It’s crunch time in college basketball. The season unfolds before us. Conference tournament seedings hinge on unlikely outcomes, such as Penn State over Michigan, and Minnesota over Indiana. No win is a gimme.
This time of year, victories are rarely easy. But Tuesday night at the ARC, I witnessed a blowout. Yep, the ARC. It might seem like a bye week ’round these parts, but there’s entertaining basketball to be had, if you know where to look.
I went to see a team that features a couple of familiar names. A couple of guys who play college ball teamed up with a few guys who merely ball at college. They call themselves Money Bags.
Bags features gifted athletes such as Adam Kobylt, Adal Keleta and Kenny Davis — guys who score a lot from the wings, and in transition. But their center and point-guard were the heart of the team. Cliffton Paul and Joe LaTulip have basketball in their blood.
Money Bags played a team of buff Christians from Koinonia House. I hadn’t heard of it either, but the Google says it’s been on campus since 1952. I asked the stunning beauty next to me, and she said it’s like a fraternity, and that she’s in the version that’s like a sorority.
She’d come with a group of sisters in support of Koinonia Teams A & B, but they mostly watched Team B (playing on the next court over), which was either scrawnier or chubbier, to a man.
Before their games, each Koinonia team had a word with their favorite Abrahamic tradition.
Looking at the swollen pecs and firm shoulders of Team A, I didn’t need to imagine the unspoken tension at their exchanges.
Assuming they’re all sticking to the Pledge, and probably not consuming nearly as many Jägermeister shots as their panhellenic counterparts; you can see why these guys spend so much time lifting weights. It probably makes the cold showers more palatable, too.
But I digress.
The game was competitive, albeit not for scoring purposes. Koinonia demonstrated a talent for spacing, and for positioning. The Bags demonstrated a talent for rebounding and quick outlet passes. MB’s team captain Chandler Gilbert relied on a triple-threat at the point, with LaTulip and Kobylt the primary ballhandlers.
LaTulip put on a show of no-look and behind-the-back passes that would surely have counted as assists had his teammates converted them into points. Meanwhile, Sweet Cliff dredged the lane of errant evangelists, barely slowed by his freshman 15, his sophomore 15, or his sixth-year senior 15.
Cliff’s rebound total increased as his big ole booty bounced hapless Baptists left and right. An indignant buff Christian complained from the Koinonia bench, but he was yelling at his teammates rather than Cliff or the two-man referee crew. Jesus taught forgiveness above all else.
The referees were not safe from criticism. Cliff’s brother Brandon was in the gym too. Displeased by the on-court roughhousing, he repeatedly antagonized referee Jean Selus, a Haitian-Quebecois he’d known from their days working out at the Corzine Gym, just down the street.
In the first half, Cliff’s brother hassled Selus for missing calls on bang-bang plays. At halftime he hassled Selus about setting a tone for both teams. Later he got vocal about hand-checking.
Selus, a consummate professional, kept his cool throughout. But in the interest of keeping the game free from distractions, he was eventually forced to eject Cliff’s brother, shortly before invoking the Slaughter Rule.
The early conclusion allowed spectators to drift to the far end of the gym, where a third game was just wrapping up. The team to watch in that game was Miller Time, the alias of a balling collective comprised exclusively of Illini Varsity Basketball Team Managers. Their namesake, Special Assistant to the Head Coach Brandon Miller, sat courtside with his youngest.
(Miller famously abdicated a high-profile, high-stress, and high-pay basketball gig at Ohio State in favor of family time. But it’s hard to get hardball out of the system, so you can understand why father-son bonding might take place in a gym. It’s not as easy to take your three year-old on the recruiting trail.)
The managers are famous, as a team, for a toughness and togetherness that preceded the catchphrase, or indeed the arrival of its progenitor. Okay, maybe famous is the wrong word. But within the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics, the managers are known for the regular whoopins’ they lay on teams of geezer ex-jocks and sports information personnel. They looked pretty fierce to me.
In the end, everyone was happy. The Christians beseeched their lord to forgive Money Bags its offenses against defense. They probably got to go home with the stunning beauty, and then pray with her too.
Money Bags looks forward to next week’s playoffs, which they’ll have to play without support from their families, who’ll be in Iowa.
LaTulip and Paul were not made available for comment.