Smile Politely

Media Day 2011 Part 2; or Apocalypse later

Voici déjà les arbres qui jaunissent!

For reasons I understand, coverage of Media Day 2011 centered on the seven new Illini players, and the style of play their arrival portends. For reasons I understand, fan response has been largely optimistic.

For reasons I don’t understand — cognitive dissonance, rational ignorance or some other useful term from psychology — everyone interpreted Bruce Weber’s remarks as indicating a deeper bench and pressure defense. People hear what they want to hear.*

He said the opposite.

He’ll play nine guys, and maybe ten, but probably not eleven. And don’t expect a lot of full-court pressure, either.

The B1G, in Weber’s mind, is not amenable to up-tempo basketball. He cited Gary Williams and Tom Davis as guys who tried, and added that they never won championships. He didn’t mention the Flyin’ Illini, but they didn’t win the B1G either (Kendall Gill’s stress fracture).

Right now, the team is united. All for one, and all for playing time. This idea was reinforced, for the nth year running, by players’ comments regarding togetherness, work ethic, sense of purpose. Specifically, they think they now have the x which last year’s team lacked (x being any one of the most commonly cited intangibles that makes a good basketball team.)

So if they say that at the beginning of each year, what changes during the season?

When past groups of individuals found themselves congregating at the end of the bench, different alliances formed. I wouldn’t describe it as players versus non-players. But undoubtedly the non-players bond, and their outlook turns whimsical at best, cynical at worst.

Maybe Bruce Weber has recognized this tendency? And hopes to prevent it?

Can a leopard change his spots? Weber’s substitution patterns are so deeply ingrained, they’ve become second-nature. As of today, the players are all happy and working together in a spirit of camaraderie. But they’re already on a different page from their coach. He’s reading ahead in the text. He’s read this text many times before. And he wrote the book.

*Misunderstandings happen.

I had my own mondegreen with Honest Abe Djimde. We both speak French as a second language, especially him. When I asked him about his role on the team, he said rebounding and defense. But “joue la défense” sounds, from a giant Malian speaking with a Bamanankan accent, a lot like “Je (suis) la difference.”

Pardonnez-moi, Monsieur.

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