Smile Politely

Illinois recruits Chicago in loss to UNLV


Lost in the malaise of Illini basketball’s latest Headless Chicken routine, an important point demands attention: Meyers Leonard was fantastic against UNLV’s big, butch, bearded front line.

From the opening bell, Meyers moved through the low-post with purpose. He set hard screens. Really hard. No Illini big man since … actually, I can’t remember an Illini big man setting so many great screens.

It appeared, at the beginning, that Illinois had a plan. That’s when Meyers looked active and involved. Eventually they scrapped that plan, or forgot it. They played slow-ball and straight motion. Passing around the arc, dribbling and holding the ball evoked choruses of “BRUUUUCE!” from the stands. (At least I think that’s what they were saying.) As possession after possession went nowhere, Illinois hoisted umpteen airballs, finishing at 25% on field goals.

Eventually Meyers wore down, but that’s to be expected. He got no help in battling the bigs. His flashy passes found jump shooters, but the jump shooters couldn’t find the basket. He didn’t get many clear looks at the basket himself, but watched Rebel bigs laying the ball in unchallenged, mostly in transition.

But don’t lose sight of how good Meyers was at the opening. If he’d had a Nehemiah Ingram (or even an Abe Djimde?) blocking for him; if Illini guards had demonstrated any offensive threat; the slaughter could’ve gone the other way.


DeLaSalle’s Gavin Schilling and Alex Foster sat behind Kenny Battle and Kenny Battle Jr., just behind the Illini bench. Behind the scorer’s table sat another tandem of bigs, Cliff Alexander and Detalion Jackson from Chicago Curie.


Michael Orris, mom Lisa and sister Lauren will not likely complain about their seats for Saturday’s game. The front row at United Center is far better, for visibility purposes, than the front row at the Assembly Hall.

But an Orris neighbor had an extra seat in his skybox. That neighbor is Bob Falato, a member of the U of I committee that selected Mike Thomas as new Athletic Director. Orris says he’s known Falato since he was about 5 years old.

Most people would not think twice about visiting a skybox at a pro sports arena, and perhaps even enjoying a few thousand calories of hospitality. But because Michael Orris is an Illini basketball recruit, Falato stopped mid-invitation. Representatives of the University of Illinois, and even boosters, are not allowed to convey fun of calculable value to prospective student athletes.

At halftime, Michael shared his thoughts on the game, and his senior season at Crete-Monee.

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