Today is a special treat. Today, you the Chicago Now reader, get two columns for the click of one. What follows is a one-two column combination by two authors, both UI alums and staples at Assembly Hall press row.
It's not a point-counterpoint, more like a statement essay and a necessary companion piece. With the Illinois basketball regular season concluding, time to reflect on the careers of this much-discussed senior class. But I'm warning you now, this is not very upbeat.
To quote George Michael from his Wham! days, "There's no comfort in the truth, pain is that all you'll find." For some reason, writing about the Illini, and the Michigan State Spartans for that matter in 2011 inspires me to repeatedly quote a washed-up '80s homosexual pop star.
Probably because both teams have been Captain Bringdown on numerous occasions.
First Feature: A MUSICAL TAKE ON ILLINI SENIOR DAY
It's been a long road not only for Illini
sports fans these last 4 years, but for the four Illinois seniors who
have presided over the darkest off-the-court times in recent memory.
Let's not forget it's also one of Illinois' worst on the court stretches as well.
If the Illini miss the tournament this season, this senior class will
be the first group of seniors to miss more than two NCAA tournaments
since 1982 -- essentially, since prior to the Lou Henson era.
If that doesn't deserve a depressing walk through my MP3 player, nothing does.
"It's gonna kill me... The rest of my life
Let me apologize while I'm still alive
I know it's time to face all of my past mistakes
It's gonna kill me for the rest of my life."
--Less Than Jake, "The Rest of My Life"
Maybe it's defeatist, or maybe, like Bruce
Weber says, it's mean. Maybe I'm just being inherently mean. I don't
think so, but let's see.
I feel like, just like us, this senior
class of misfits and miscast players are going to regret this season
(and, in turn, their whole four years) for the rest of their lives.
I don't know if they understand our regrets
or sadness about this situation, and after Bruce Weber's, "The internet
is a mean, mean place," rant earlier this week, I'm sure he doesn't.
But the thing about this Illinois fan base is that they, more than
anything, want the Illini to care as much as they (and we) do. And at
times, these seniors just don't look like they do. Whether it's through
body language, attitude or simply the look on their faces...sometimes it
looks like they don't care.
And that's obviously not true. Obviously
they care. But you can certainly still question whether or not they care
as much as we do.
It's a valid concern, and a valid thought. I don't know what is in
these guys' heads, or why they might consider themselves done, but
that's where a lot of the consternation comes from with Illinois fans --
their contentment with where they are in their respective basketball
careers. Everyone seems unable, unwilling or not involved enough any
more to change the direction and momentum of the season.
It's sad, but true.
"A world that sends you reeling through decimated dreams
Your misery and hate will kill us all
So paint it black and take it back
Let's shout it loud and clear
Defiant til the end we hear the call
To carry on
We'll carry on
And though you're dead and gone believe me
Your memory will carry on
We'll carry on
And though you're broken and defeated
Your weary widow marches on..."
--My Chemical Romance, "Welcome To the Black Parade"
I think as a fan base, at this point, we're
broken and defeated. Yet we do continue to march on, don't we? The fans
still tune in, based on Twitter and Facebook. The students and alumni
still turn out to the Assembly Hall in Champaign. It seems like a
healthy fan base...
And yet we are dysfunctional. We hate our
coach. We hate our team. Everyone has a myriad of reasons why. No one
specifically agrees on any one reason.
And yet...we carry on.
In the end, I think that will be the
enduring memory of these Illini seniors: Demetri McCamey, Bill Cole,
Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale. I think that it will be the class that
broke us as fans. And I don't mean our psyche, I mean they actually
broke us into little pieces.
We're ranting about officials, we're
ranting about coaches and players and recruits. Hell, I still hate Eric
Gordon, North Carolina and Matt Sylvester.
Gordon was almost 5 years ago. North
Carolina and Sylvester were around 6 years ago (Sylvester, at this
point, almost 6 years to the day).
Pretty easy to see how we're a little
dysfunctional when someone who is supposed to be unbiased, someone who
is supposed to be able to write about the team in a coherent, rational
way...still hates. Still is full of the hates.
Hate Hate Hate.
And it's from half a decade ago.
The enduring thought in my mind is that,
had this current senior class done anything to make us forget...we
wouldn't be in this position.
As it is...we carry on.
And I have a feeling that we'll be looking for that apology for the rest of our lives.
Second Feature: BLAME FOR DISAPPOINTING ILLINI SEASON GOES WELL BEYOND SENIOR CLASS
In the bracket of non-existent, 2009-2011 Illini basketball leadership has got to be a #1 seed.
