Smile Politely

You may now get excited, Illini fans

Fire Bo Ryan!

Last night in Madison, Wisconsin, Demetri McCamey delivered an all-time legendary performance. McCamey fired on all cylinders, and from everywhere on the floor.

Illinois beat Wisconsin at Kohl.

It might seem old hat to us — Illinois owns three of the six Ryan-era home conference losses — but it’s still rare. In fact, you might want to bookmark this link. In years to come, you’ll want to remind yourself of this night.

In fact, most people have already forgotten the first quarter of the game. It was ALL Wisconsin.

The Badgers began with a bevy of jumpshots. Wisconsin jumped out to an 8–0 lead, and eventually ran it up to 22–11. Only Mike Tisdale could muster anything for Illinois. No one else hit a field goal for the first 14 minutes.

And then something amazing happened: Demetri McCamey delivered the kind of game that people talk about decades later, usually while ice fishing.

McCamey hit 11 of 17 shots, including three of four from distance. He floated. He banked. He stopped and popped. With each acrobatic feat, audible groans drifted through the Kohl crowd.

When he wasn’t nailing his own shots, McCamey was dishing assists (seven total).

Glen Rice, Glenn Robinson and Shawn Respert had games like this. It was absolute domination. Wisconsin had no answer.


Even more impressive, and surely far less chronicled, was Illinois’ swarming help-defense.

Illinois forced the Badgers to attempt more shots from three than two. The Badgers also made more treys than deuces.

But here’s the super-duper impressive, decisive and sadly unquantifiable aspect of the game: the series of defensive conquests that foiled Badger star Trevon Hughes’ attempts to penetrate the Illini defense.

Each time he flailed midair. Each time Illinois came out of the scrum with the ball.

The Kohl Center crowd cried foul. But Illinois’ long arms never touched Hughes. They simply presented a solid wall.

For the nth consecutive game, The Lean Trio (Mikes plus Bill Cole) proved freakishly challenging for dribble-drivers. Credit, I think, must go to the coaching staff for teaching vertical defense.

Jeff Jordan watches for a screen.

Jeff Jordan had one of those key blocks, too.

And DJ Richardson was the point man on Hughes for most of the night. And Bill Cole shut down sharpshooter Jason Bohannon in the second half. And Mike Davis was often the guy who stepped out to seal the lane.

Point is, it was a team effort. It’s man-to-man with zone principles. Everybody’s responsible for his man, and everybody has to help with everyone else’s man.

Tuesday in Madison, the year-long gear-grind snapped into syncopation. The Illini defense finally clicked.


People will fondly recall Demetri McCamey’s career performance for years to come. Around campfires, astute contrarians will point out that Mike Tisdale carried the team through the first quarter, and that it was Tisdale’s offensive prowess that opened gaps for McCamey.

An important point seems destined to be lost in these memories of dagger jumpshots and daring dribble drives: Bill Cole made the play of the night.

Midway through the first half, Wisconsin led 18–9. The Illini were dragging. The Badgers were draining shots at will.

At 8:21 Rob Wilson launched a 3-pointer. Cole immediately gauged the trajectory of the shot, and spontaneously spun the wrong way.

Or at least, that’s how it would appear to the untrained eye.

Cole made no attempt at the ball because he knew something better to do. He turned away from the basket and cleared out the only Badger capable of competing with Mike Tisdale for a rebound. With that guy out of the picture, Tisdale easily collected the carom.

It was the kind of textbook fundamental basketball that earned Cole his spot in the starting line-up.

This is known as “court vision.” It’s like driving on a four-lane freeway. Good drivers constantly monitor the road in front and behind them. They know what’s happening in all four lanes, at all times.

Bill Cole knows what’s happening, at all times, with all nine players on the court. It’s just as important for help-defense as it is for motion offense.


There is one thing Bill Cole does not do well: free throws.

The coaching staff knows it, as do opposing teams. That’s why you’ll generally see Cole inbounding the ball in the closing minutes of tight games. That’s why you see Mike Tisdale and DJ Richardson at the line.

But Tuesday night, someone screwed up.

With less than two minutes remaining, and down by four, Wisconsin went into a furious foul mode, stopping the game every 4 seconds for a reset.

The PA announcer tallied each foul. 15,000 people simultaneously counted to seven.

But after Wisconsin’s sixth team foul, McCamey still stood on the sidelines, just as he had on the previous three inbounds plays.

So the seventh foul played out just as Wisconsin wanted, sending Bill Cole to the line.

In the postgame press conference, I asked Weber about this point of strategy.

In fact, Bill is the 8th best free-throw shooter out of the 9 guys who play meaningful minutes. Weber did not acknowledge the mistake, much less identify the person who made it (whether staff on bench, or players on court). Instead, he very kindly fibbed.

Moreover, to avoid an air of false modesty — you’ll find this in the back half of that audio clip —- Weber graciously took full credit for the evolution of Demetri McCamey.

After the presser, the Illinois media ran back across the empty court to stick voice recorders in the faces of players. As you might expect, McCamey and Tisdale had one swarm each.

Richardson and Cole stood by, thoroughly ignored.

You gotta get sound bytes from the guys who had career nights, so I understand why everyone went to DMac and Tisdale first. I did too.

But as soon as I could, I snuck over to ask Bill about the free throws and his quiet, subtle machinations. You’ll be glad to hear that Bill is confident about his free throw shooting. You’ll also be glad to know he intends to practice more.

Technically a sell-out, thousands never showed. Lower left: Rob Wilson affected Scottie Pippen’s least popular hair style.


Badger Ryan Evans carved a Kid n’ Play-worthy fade. Rob Wilson wore the globefro (circa 1994).

I boggled at a thousand empty seats in Kohl’s rafters. Cheeseheads don’t squirm over 12-foot snow drifts?!?!

I thought maybe the Orange Krush bought a block of tickets, but had to cancel due to icy roads.

But no. It’s a thousand Wisconsin fans who didn’t show up. That probably helped.



Because of the winter storm, Illinois had to leave early on Monday. They weren’t sure whether they’d be able to come back Tuesday. They contemplated missing class over three consecutive days.

In fact, they were able to fly out of Madison just after the game, and arrived back in Champaign at 10:40 p.m. Tuesday night.

But just in case, academic counselor Troy Collier came along for the trip.

Collier organized a study hall on Tuesday afternoon, to keep everybody up to date on scholastic assignments. (Everybody except Stan Simpson, that is. Stan stayed on campus to hit the books.)

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