Smile Politely

The Floater

I learned nothing by watching the Illinois/Nebraska game.
But afterward, passing the time with Lorita Bertrand and Lynda Paul, I learned a lot. Their sons share the ability to jump three feet directly upward. Joe Bertrand compliments his leaping ability with a high quick-release shot. He developed the technique against older boys, on the playground. He’s been doing it since 5th grade.

According to Lynda, Brandon Paul’s jumper shares that playground genesis. She also answered every Illini fan’s nagging question about Brandon. He doesn’t drive the lane until late game situations because he’s concerned with offensive foul calls.


Barely surviving the league’s worst teams, Illinois stands 3–1 in conference and 14–3 overall. An NCAA tournament bid now seems likely.

The B1G schedule was friendly in the early going. Ever-lowering expectations/demands of the die hards will view a .500 conference record as a moral victory. That’s about as cynical as I can get at this point. I came into writing about Illini basketball with the hope of doing offbeat, human interest stuff. Apart from Dominique Keller, there’s been little interest from the program. (That guy was awesome.) And while the sports information staff remains friendly and professional, it’s clear that their preference is to handle most reportage in-house.

At some point quirky pieces veered toward sports criticism. That’s a stake the SID will never claim, and it earns Smile Politely a lot of hits. But I’m bored with writing about Bruce Weber’s awful offense. What more can be said? It’s the same shit, year after year.

Okay, I’ll just share this one thing. This afternoon, Myke Henry held the ball near the top of the key. Both Tyler Griffey and Brandon Paul ran the baseline from the weak side, and simultaneously arrived at the strong side arc. They simultaneously popped their hands toward Myke, presenting themselves as open. Their defenders were not confused by this movement. They came along too. Myke was not confused. His facial expression communicated irritation rather than befuddlement.

Maybe Tyler and Brandon were both playing the 3 at this point. Maybe that’s why they ran the same pattern. But neither of them was in a position to improve the offensive flow. Myke rejected them both.

Soon after that, I watched Nnanna Egwu post-up while Tyler launched a three. It occurred to me why motion offense fails so often. Nnanna put himself in great position to score, but removed himself from rebounding position. Tyler wasn’t on the same page. Nothing good happened.

Now, back to my apathy. It’s not just the ennui of criticizing Weberball. I’m experiencing an existential crisis about the coaching staff.

After all, they did, in fact, win all those games. There’s a lot to be said for winning the close ones, for closing the game successfully.

My mind replays a movie of Joe Bertrand and Jay Price, alone in the Corzine Gym, working for hours on Joe’s lateral cuts and jumps shots.

Earlier this year, Jay Price dismissed an offer by me to give him specific credit for some recruiting achievements. Maybe he’s too humble, or maybe he prefers communicating through his friend Brad, who’s a recruiting specialist.  At some point I have to ignore these possibilities and just report to you that Jay Price has done a good job with helping Joe Bertrand and getting “in” early on top recruits, whether he likes it or not.

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