Smile Politely

Jimmy Collins gracious, gratified

I guess people were upset after Saturday’s basketball game. It was just like the Gonzaga win, except the shots didn’t go in.

If you like the system, you shouldn’t be too upset. This Illini team can beat anyone. Regardless of the opponent, or the opponent’s defensive schemes; you shouldn’t expect them to win any game where Mike Davis hits one of his five shots, Mike Tisdale and Brandon Paul hit one of six, Jereme Richmond one of seven, and DJ Richardson only one of six three-point attempts.

It’s an Achilles’ Heel, yes. But even Achilles had an Achilles’ Heel — and he was pretty good.

To cheer ourselves at the solstice, a time humanity burns bonfires and trims trees with strings of light to illumine the gloaming, I say we look at some brightness shining from Saturday’s UIC-UIUC-UC undertaking.

Rantoul native Mike Mennenga had a tumultuous two years. He’s back, and zealous as ever in his first year assisting Howard Moore at UIC.

I caught up with him after the game.

Moore’s predecessor, Coach Jimmy Collins is happy and healthy, genial and genteel, at peace with the world after a tumultuous twenty-one years.

Collins recruited the Flames roster before retiring this spring. He was delighted to see them do well.

If you’re intent on grumbling about something, but you’re not the sort who likes to gripe about current players and coaches, or the schemes they choose to employ, the Jimmy Collins story provides an excellent villain.

Collins, and the rest of the Lou Henson coaching staff, brought Illinois basketball to its triumphant peak in 1989. It took a decade of work to build the Illini to a dominant force in college basketball. We have not seen their like since. And one scheming, lying son of a bitch from Iowa toppled it.


Flying Illini Kendall Gill, Steve Bardo and team manager Ryan Baker were happy for their friend Howard Moore. So should you be.

So direct your ill will toward Knoxville. And don’t hold back out in a spirit of seasonal charity. He doesn’t celebrate Christmas anyway.


At halftime, I sat with Lorita Bertrand and Aunt Janell (Effiong) for a few minutes.

You’ll be delighted to know they don’t follow Illinois basketball in the printed press. They are unfamiliar with online basketball message boards.

They sat just behind Cliff and Lynda Paul, who probably have more to worry about. Brandon Paul left the United Center on crutches after spraining his ankle in the final minute of the game.

That’s the good news. Thanks for reading, and remember to look out the window for tonight’s solstice eclipse.

Merrymen will enjoy Loren Tate’s Memory Lane column. The rest of this column is dull.


Illinois had a chance to win this game with 20 seconds to go.

Unfortunately, the winning play never materialized. It wasn’t drawn up. Instead, Bruce Weber dispatched his beleaguered troops with a read-and-react concept.

After the game, I asked Weber to describe his plan.

In short, he assigned no one and everyone to take charge of the game’s most important play. It’s motion offense, a Theory of Basketball.

I was reminded of another depressing sight I’d just encountered.

On the drive in, we saw an enormous demolition crane battering Cabrini-Green’s final high-rise. The wrecking ball knocked a huge chunk off the 15th floor. After the game, fewer than five storeys remained.

The building wasn’t old. It was decrepit. It was never occupied by people who cared for it.

Universal ownership doesn’t work.

With an offense that was falling apart, I’d have preferred a more definitive plan. Mike Tisdale had already missed a pair of chippies. DJ’s shot was clearly off.

I’d draw a play for Jereme Richmond. He’s the only Illini who plays with a sense of entitlement. Tell him it’s his game to win, and he’ll brandish that title. He’ll take owbership of that responsibility. He’s done it before.

I’d like to see a play like the one Lon Kruger devised to beat Bobby Knight’s Hoosiers on that same floor.

Imagine that pass going to Richmond, rather than Sergio McClain. Imagine him driving to the hoop — still with the option of kicking to McCamey on the wing for a three.

Brandon Paul could still come crashing in for a follow-up, but if the lane were cleared rather than congested, he’d be less likely to land on someone.

Jereme Richmond knows how to get past an opponent.

Yes, Jereme’s chippies weren’t so great Saturday, either. But he’d already made one fantastic interior pass (one of Tisdale’s misses) and he understands how to use the backboard.

Just an idea.

Now, bring us some figgy pudding.

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