy.

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