Smile Politely

Legion Airs Unease

Alex Legion is coming! Alex Legion is coming! Paul Revere could hardly have been more excited in announcing the arrival of the Redcoats. With no games for eight whole days Illinois basketball fans had nothing else to complain, argue or obsess about. But true believers have known for some time that late December, at a point around the winter solstice, would see the coming of a savior. Alex Legion is expected to descend from the right hand of Bruce Weber a few minutes after 7 p.m. on Saturday, against Detroit.


To intensify the anticipation, Legion skipped his own press conference Thursday afternoon, preferring to complete a final exam in preparation for NCAA eligibility.


The lads from the press (above), not content to stand around shooting the shit for a third consecutive hour, interviewed Anybody Else regarding Legion’s impending impact on Illinois.

When Legion finally arrived at the Ubben, he expressed some trepidation. “I’ve only played six collegiate games, so I’ll have some nerves,” he said, adding “Working out and getting ready for my finals this week, it’s kind of been stressful, but at the same time it’s exciting.”

Denying his divinity (as The Chosen One is wont to do), Legion pretended for the benefit of mere mortals that he is one of them. “If the fans have high expectations, I appreciate it. I’m not here to be the savior or anything. I’m just part of the team like everyone else.’’

“He’s … religious” said coach Weber, at a lunchtime press conference.

So what happens if Alex Legion misses his first ten shots? What if he misses just his first shot, gets bummed about it, loafs on D and gets yanked? What if he fails to score 20 points or more in each of his first 5 games? Is that a sign of End Times?

No. Ecclesiastical scholars expect those results of the first coming. Really, the December birth of a legend is always doomed. And when Legion fails to live up to the hype, he among you without sense will cast the first stone. But not to worry. It’s the April berth where the guys like Alex Legion have a chance at immortality.


Indiana transfer Xavier Keeling is playing well for Detroit, averaging 12 and 7. And that’s it.

Indiana transfer Eli Holman won’t be eligible until next year. Indiana coaching transfer Ray McCallum Sr. won’t be able to use former Indiana recruit Ray McCallum Jr. at all, because Ray-Ray thinks Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Syracuse, UCLA, Michigan or Notre Dame might be less depressing.

Although starters Woody Payne and Thomas Kennedy seem capable of hitting the broad side of a barn (over 40% on field goals), neither can hit the broad side of the backboard from more than a few feet out. Kennedy has launched more threes than anyone on the team, and has hit just over 18% of them. Payne is worse.

Because Illinois is incapable of rebounding, the defensive strategy against Kennedy will be interesting to watch. I’d bet Chester Frazier gets the assignment, but is sent crashing the glass as soon as Kennedy steps outside the arc.


The Braggin’ Rights game will be decided by rebounds. Neither Missouri nor Illinois has been good on the boards. In its four-point loss to Xavier, the Tigers got walloped 41 to 28. They were out-boarded by Southern Cal, but won. Murray State also out-rebounded the Tigers. Arkansas-Pine Bluff lost by 54 points, but came within a single carom of the Tigers. Same with Oral Roberts.

The Illini have been even worse. They pulled down an Assembly Hall-record low 14 boards against Hawaii. They only surpassed Chicago State’s tally in the closing minutes. Those efforts provoked a retaliatory 20 minutes of wind sprints in practice Monday.

If the Illini lose the battle of the boards Tuesday in St. Louis, they will have shot 60% on their way to a resounding victory, or they will have lost.


Brian Randle (left) lives in the collectivized farming town of Gan Ner, Israel, where he fixes himself a lot of chicken and rice, and canned tuna. He plays basketball for money. Apart from the communism, and the dearth of swine, a farming community should feel like home to a central Illinois native. But it’s missing something very important: deep fried bread. Going Kosher is hard for BLT lovers. Cheeseburgers are out, too. (You can’t mix meat and dairy, you know.) But who knew that doughnuts are off the menu?

The Gentile giant, who stopped by Ubben this week, learned just how much he loves hot, sugary balls of yeast when he was forced to go cold turkey sandwich. Even if you avoid the pork-rind doughnuts, or those made of shellfish, your basic Glazed is leavened. Leavening involves those same mischievous biotics that spawn beer, and similar Evil Beverages which could lead to dancing. Consequently, the village elders took it off the menu back in the days before science. And that’s making Brian Randle crazy.

So, while the Jews are determining just how much candlelight you can stretch from one day’s oil ration, Randle has hopped the pond. Now stateside, he’s gorging himself on hydrogenated fats, high fructose corn syrup and anything worse he can find.

As a Christmas treat, Brian’s friends and family might disclose to him the Israeli tradition of sufganiyah (below).


To people who don’t stop thinking about tomorrow, the arrival of Alex Legion is so much meaningless currency. Their Thursday excitement came in the form of a verbal commitment from class of 2011 point-guard Tracy Abrams. The Chicago Mount Carmel player, a sophomore, is considered by some the state’s top recruit in the class.


C.J. Jackson (below) took flight Thursday at Ubben. Previously, Jackson had been thought to be a ground-dwelling creature. Smile Politely cameras were on hand to capture the historic event. Although Jackson reached a peak altitude of only 7 feet, 4 inches above the ground, observers were nevertheless excited to witness this hitherto unchronicled behavior.

C-U IN 2009!

Smile Politely will be in the shop for some regularly-scheduled maintenance and a new set of tires. We’ll return after the New Year with more Illini basketball coverage.

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