Smile Politely

No Go-To Guy is Good for the Illini

Before they told you “Nick Smith is the tallest player in Illini history,” the nabobs who read the media guide directly into the microphone would tell you that the Illini would try to establish Brian Cook early in the game. That, according to common idiocy (like common wisdom, but stupid) was our modus operandus.

You’ll recall those days — the painfully telegraphed passes of Bill Self’s indefensible, but easily defended, “hi-lo” offense. (He wisely gave it up, and subsequently won a championship. Just not here.)

For some reason, media guides and game day reports tend to highlight single individuals. Maybe it personalizes the game. But it certainly contradicts the “team first” attitude that most coaches espouse. Worse, it means hairbrush experts like Wayne Larrivee waste precious moments of your life, force-feeding you previously-chewed morsels of press releases.

This year, look forward to hearing about Chester Frazier’s haircut. Illinois has no “go-to” guy.

That Brian Cook had that label is sad. He’s a quiet guy by nature. He’s also a wing-forward by nature. I can count the number of go-to wing-forwards on one thumb. A wing-forward is the guy who plants the dagger in the opponent just when the opponent feels it has your go-to guy (the power-forward, shooting guard, or behemoth center) covered.

Shaun Pruitt is gone, and of that we can all be thankful. This is somewhat hard for me to say, because I’ve met his parents and they are utterly friendly people… but then again, I get along with my dad, and he’s a wingnut. So I’ll just go ahead and say “good riddance.”

For the most part, we want our Illini to stick around forever. But there are plenty of cases where I felt otherwise. Rodney Jones springs to mind. Andy Kauffman. The entire T.J. Wheeler era.

And frankly, Frank.

Addition by subtraction was Mark Tupper’s analysis, and although the phrase is unoriginal, the thinking is first-impression.

We outsiders don’t have a sense of Pruitt’s me-first attitude, and its effect on the team. But we have an exceptionally good idea about his entire range of offensive skills. The Assembly Hall crew is working overtime to bang the dents out of the rim.

A year ago, the internet — a group of single, overweight middle-aged men who live with their mothers — decided Calvin Brock would never contribute to the team, and should transfer. Calvin started 16 of 35 games.

This year, it’s been Richard Semrau who’ll never get his feet on the hardwood. Semrau is the one who almost died two years ago. Surgery, following a chest contusion and infection, left him frail and vulnerable.

Well, that was then. Semrau’s performance in practice has Coach Bruce Weber trying to downplay his talents: ‘’If he plays like he’s been playing in practice, everybody’s going to say, ‘Where the heck did he come from?’ He’s our most physically gifted big man. It’s not even close. He has strength, jumping ability, athleticism. And yet he hasn’t really been able to be a part of the team. People have just forgotten about him.’’

If Illinois has a potential go-to-guy, it has its potential attitude problem in the same pair of shoes. Demetri McCamey is not selfish, and he’s not a dick — but he’s had a lifelong tendency to coast through practices, saving his effort for gameday. His coaches have identified and penalized this trait as long as McCamey’s played organized ball. Lately, he’s been hearing it from Deron Williams. Perhaps the opinion of an NBA All-Star is the spark that ignites a fire under McCamey. We’ll see.

Your next chance to watch this year’s team in action: 4:30 p.m. Sunday, in an exhibition game against Florida Southern. Tickets are available.

Related Articles