Smile Politely

Maui: Champions

… aaaaaaand we’re back.

Expectations were low for this team. That’s reasonable. They’d lost 12 of 14 coming into this season. Their lottery pick was replaced by a small conference transfer with a gummy knee. Oh, and a walk-on combo guard many fans regarded simply as white, and short.

We’ve learned a lesson about expectations, as of today.

It’s a familiar refrain that college basketball is defined by coaching. We also hear that elite recruits = greatness. Maui 2012 could and should bury those theories. College basketball is about recruiting and coaching.

John Groce has coached the fear out of these Illini, a batch of formerly “elite” recruits thriving under a comprehensible communicator.

You see, it is about the players. It’s about elite players making the right choices. It’s about smart, intuitive basketball. It’s about reads. Ultimately, it’s about a gifted athlete who already possesses great instincts and discipline. Times five, but also divided by five.

Last year, that equation equaled zero. This year, it yields 5 > 5 which is irrational.

Bruce Weber’s team struggled Wednesday night against lowly Delaware. Luckily, Bruce Weber is no longer allowed to coach at Illinois, the 2012 Maui Invitational Champions.

Fear was the difference Wednesday. The Illini presented Butler with a shifting yet solid wall of defenders. Butler tried to go around the wall, but the wall held. Butler chucked a three, and missed 75% of the time.

Butler tried to erect its own wall. But Brandon Paul jumped over it. Tracy Abrams ran straight through it.

BP3 got the tournament MVP trophy, but Abrams is the guy who established the tone for the championship game. And Tyler Griffey thrust the daggers. DJ Richardson held Butler down, defensively, while the rest of the team kicked the Bulldogs. Sam McLaurin made the key, gut-wrenching (and hard-headed) play.

It was a team effort, for real.

The effort nearly killed Tim Higgins. He was dripping with sweat by the first media timeout. It’s hard enough to run up and down the floor when you’re 21. By the time you’re a hundred years old, it’s dangerous.

Jim Burr, who’s even older, didn’t break a sweat at all, but maintained his usual sheen. I think they pack him in a wax crate between games. He’s not actually real, which is why he’s so well preserved.

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