My seat on the baseline brings me close enough to smell the officials. I think I now know what kind of talc Valentine uses to keep that big ole booty from chafing. I can hear the chatter between refs and players, and between refs and coaches.
Bruce Weber complained about various calls, but that's just working the crew. He asked specific questions about particular calls. "What did he do Glenn?" That's not unusual either.
Weber went apoplectic when one Rambler (didn't see who, my view was blocked) elbowed his defender to clear a lane for himself. The nearest official caught the contact, but not the nuance. He signaled a foul on Illinois.
"HE HIT 'IM ON THE HEAD!" Weber screamed, reddening at the gills. Jay Price corralled his longtime associate, while the Striped Trio conferred. "He hit 'im on the head!" Weber yelled, and again.
The refs reversed the call. While Weber collected himself, Price and Valentine shot the shit.
The only call I remember disliking was Sam Maniscalco's charge. Schipper called a block. It seemed to me that Sam had position, but Schipper was blocking my view. Sam was distinctly surprised by the ruling. His ability to bottle and swallow his outrage was probably the best individual performance of the night (Meyers Leonard makes rejections look too easy).
The refs even got support from the Illini bench. When Tracy Abrams got caught with his hand in Denzel Brito's cookie jar, Meyers hollered to him from the bench: "It was a good call Tracy."
I think the Stripes made the correct non-call (offensive goal-tending) on the double-alley-oop (Meyers to Bertrand to Meyers) in the first half. I had a good angle, sitting under the opposite basket. Contrast the goal-tending call Ted Valentine initially whistled against Meyers at the defensive end. Valentine immediately sought a conference with his partners, and then reversed himself.
Not wanting to be fooled by his own eyes, or by sneaky players, Valentine takes his time. He spotted something red leaking from Brandon Paul, and (presumably having read my account of the Orange & Blue Scrimmage) dismissed Brandon's feigned ignorance.
NEW LOOK ILLINI?
The game started badly.
The New Illini looked like the old Illini. They passed around the arc, then chucked up threes. After failing to score, the lightbulb went off in someone's mind: "Oh yeah, get the ball inside."
Neither Meyers nor Sam participated in the laggardly launch. On the bench, the best point guard and the best big man were able to connect only socially.
Late in the first half, both were on the floor — along with the other point guard and the other center. I've criticized Bruce Weber's creativity with line-ups. I jeered Weber's old friend Kevin Stallings for not exploiting his fraternal twin towers. The second best thing about playing Meyers and Nnanna, Tracy and Sam simultaneously is that it worked. The best thing is that Weber tried it.
I obsessed about this progressive thinking in the post game interviews:
Throughout the evening, Meyers made a spectacle of himself, which is great. Basketball is light entertainment. Over 13,000 people showed up. I'm glad they got a show.
The thing that most excited me about the inside game was not spectacular. Tyler Griffey scored on two low-post moves. He drove the lane. It was workmanlike, and happened below the basket. It demonstrated that Tyler can play power forward. He's more than a spot-up shooter.
A FACE IN THE CROWD
Kendrick Nunn was the only Illini recruit in attendance. Thus, he got all the attention. He laughed, and possibly blushed when the Orange Krush chanted his name "WE want KEN-drick," clap clap clap-clap-clap.
New signee Michael Orris was there, too. He and Kendrick both shared a moment of their halftime (in the video, above). Michael is a point guard, so he deconstructed the on-court events. I'm told he's a senior in high school, but from talking to him, I've deduced that he's about 26. You are going to like Michael Orris.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
Saturday afternoon, about 15 minutes before kick-off, I observed Illini athletics academic counselor Troy Collier handing two meals to two of Green Streets permanent urchins. These two middle-aged men presumably spend most of their pity change on cheap wine and cigarettes. They look like railroad workers from the industrial age. If you want to see what I mean, go down to Green Street. They'll be there.
Most psychiatric and social services professionals tell me it's bad (enabling) to give money to panhandlers. But a hot meal never killed anybody. Even Pizza Hut.
I was not there as a member of the media. I was just jogging by. But as far as I'm concerned; no good deed goes unpublished, just so long as it's not seeking publicity.