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And before you could say “a pair of cupcakes,” Illinois was 2–0 on the season. The Illini trounced Texas A&M-Corpus Christi yesterday, 72–53. Friday’s opener against Eastern Washington was tied at the half, but our guys prevailed by a healthy 66–50 margin. In both games, senior Trent Meacham had a hot hand from downtown.

But the real story is the coming out party for our new star.


Mike Davis, Mike Davis, Mike Davis. The cat was everywhere Sunday. Nailing mid-range jumpers, stuffing opponents, collecting the garbage for put-backs, hitting from outside, slam-dunking interior passes. He dropped 20 on TAMU-CC, while raking in 14 boards.

As far as Bruce Weber was concerned, though, he wasn’t always in the right places. “Screen Mike Davis!” Weber yelled, repeatedly, in the opening minutes of both games. “SCREEN!”

Davis, like Demetri McCamey, is cooool. Davis, like McCamey, gets his spastically firey coach’s panties in a bunch. From McCamey, it’s only his effort level that drives Weber batshit. But Davis also makes Weber crazy via his lack of execution. He’s not always in the right place a the right time.

The first criticism comes from personality conflicts. They all respect and like each other, but the players share an outlook different from their coach. Each is simply too mellow. It’s more than Weber’s blood pressure can stand.

Weber’s right about the execution. Screens lead to good shots, often for the screeners. Weber may be right about the attitude thing, too. Perhaps Davis and McCamey would be even better if they played as if they had Capsaicin in their jockstraps. On the other hand, non-spastic players can be useful at times. e.g. at the free throw line, tied, with 0:03 to go.

How many trips down the court can Mike Davis fail to set a screen before he’s yanked? We may never find out. If he continues to find the bottom of the basket, it will be hard for Weber to take him off the floor. No one else has demonstrated an ability to score inside.

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It’s Mike’s team now.

Mike Tisdale’s ball-handling improved in these two games, but his hook shot has an evil twin — launched facing the basket, and much easier to defend. Weber isn’t sure what it is, either. He expressed bewilderment after both games. Tisdale got yanked Sunday for failing to rebound, and missing some defensive assignments. But Weber thinks it’s nothing a little experience won’t change.

Richard Semrau looks better and better, but it’s silly to think he would “replace” Tisdale. They have entirely different skill sets. They are practically yin to each other’s yang. Tisdale doesn’t rebound, and Semrau is a beast on the glass. (He culled 6 on Friday, a career high, and 3 more Sunday in only 12 minutes.) But Semrau can’t finish. Following consecutive caroms, he dented the rim in missing his put-backs. Tisdale, conversely, has soft hands.

Their strength is symbiosis. Interspersing Tisdale’s glide with Semrau’s brute force will confuse opponents. Mixing and matching will yield better results than playing one over the other.

Mike Davis, on the other hand, hopes that a little added Mike Davis will transform him into the perfect force/finesse player.

It was Jeff Jordan who ignited the team Friday night. Jordan electrified the crowd with a knifing, wrap-around lay-in through heavy traffic. It broke the silence, and shot gas directly into the team’s gaiters. From a 35–35 tie, the Illini blew the game open. Jordan’s stern defense disrupted the Eagles’ offensive scheme, which had consistently created open jumpers in the first half.

Jordan was the spark against Eastern Washington. He seemed the only member of the team capable of driving the lane.

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Perry Clark may have got news of Jordan’s prowess from his scouting report. Perhaps that’s why he looks ruminative about Jordan’s entrance to Sunday’s game. Then again, his scouting report didn’t include Mike Davis. So maybe not.



Dominique Keller provided similar electricity Sunday. The Illini came out sluggish, and actually trailed the Islanders early. Illinois missed nine of its first 11 shots, and trailed eight to one in rebounds.

Keller’s strong move under the basket, with 9:34 remaining in the first half, gave Illinois its first lead. Jordan provided the pretty assist. Meacham and McCamey followed with transition jump-shots, and Meacham added a gorgeous flop at 6:29. At that point, the Islanders hadn’t scored for eight minutes. Fatso Freshman Jawan Nelson nearly wettened the drought at 5:00, gallumphing to the hoop over two splayed Illini, but Davis neatly pinned Nelson’s lay-up to the backboard. (Nelson, a Bloom Township graduate, trained in the DeAndre Thomas school of cheeseburger incentivized basketball training. Two all-beef patties per carom, and a small fries for each basket = one round mound of rebound.)

At 4:45, Justin Reynolds scored the Islanders final basket of the half.

TAMU-CC managed 41 points in the second half, providing more grist for Weber’s mill. But there were mostly positive things to get bothered by. For example, Trent Meacham and Chester Frazier got in on Jordan’s penetration act. On successive trips, each cut into the lane, then dished cleverly for back to back dunks by Davis and Tisdale. This infuriated Weber, who prefers it when the team passes the ball around the perimeter for a while before missing a jumpshot. He sprang from his seat, hollering for a 30-second timeout. (I kid. In fact Weber only wanted to get some substitutions in the game. He was quite happy to see the increased tenacity.)

The assists totaled 22. Only five baskets were made without a helping hand. On this subject, Weber could not conceal his glee.

Sunday’s game was coached by two Iba Award winners. Perry Clark was frequently mentioned as a possible successor to Lou Henson at Illinois. Now he’s sweltering in the corpse of his lord. Yikes. Nice man, though. Smart. Good coach, too. Unfortunately, he picked the wrong school (Miami) for his debut in the top-tier. The ACC is so competitive, its hall of fame coaches are known to all by as little as one to three letters.

Clark faces diminished recruiting options in Texas. His answer is ingenious: He recruits one town very, very thoroughly. Intriguingly, it’s Chicago. Clark and associate head coach Billy Garrett (a former ISU football player) have six players from Chicago, Garrett’s hometown. For icing, Clark brought two players from Baltimore, just up the road from his hometown. Only two Islanders hail from Texas.

LOOKS GOOD IN ORANGE

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Tayler Stipes waited for the Illini to heat things up before removing her hoodie. Paige Tieman didn’t.

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Jeff’s dad wore black so he could hide. It worked. Nobody noticed him.

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Laurel Bailie

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TAMU-CC’s guard Tim Green and his friend Derrick (pictured) played high school ball with Illini Stan Simpson. But Derrick also played AAU ball with Islanders guard Antonio Topps. So his loyalty split 2-to-1 for the visitors. Although he sat with the Islanders fans, he couldn’t resist wearing orange.