Ten Years

Jan 26, 2022

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First off, let me just say this. You couldn't design a better game to get me out of the funk I was in. Beating #10 with Kofi and Belo out is exactly what I needed. As difficult as it was to sit there at Maryland, winning this one had the opposite effect. We had absolutely no business winning this game.

Here's the list I came up with immediately after the game:

And I could go on. Second chance points 11-0. Fast break points 12-2. The Injured Illini had everything stacked against them - at one point, with Omar Payne at four fouls and Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk at three (plus Kofi not dressed), Brandon Lieb played the first two meaningful minutes of his career - yet they came out on top.

Afterwards, I joined the Twitter Spaces chat with the guys from our two other podcasts (The Board Room and The Field Pass). One question was about Bruce Weber, and I referenced the Purdue press conference in 2012, and that sent me down a rabbit hole which lands me here. The journey from that press conference (February 15, 2012, so nearly ten years ago) to today.

I guess it's not really a journey. This is more of a compare and contrast exercise. What we were then and what we are now.

If you don't remember that press conference, it was right at the end of the Weber era. A month before he was fired. That 2012 team had started the season 15-3 and, after beating #5 Ohio State in a game where Brandon Paul scored 43, had moved to #22 in the rankings. The light bulb had turned on for Meyers Leonard, Paul and DJ Richardson were coming into their own - that team had lots of potential. I mean, we had a guy who would be a lottery pick in a few months.

And then the bottom fell out. Lost 12 of the next 14 to finish 17-15 after a 15-3 start. And the moment everyone remembers was the press conference after the Purdue game. It's commonly referred to as the "Bruce Weber giving up" press conference in my corner of Illini land. Things were falling apart quickly but Purdue was struggling as well. Purdue was 6-6 in the Big Ten and Illinois was 5-7. Win that game in Assembly Hall (moving both teams into a tie at 6-7) and maybe there was some hope. 3-10 Nebraska was next, so you could get to 7-7, get back on the right side of the bubble, and maybe salvage this thing.

You can watch the video of that press conference here, but I'll warn you, it's wildly uncomfortable. With five games left to play, the coach starts talking as if the season (and his tenure at Illinois) is over. Even the national media picked up on the story - I remember this Jeff Eisenberg article where he called it Weber's "concession speech."

That article included this long quote from Weber (from that bizarre press conference):

"The sad thing about the whole thing, and I guess it's my fault, is instead of creating toughness and developing a team, I coached not to lose all year," Weber said.

"Instead of developing people, I'm worried about winning. Maybe sit Meyers down three weeks ago or a month ago or two months ago. And Brandon (Paul). But that's my fault. You've got to develop a culture and I think the last three years all I did was worry about winning instead of developing a culture and a toughness. And that's my fault."

After his concession speech, the bottom really fell out. The next game against Nebraska (3-10 in the Big Ten Nebraska) Illinois lost 80-57. Twitter was still fairly young, but it was alive with "this is what happens when you tell your team the season is over with five games left to play". There's ugly, and then there's late February 2012 ugly. Crazy that it was nearly 10 years ago.

Let's go back to that quote again. It's important.

"You've got to develop a culture and I think the last three years all I did was worry about winning instead of developing a culture and a toughness. And that's my fault."

It's so striking. A coach talking about what he should have done, and the fact that he didn't do it left the program in shambles. The following month he'd become the first Illinois basketball coach to be fired since 1974. Fast forward 10 years and we beat #10 Michigan State without the guy everyone had as a preseason first-team All American and the guy some people had as a preseason third-team All American. You're in foul trouble, you're having the play the 12th guy on your bench, and you find a way to beat Michigan State.

Which moves Illinois into solo first place in the Big Ten. I know the schedule was frontloaded with easier games, but still, here's the injury report:

  • Kofi Cockburn missed three games with a suspension and has now missed two games with a concussion.
  • Andre Curbelo missed 12 games with a concussion and now this game with an illness.
  • Trent Frazier missed two games with a knee injury.
  • Jacob Grandison missed one game with the flu.
  • Austin Hutcherson is out for the season with a sports hernia.
  • Luke Goode missed two games with back spasms.

7-2, first place in the Big Ten.

At some point, especially if Kofi is out for an extended period of time, the injuries will catch up with us in a major way. But to be 14-5 (7-2) at the moment is really impressive.

And yes, I do think it has to do with Brad Underwood developing a culture and a toughness. Shorthanded, found a way to win over #10.

Can't wait to see what the next 10 years bring.

+ I want to make note of the noise during the missed free throw with 0.2 on the clock. I tweeted about it earlier and someone responded saying it was a "different kind of rumble." That's a great way to put it.

It was loud - all 15,544 people were screaming - but there were also a lot of noisemakers. The Krush members along the sideline (on the metal risers) were stomping their feet and shaking my computer screen. Fans around the stadium were banging on the seat back in front of them. With 0.2 seconds left, if he made both we went to overtime and if he missed either one we win. He missed the first. The crowd went insane.

And I couldn't help but think of last season. When Ayo hit those dagger threes against Northwestern, there were only 20 guys in the area of the bench who cheered. When Illinois handled Wisconsin with ease, there wasn't anyone there to celebrate.

But tonight, noise mattered. "A different kind of rumble" led to a missed free throw and an Illini win. In that moment, it just felt so, so good to have fans back in the stands.

+ So great that Luke Goode got a breakout moment. Not only hitting three of four from deep (he's now shooting .429 from three on the season), but also grabbing that massive rebound in the closing seconds. Nine points, four rebounds, solid defense - I think we can already tell that there are going to be some "Goode is now 4 of 5 from three in the first half" games in the future.

