Smile Politely

Remember two things

Myke Henry glides. Whether he’s mid-air or earth bound, he flows like honey. That’s his personality too. He’s sweet, and he goes with the flow.

After Monday’s exhibition, Myke sauntered up the Assembly Hall tunnel toward the emptied arena. Checking his texts, he never looked up when Tracy Abrams’s tiny nephew, Arsenio, toddled into his path. Myke’s left leg swung around the youngster, seemingly of its own volition.

I was standing two feet away. Naturally, I asked Myke whether I’d imagined that his eyes were locked on his phone, while his body moved effortlessly around a sudden youngster. “I didn’t even see him,” Myke acknowledged.

It’s like that on the court, too. Myke’s movements seem joyful, effortless. He flew through the lane Monday night. He landed like a cat, albeit a very tall cat with a propensity for tip-ins. He said his four assessed personal fouls should not really be counted. Myke would never hurt anybody, after all.

The other observation I have about Monday’s exhibition game against Quincy concerns Bruce Weber’s famous/notorious sideline demeanor. I first achieved the enmity of the Discouraging Word cult by deconstructing Weber’s verbal and semi-verbal noises. But these observations should please Weber-supporters and Weber-doubters alike. (Like Barack Obama, I’m silly enough to think we can find a middle path.)

Weber’s most frequent instruction came with slight variations: “Short corner Ibby!” and “Ibby, the short corner!” or just “Go short corner!”

Ibrahima Djimde camps under the basket. That’s not to say he’s unaware of the three seconds rule; he simply doesn’t stray far from the rim.

Two years ago, Richard Semrau told me the coaching staff had given him explicit instructions to stay within three feet of the rim. Semrau was a natural floater, a guy whose skills and (original, pre-bulking-up) size made him a candidate for the small forward position.* Djimde is a natural Sweeper.

The spot where Semrau’s success never happened (where Anthony Welch was most deadly, if you’re a glass-half-full guy) is the same spot where Djimde’s instincts don’t beckon him. Is it crazy for the coaching staff to inflict these unnatural roles on guys? Or is learning unnatural positions part of Bruce Weber’s Zen philosophy?

I don’t know.

Another instruction I noted was directed to, and processed by Mike Shaw. On a Quincy in-bounds play, Mike guarded the guy with the ball. Weber told him to guard a guy on the court, to keep him from getting the ball. By the time Weber finished his instruction, that second guy had the ball.

No big loss there. Maybe Mike’s initial pressure would have been more effective, but these exhibition games are about learning.

There were only two Weber eructations I found silly, and they occurred on the same play. Quincy had the ball under the north basket (the Illini bench). As the in-bounds play unfolded, Weber yelled “Brandon, Brandon!” When the subsequent pass went long (toward the center line, defended by DJ Richardson) Weber changed his tune. “DEEE_JAAAAY!”

I think Bruce Weber gets so locked into the game that he sometimes, unconsciously, just starts yelling stuff that’s going on in his mind. It’s clear to me, from asking questions in post-game press-conferences — about particular nuances of particular plays — that Weber sees everything that happens on the court. And then he remembers it. All of it. Like Rain Man.

I offer the suggestion that Weber’s in-game coaching is beneficial and that his sideline antics can be distracting.

Weber did some good in-game coaching against Wayne State — mostly to the benefit of Nnanna Egwu and Tracy Abrams. Short phrases, spoken coherently during quiet moments, changed the posture or positioning of those two guys. Arms up. Seal the lane. That sort of stuff.

But Weber also confused DJ Richardson on a defensive possession. Some people say it’s impossible to hear the coach when you’re “in the zone” or whatever, but DJ was distinctly confused. His facial expression changed, and he looked toward the bench. His man eluded him, running toward a screen at the free throw line. No consequence followed. The possession did not end with DJ’s man hitting a shot.

In summary, Bruce Weber sometimes instructs, sometimes eructs. His eructations might be pure emotion, and they might be commentary. For what it’s worth, Assistant SID Mike Koon also provided excellent commentary for the Quincy game — filling in as PA announcer for a vocally depleted Mike Cation.

* Unfortunately for Richard Semrau, every other member of the 2010 Illini was also a natural small forward.

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