Smile Politely

Hitters Duel

For an entire half, you’d never know Illinois-Wisconsin is a defensive gem, goddammit.

After all, it’s coached by two old curmudgeons who hate entertaining basketball. Right? What happened, I think, is that a sellout crowd saw the best coached game of the decade.

That’s glib, which is what I do. But in all seriousness, it was really well-coached — on both ends. Illini players read Badger defenses, and attacked weaknesses. The game was a draw, except for that ultimate nemesis, FG%.

I like it when Illinois wins. I am not objective.

In my career as a pseudo-journalist, this game was my favorite. Apart from great coaching and competition, fantastic interviews abounded for the impudent microphone-wielder.

I met legends. They were cordial, insightful and chatty. That’s great for posterity. So are Mysterious McDade’s amazing pictorials.

It takes a nation of Badgers to hold him back

Bo Ryan was slightly a dick to me in the press conference. I think I get some kind of patch for that. It’s a large and ever-growing fraternity. Like most of the brothers, I hold no hard feelings and in fact thoroughly enjoyed it. (Herb Gould did not attend.) Thank you sir, and may I have another?

Wisconsin shot the ball 60 times, 35 of them from distance. If they’d had Illinois’s percentages, this would have been an ugly blowout. But DJ Richardson held Jordan Taylor to 2 of 8 from beyond the arc (3 of 9 officially, but the heave with nine seconds remaining is not a Meaningful Three).

Mike Davis cast the same voodoo on Jon Leuer. Leuer’s second and final three (of eight attempts) was also meaningless.

When your opponent’s two big names start 1 for 7 from long, you’ve done something right. When you’re the underdog media outlet, it’s hard not to recognize the the under-appreciated performer. So mad props to Dietrich James for his effort.

For future reference, I asked Leuer about Meyers Leonard’s performance in the paint.


Jon dismissed the notion that Meyers is raw. I asked specifically about freshman tendencies. Maybe Meyers showed them in other games, but Leuer said Meyers played like a veteran. It’s nothing like Tisdale’s game, he added. Not better, not worse. Different.

The first thing he mentioned was “strength.”


It’s going to be hard to continue labeling Bill Cole as under-appreciated. He’s now shed his mantle of “tough-nosed role player” and donned the garb of flashy, in-your-face badass at both ends of the floor.

All ball, bad call

Pwn3ing on D, dunking on O — it makes you wonder. Is it just Bill Cole? Or is he now more properly regarded as perhaps The Bill Cole or even Fucking Bill Cole?


You have to feel sorry for the guy …

… but not all that sorry.


What significance should one read into attendance by high school players? Mike Shaw was on hand. We’re pretty sure he’s going to play for Illinois. So was Bobo Drummond. We’re pretty sure he won’t.

Jaquan Lyle came up from Evansville Bosse. Maybe he likes playing for Twitterphobic coaches. The interweb is all aTwitter about his Offer from Illinois following Bruce Weber’s attendance at a game last month in Evansville.

Paul Turner was there again. He has An Offer, too.

Larry Austin came for the umpteenth time, still somewhat mystified about when his Offer might turn up in the mail.


The basketball game was the second most fascinating aspect of the day. Seeing old faces was the first.

These old faces may be new to the young, and unfamiliar to the old (who only remember these faces as young … when they can remember at all).

Somehow, Bryan Leonard has maintained a thirty-year legacy of disputation among Illini fans. While quietly raising three kids and a portfolio of capital assets, he’s lifted no fingers to perpetuate his own myth. On the other hand, he may have ended it with five minutes of enlightening chat.

If I hadn’t talked to Skip Thoren a few minutes later, this might have been my favorite ever interview.


I’d say Perry Range stands about 6’1″. He played wing for Illinois when length was just as admired and available (whatever people say about the old days). So you might wonder how he pulled it off. The answer, as you’ll glean from his own words, was quickness.

Perry came with son Malcolm, a freshman at Oak Park-River Forest. Whatever Malcolm thinks of basketball, he’ll be focusing his athletic talents on the baseball diamond this year. Evidently, Perry has raised a Pitcher.

I couldn’t possibly say enough about Skip Thoren: straight-forward to the point of folksy, disarmingly honest in his assessment. And — and this is important — correct.

Why, I ask, why has Skip Thoren not provided color-commentary lo these many years? And if someone pays Dick Vitale enough to go away, could Skip Thoren step in and take his place?

I don’t know anything about Skip’s game. I certainly can’t compare him to guys I got to see in person. But there’s his name right at the top of the all-time lists. I take his qualifications as a given.


Completists will enjoy the entire players’ postgame interview featuring Bill, Meechi and the Docta. I include it here only for the first 4 seconds, which I found candidly telling.

And finally, when the Davis family left the Hall we bantered about their frequent travels. Tangie Davis wishes she’d bought stock in the hotel they’ve kept in business. Steve said “how about a picture of me with the princess!”

How could I refuse?

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