And I'm not singling out Coach Bruce Weber, or point guard/star
player Demetri McCamey. I'm talking about the total team's overall
tendency to just NOT get things done together as a team. If Notre Dame
is Gestalt, and a cohesive unit playing well beyond the sum of their
parts, then Illinois is a bunch of underachieving square pegs in round
Handling success instead of fearing of it, winning the close games,
not being mental midgets in the face of adversity: these qualities have
been missing the past two years. And ever since the Illini started
dropping games to teams that are half as talented as they are, we media members started getting extremely critical of both Weber and the seniors.
No wonder Weber described the internet as a "mean place." But let's say he's right.
Let's say the criticism of the seniors is unwarranted and undeserved. Where else can you point the finger?
Saturday was Senior Day in Champaign, and with that a time to reflect
of what the seniors accomplished; or more likely what they didn't
accomplish. For that depressing, but poignant and inconveniently
truthful assessment go here)
Let's say they finish this season without a tournament victory. (For current resume go here)
That would mean they end up the first senior class in what seems like
ages to not win a NCAA Tournament game. And that simply means...they're
just not that good. McCamey, Davis, Tisdale, Cole: all of them would
just not be all that talented. And perhaps the fans, experts, media
etc. just overrated them. Maybe it's really not their fault after all.
And if that's the case, then the accountability for this mediocre tourney bubble season lies with....
Brandon Paul has made some decent strides this year. Sure he's
missing from the stat sheet at times, but there have been some key games
where he's carried the Illini for an entire half. Freshman Jereme
Richmond has been a decent player off the bench. Should he start
Maybe. But he hasn't exactly set the college basketball
world afire like a McDonald's All-American is expected to do. And the
other freshmen? They're essentially MIA. Meyers Leonard ostensibly leads
the nation in fouls per minute, and that's about the only thing we've
noticed from his scant minutes. Crandall Head is in his first year
following a ACL injury, and he doesn't get into most games.
Joseph Bertrand and Tyler Griffey are so far down the depth chart
it's easy to forget they're on the team. And D.J. Richardson has taken a
step back this year. Or at least he's failed to progress. He drew the
collar Saturday, and had a massively horrible midseason shooting slump.
Not all his fault, as he's had numerous dings lately: a little bit of a
sprain, bruises, collisions in practice and the Iowa game.
But this senior class hasn't received much support from the freshmen and sophomores. And the juniors? We'll answer that below.
Eric Gordon's Defection, and the stain it left on Recruiting
"I'm still solid with Illinois," that's what superstar recruit Eric
Gordon said publicly in 2006 when everyone was starting to realize that
he actually wasn't.
He said it even though he himself probably knew he was somewhat "solid" with Indiana and Kelvin "Mr. Telephone Man"
Sampson. It's ironic, because "solid" is one of Weber's favorite words.
If you need an Illini press conference drinking game, use Weber stating
a phrase with that word in it. "Just be solid."
But EG, who's age would make him a senior this year, was a
one-and0done anyway. So why is Gordon "Basketball Judas" in Champaign?
Because of the way he went about it- waiting to the absolute last
second, and acting like a solipsistic narcissist when de-committing.
That tied Weber's hands and left a TERRIBLE stain on the UI program.
All that great recruiting capital from 2005, the greatest season in
school history, was wiped out. And then some.Because Gordon's indecision
and classless behavior made the Illini program look like damaged goods
in the eyes of an entire recruiting class.
If you're a prize recruit, and you see someone bail from a program
that just tied the all-time record for single season victories the year
before...what would you think is wrong? That's why Illinois has ZERO
juniors on the roster. None!
Bruce Weber Himself
And that's why we need to cut a lot of huge slices of slack and serve
them up on a silver plate for each one of the seniors. They have the
weight of an additional recruiting class on their back. They're
supporting two for the price of one.
"It's been very frustrating for them, for our staff. But all we can
do is be there for each other, and if you're a good team and a good
player- go out and do it," Weber said after the Iowa game.
Ultimately, the buck stops with Weber. It's his fault for not
reaching his seniors, or failing to recruit the type of players he can
"I don't think any of those guys are very confident kids as it is.
And I think the whole thing weighed on 'em heavily mentally," Weber said
about the pressure his senior class has had to deal with.
"And I can just be there mentally to help them."
Agreed. And there's still time and a chance to give the seniors a properly, happy send-off.
You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank
Tags: 2011 illini, 2011 Illinois Fighting Illini basketball, Bill Cole, Bruce Weber, bruce weber illini, Demetri McCamey, Eric Gordon, eric gordon hurt, eric gordon injured, illini, illini basketball, illini tournament chances, illini tournament hopes, Illinois basketball, illinois disappointing, Illinois senior day, Illinois underachieving, Mike Davis, mike tisdale, Underacheiving Illini