If he can be this player - even without hitting the threes - then once everyone is healthy that's a huge piece to add to the rotation. An extra wing who can play solid defense would be so helpful for a tournament run.

+ Another interesting moment: As Malik Hall was setting up to shoot the second free throw (the one he'd have to miss and then pray for a tip-in), Brad Underwood had Coleman Hawkins and Da'Monte Williams switch spots in the lane. Da'Monte moved up to one of the main two spots (boxing out Julius Marble) and Coleman moved to the "third" spot on the other side of the lane (where it was BBV, then MSU's Bingham, then Hawkins).

If you want to know if Brad Underwood trusts Da'Monte Williams, on this play he needs to make sure the other team doesn't get a miracle tip-in so he swaps out his 6'-10" sophomore for his 6'-3" senior, assigning him to box out the 6'-9", 245 lb. Julius Marble. There's trust, and then there's trusting your 6'-3" guy over your 6'-10" guy as one of the main two box-out guys.

+ Next up, Northwestern. We'll need Kofi for this one (we need Kofi for every one) so here's hoping his concussion symptoms clear. And here's hoping Andre Curbelo's sickness clears. And here's hoping the entire team is at 100% soon.

And here's hoping Kofi has 33 and 16 at Michigan State in three weeks.


Altgeld88 on January 26, 2022 @ 07:11 AM

I sat in the "crowd" at the sparsely-populated Maryland game on Friday and thought to myself "well, that's college hoops." Last night Maryland smacked Rutgers all over the RAC; it seems to have found its complete-game mojo. And the Illini turned around and toughed out a win v. MSU solely because of the culture that BU has built and the depth of the team. Yes, they had no business winning that game v. #10, and yet they led by double digits for most of it.

The coach communicates toughness, love for his players and adoration of the program. I can't ask for more and hope that he's with us for a long time to come.

Finally, thanks for posting that postgame Weber presser v. Purdue. I need to watch it. What I remember of it is that at some point he seemed to throw one or more of his players under the bus, which incensed me. I recall listening to it and that was the moment when I thought to myself "He'll have to go. Now." I don't remember his contrition or despair at all. Then came that Nebraska debacle in Lincoln, with Meyers literally in tears on the bench at the end because he had never been on a team beaten that badly.

Memory is selective and deceiving, so perhaps I was wrong. I was just thinking of that Weber presser earlier this month, as I often contrast him (unfavorably, of course) with BU. I have compassion for the guy but he failed our program because he palpably lacked confidence, authority, and vigor.

illiniwhat on January 26, 2022 @ 08:34 AM

I made note of the DMW and Hawk switch too. You’re right that he trusts DMW, however I think it’s as much expecting a long rebound and needing some length to ensure there isn’t a clean tap in opp. BU also knows DMW isn’t getting bullied over for a tap too.

IlliniJoe81 on January 26, 2022 @ 10:01 AM

I think it was purely that Da'Monte is stronger. Coleman gets pushed around a lot.

thegoah on January 27, 2022 @ 07:35 AM

But did you all notice that Damonte got cleared out and with the right bounce his guy probably would have had the tip in? Don’t know if it was a foul or not but he basically got around Damonte (who went low on the box out) by curling his elbow around Damonte’s shoulder and was standing under the bucket when the ball splashed in.

IlliniJoe81 on January 26, 2022 @ 10:03 AM

I loved that win. I knew even up 14 at halftime that we were in a dogfight and were going to have to crawl to the finish. I likened it to trying to drive a car home with a flat tire and an engine leaking oil.

All that mattered was the W.

I think this team has top 5 potential and I really don't think MSU is nearly as good as their #10 ranking. On the other hand, Marquette, Cincy, and Maryland are underrated so we were due for one like this.

ATOillini on January 26, 2022 @ 10:11 AM

You’ve reminded me of why, as highly respected as he is, Izzo has a rather negative spot in the minds of some Illini fans (me included). Yes, Weber’s presser was a concession speech. That was obvious, just as it was obvious at season’s end that it was time for a change. Yet, although I don’t remember the exact words and details, Izzo publicly demeaned the firing as some sort of morally incorrect action. He never should have commented in that fashion. It was unacceptable.

Norcal Illini on January 26, 2022 @ 02:51 PM

Good point. I remember that, too. It was like Izzo wanted to keep an easy win on the schedule with Weber as coach.

McGuive on January 26, 2022 @ 01:30 PM

Great post, although I feel like there was an incredible opportunity to title it "A Different Kind Of Rumble" but regardless. Hope we have literal decades of this culture and noise moving forward. Feels amazing.

Robert on January 26, 2022 @ 03:01 PM

Ha! Great point. I little tidbit about how the sausage is made...

I can change the title of a post, but the url doesn't change when I do that if I've already saved a draft. So I thought about changing it to exactly that title, but I had already put "Ten Years" in the subject line and saved the draft. The post would then say A Different Kind Of Rumble at the top, but the link would be illiniboard dot com / story / ten years (or whatever).

And then, in the future, when I'm searching for something I wrote, even though I have something else in the title, Google seems to hold that url title above all else. So after falling victim to that several times, I now have this idiotic "after you name the post, the post is named and you don't change it" thing.

And it's so dumb. I could change it and be fine. I could even delete that draft and just start a new one. But I'm obsessed with this whole "pick a good name at the beginning" thing.

McGuive on January 26, 2022 @ 04:09 PM

Oof yeah that is a rough little speed bump in the road, but I 100% appreciate you sticking to your convictions. "Ten Years" by title, "A Different Kind Of Rumble" by heart, it is.

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