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If you've never been to Braggin' Rights, there are two contests: the basketball game and the Liberty Pose contest. During a first-half timeout, it's the Illinois cheerleaders vs. the Missouri cheerleaders in a "who can hold the pose the longest?" contest. It might sound like just a sideshow to you, but at Braggin' Rights, it's a really big deal.
The "Liberty Pose" is one cheerleader holding another cheerleader over his head, gripping one foot and balancing her in the air for as long as he can. Last one to drop wins. Perhaps I should just show you the video from tonight so you know what I'm talking about.
He’s just a beast.— Robert Rosenthal (@ALionEye) December 23, 2021
Not Kofi - this cheerleader who just won his second liberty pose contest. pic.twitter.com/P1i7AqzNOa
That's Luther Solis. He's the Ayo Dosunmu of Braggin' Rights Liberty Pose contests. Illinois was lost, wandering in the Liberty Pose wilderness before Luther came along. In 2019, he broke the Missouri winning streak (finally). Last season, he couldn't defend his title (Covid). And this year, as a senior, he returned and won again. What was once lost is now found. Luther picked Illinois, and because Luther picked Illinois, we're back where we belong, winning Liberty Pose contests.
So as soon as the game ended, I knew I had to interview the MVP. I waited around for quite some time - he had so many Illini fans coming up to him to congratulate him (seriously, so many fans - they know how big this was), and then he had a brief moment where Barry Houser tried to get him to conduct the band, and then I grabbed him and asked for an interview. Got the exclusive with the game MVP.
Grab your headphones because you'll want to listen to the full interview. The rest of this article won't make much sense without listening to it. Here we go:
Did you hear it? Focus. Preparation. Studying his craft. Observing from the sidelines until it was his turn. Making the most of his moment.
There's not much of a difference between Kofi and Luther. I'm being completely serious here. Want to succeed at something? Focus. Preparation. Study your craft.
And I don't want to just brush past Jada Thomas here. As he pointed out, they won this contest together in 2019 and they wanted to go again and win in 2021. It's all about balance, and, as you saw from the one Mizzou pairing on the end, the whole thing can be immediately over if you don't nail the lift into the Liberty pose.
Go back and watch the video at the top. Maybe I should Check The Tape with this video and show you how still she remains - how subtle her arm balance movements are when compared to everyone else. This is the dream pairing for Illini Cheerleading. 7-to-9 dot com.
The guy interrupting us to congratulate Luther? Completely expected. It was happening to Luther over and over as I was waiting to interview him. Braggin' Rights is this very unique thing - something those who don't regularly attend can never understand - and it's a big deal when Illinois wins the game AND the Liberty Pose contest. When that guy says "Kofi number one, and you number two", well, those who don't understand Braggin' Rights think it's weird and those who do totally understand.
The whole point of this game is the division. The line of orange and mustard right down the middle of the lower deck. In years where both football head coaches attend, there's basically a "which fanbase can cheer louder for their head coach when he shows up on the jumbotron?" contest. When the officials make bad calls, there's a "who can yell at the officials louder?" contest. Everything is being contested for Braggin' Rights. Somewhere along that dividing line between the two colors, I'm guessing there was an argument about which state handled mask mandates better.
So to know that Luther and Jada took their part of Braggin' Rights so seriously? To hear Luther talking about his secret (his breathing) and how it helped him to back-to-back titles? The part where he talks about how they "have some guys coming up"? I love every ounce of it.
I've talked about it many times before when discussing football and basketball: these are just kids, and they spend SO MUCH TIME preparing to entertaining us. Yes, the best of the best have a shot at professional contracts, but for everyone else, they're giving it their all just to make you and me happy. Kofi spends so much time working on his post moves (and his defense, and his free throw shooting, and his timing on blocking without goaltending). His whole life is preparation.
Tonight, it paid off. He was a man playing against boys. At one point I swear I saw two Mizzou players clinging to each leg as he tried to walk across the court. All of that preparation paid off in the form of a blowout win. Dunk after dunk, three after three.
Or take Alfonso Plummer's jump shot. He's been working with Fletch to strengthen his legs and get better elevation on his jump shot. And it's been working. One of his threes was directly in front of me (maybe six feet in front of me) and the elevation he gets is so impressive. Square up, depart the launchpad quickly, flick the wrist. Splash.
Tonight, to me, was preparation domination. Mizzou has a lot of new players (transfers, freshmen, and players who didn't play much in the past). They just aren't comfortable playing together. Everything they tried was disjointed. Kobe Brown is an impressive player, but they just haven't built anything around him.
And the result was me not having to worry one ounce the entire night. We were ready (prepared) from the jump, Missouri was not, and it was over quickly. As was the Liberty Pose contest. Luther and Jada were prepared, Missouri wasn't, and it was over quickly.
So the big question now: Luther and Jada brought us back to where we belong. Now the job is to sustain it. Luther graduates next May - who's next? Did we build one Liberty Pose team or did we build a Liberty Pose program? Hope it's the second one.
You know, like basketball.