Smile Politely

The end of The Road

In Saturday’s post-game press conference, Jeremy Werner asked UIC’s Howard Moore whether he wants the Illinois series continue. Moore’s answer, essentially, was yes yes yes yes A THOUSAND TIMES YES.

To the same question, John Groce’s answer boiled down to oh god please make it stop. Mitigating overtones of I will do anything this administration asks of me should be respected, and ignored.

Prediction: The administration will not ask.

Associate AD for Communications Kent Brown said “back in the mid 90s when Henson retired, U of I administrators put together this series that has one remaining matchup. The original agreement was to play UIC at least every four years so that each ‘class’ would have an opportunity to play in it. You heard Groce’s response on the future.”

It’s no big deal for Illini fans. Nobody enjoys games against mid-majors. There’s no upside. If you lose, you’re screwed.  If you win, you satisfied expectations without learning much about your team.

So look for one more match-up with the Flames, but no more. And possibly no Moore.

The other scheduling change, per continual Groce comment, is the end of Illini travel, generally. Groce says he wants to play more home games. He’s expressed astonishment at the amount of time this team spent traveling over the last four weeks.

There were a handful of us who went along. Frankly, I liked visiting Las Vegas, Atlanta, Atlanta, Portland, St. Louis and Chicago. I’m not alone.

I know Rhonda Rice enjoyed her stay at Harrah’s, and visiting with some cousins in Atlanta. Lorita Bertrand got to spend a week with her BFF Dorothy, who lives in Atlanta.

Dave Dorris has now seen about 390 consecutive Illini games, and a certain Caesar’s blackjack dealer enjoyed taking away his money. Dan Flannell liked the historic motorcycle collection at Kelly’s Olympian.

Almost no one goes to every single game, which is why it’s so easy to name them, and share their stories.

On the other hand, a lot of random Illini fans go to any given Illini game. The Illinois diaspora spreads across 50 states, and a whole lotta foreign countries. It’s been downright convenient for these alums, having Illinois fly its team across time zones, to play in their respective backyards.

Unlike Minnesota, most Illinois grads don’t move across town, and settle down for the rest of their lives. Unlike Ohio State, our campus is NOT located in the state’s most-populous city. A lot of people travel to Illini games, even when they’re site in Champaign. Example: neither Dorris nor Flannell lives in Champaign County.

But fans’ convenience is not the purpose behind Groce’s urge to spend all of November and December in town. He probably wants to see his sons grow up, but his main purpose is that teaching environment he keeps talking about.

Groce wants to eliminate the distractions of traveling.

The problem with staying at home is simple. You can’t schedule worthwhile teams. You can persuade only the UICs of the world. You can get Summit League and MEAC teams. They’re happy to take the loss, the money, and your RPI. (Home wins against bad teams are the equivalent of losses, in the mind of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.)

Jay Price made a science of scheduling. (How else could Bruce Weber teams get into the tourney?) Thus, Illinois’ schedule over the last decade has featured home & home series with Oregon, Gonzaga, UNLV and Auburn; and a Maui Invitational.

John Groce knows about the NCAA’s strength-of-schedule formula. So evidently, his plan is to beat all the cupcakes, and then win a majority of conference games. To do that, he’ll need better recruiting classes than 2014 provided.

Let’s be optimistic about that outcome. Whatever happened with Quentin Snider and Cliff Alexander, you can’t take away Groce’s capturing the Rivals 2006 Recruiter of the Year award.

Lets be pessimistic about winter vacations to Hawai’i, or islands of the coast of Texas and Florida. We probably won’t even get home & home games with UCLA, Cal, Miami (FL) or Arizona.

Oh well.

By the way, the Illini won the UIC game 74-60. Ray Rice was The Boss. Every Illini media entity showed up, including two from the Sun-Times. So if you want to know more about the game, try the Google.

There weren’t very many people at the UIC game. There especially were not very many familiar faces. Rhonda Rice and Ray’s step-mom Laronda were there. Some Bertrands (there are many, many more than you could possibly imagine) came, although Uncle Randy was sick. Brenda Colbert made her third? trip. No LaTulips. 

The Berardinis came, which was cool. Kevin’s playing for Pat Kennedy at Pace this year, but had time off for Christmas. I mostly hung out with them and Cliff Paul #2. There just weren’t very many familiar faces in the crowd. (One drunken middle-aged fan broke down and asked Cliff who he was, and why everybody kept shaking hands with him.)

I also attended the Northwestern-DePaul game on Friday, and the Bulls-Mavs game on Saturday night. I don’t intend to tell you anything about those games either.

But the former is a great example of schedule consciousness. Chris Collins wants to schedule DePaul every year, notwithstanding the (stunning, if you didn’t see it) outcome.

I like games at Northwestern, and I wanted to see how former Illini recruits (and former Illini) were doing.

Tommy Hamilton IV was underwhelming. He likes to shoot from about 18-feet out. The long two is considered the worst shot in basketball. Hamilton has a nice touch, but he’s also carrying 284 pounds on a 6’9″ frame. He could probably move some people off the block with that body.

DeJuan Marrero played only three minutes for the Blue Demons. I don’t know whether his injury is still affecting him. If I were a legitimate reporter, I’d have found out.

Nathan Taphorn looked great for the Wildcats. If Chris Collins had wanted to win, he’d have used Taphorn more.

Myke Henry watched the game with his former Orr assistant coach, Phil Gipson.  Gipson is probably the most influential person in Myke’s basketball world.

I ran into Myke last weekend in Lincoln Park, and we’d planned to go to the UIC game together (he lives three blocks from my sister’s house).  But DePaul had a practice at 2 p.m. on Saturday, so Myke couldn’t attend.  It’s intriguing that Myke wanted to go, because Phil gesticulated a certain contempt for Illini basketball. It’s still not clear why Myke left the program. He never said anything about it to me.  (I try not to ask questions about basketball. It seems so shop talk.)

Jon Ekey notwithstanding, it should be obvious that Myke would have seen a lot of playing time this year.

On Friday, Kent Brown announced the Giuliani Traditions Club, the first named (sponsored) fancy people enclave established within the forthcoming State Farm Center. Mike Thomas presented Giuliani with some sort of honorific at Saturday’s game.

I talked with Giuliani after the game — after waiting for the head coach to give him a hug, and whisper some warm thoughts in his ear — and he said he’d been working on this donation for years, since the Guenther administration. He specifically named Steve Green, while also acknowledging Rick Darnell and Thomas.

Giuliani grew up in Rantoul, and hangs out in Champaign County not seldom. But he runs a company headquartered in Westlake Village, on the borders of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, California. So maybe UCLA is back on the table, especially now that Pauley Pavilion has been renovated. Also, look for a match-up with Pepperdine. Malibu is colder, and wetter, than you might think. But it’s an easy, and pretty drive down Route 23.

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