Smile Politely

Goodbye Meyers, and thanks

Wistfully, we now take stock of our beloved, once mighty Fighting Illini. Or at least I do. It’s my gig. If you’re still reading, it’s your habit.

Yep, some people still follow Illini basketball. Some still watch broadcast TV on cathode ray tubes. Hell, I know people who subscribe to newspapers and not the internet.

Old habits die hard.

But the Illini Addiction has been successfully abated. As Bruce Weber looks for a job this spring, he might consider working at a substance abuse center. The 30 year build-up of Illini basketball, from Henson through 2005, got a lot of people hooked. It’s hard to believe, after those successive championships, that no one gives a hit anymore.

Weber’s methods are incomprehensible to most observers, but you can’t argue with his results. He’s saved countless people from a lifelong addiction.

A couple dozen Orange Krush made the trip to Ann Arbor Sunday. I saw a few Illinois sweatshirts, and a couple dots of orange in the crowd. But I saw zero of the crew that once traveled everywhere, anytime for Illinois basketball. 

The Traveling Illini came from all walks of life, but that was six years ago. Three years ago, it was mostly older people with some expendable capital.

Sunday, there were none. Whatever Illini fans came to Crisler, they were Illini diaspora, living in Michigan. Dennis and Elaine Fayhee are no longer traveling to every game. Not even Flannell and Dorris made it. Illini Enthusiasm cannot breathe without the aid of a respirator. In Michigan, Kevorkian comes to mind.

You know who was great at Michigan? Meyers Leonard.
In one second-half possession, Meyers battled a pack of Wolverines for three offensive rebounds. They knocked him to the ground between boards. He just kept fighting. Throwing or tipping the ball out for a teammate, he allowed Michigan to undercut him again. He kept getting back up.

This guy endures a wrestling match every night with two guys from any opposing team. He still finds a way to make himself a factor.

When he’s playing in The League, opponents won’t have the luxury of double-teaming. Sure, Meyers will face fewer mismatches; that’s hardly proving advantageous these days. Meyers got only five shots at the basket on Sunday. He grabbed 12 rebounds. He doesn’t need anybody’s assistance to get the ball that way.

Sacramento Kings Assistant General Manager Shareef Abdur-Rahim watched for the second consecutive game.

Goodbye Meyers. Thanks for choosing Illinois.

Some other things happened Sunday.

Zack Novak skipped amazing passes in fastbreak situations. That reminded me why I like basketball. (I have a man-crush on almost every member of the Michigan basketball family, and I wonder if Stockholm Syndrome is to blame. I think its simply that I enjoy great basketball, and I can’t get it at home, so I’m cheating on my wife.)

Brandon Paul and Myke Henry demonstrated a spirit of generosity not normally associated with the sport. They shared the ball with opponents and teammates equally.

Tyler Griffey made a “comeback” if you choose to think of Bruce Weber’s doghouse of forgone Indiana metaphors as a productive place to acquire a cliché. I prefer Dave Downey’s philosophy: score more than they do. Tyler Griffey wins easily here. Zack Novak put up twelve points.

Novak may have beaten Tyler on the Matto. So maybe we should assume that Weber will bench Tyler for the duration of the season.

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