Illinois-Northwestern: Battle to get off the Bubble

By Paul M. Banks and Paul Schmidt
Photo Credit: Illinois Loyalty.com

Illini Hoops All-Decade team

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By Paul M. Banks & Paul Schmidt of  The Sports Bank and Joe Kutsunis of Hail to the Orange, “Home of the Blogging Illini”

When putting together an All Decade Team, our first effort was Nick Smith, at guard, forward, and center. Nick Smith all the way baby. So obviously someone spiked our Egg Nog with opium or something. Eventually we decided to take the job seriously and put this together; a collection of our favorite memories surrounding the players the three of us deemed all decade.

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Easy Illini Win Over Western Michigan Inspiring, Not Surprising

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By Paul Schmidt

It isn’t like anyone expected the Illini to lose. Still, their 88-53 win over Western Michigan a lot of positives can be taken.

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#20 Illini Fighting on in Las Vegas Invitational

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By Paul M. Banks

It’s Feast Week! When there’s non-stop college basketball, so many games start at bizarre times. And not just because games are going on in obscure parts of the world in far away time zones. In order to accommodate the television coverage, some games start at…like this one starts at 8:30 pm. #20 Illinois vs. the Wofford Terriers in the second round of the Las Vegas Invitational. Hence the late start time, so ESPNU could televise this game. weber

Wofford is no push over, they won at Georgia, and lost by one possession to Pittsburgh.

Of course, I’m not sure Pitt is that good, and Georgia might just get kicked out of the SEC they are so bad so…..

The Illini will also get a late tip off in the 3rd round taking on Utah at 9:30 PM Friday. In game 4 on Saturday, Illinois will meet either Bradley or Oklahoma St. Here’s hoping it’s OSU only because I’M A MAN!!! I’M 40!. Ok I’m 32, but you get the idea. BTW, Illinois beat Presbyterian 94-48 in the opening round of this game.

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Brando Paul comes in leading the Illini in scoring at 16.7 PPG, Mike Davis is second at 12 ppg, D.J. Richardson is 3rd at 11.3. So the Illini are getting a lot of scoring from their freshmen wings.  Tip off has begun. McCamey takes and misses the first shot.

Wofford comes out shooting 8-2, WU 17:30 left

DJ Richardson drains a 3, following a Mike Tisdale skyhook. 1st tv timeout ILL trail 10-9

Do they really need the screaming sound effect here? when they play the Indian war hymn. I get it it’s the “House of ‘Paign” in Champaign. but we don’t need the sadist sound effect.

Wofford is just owning the 3 pt line right now. They’re going to have to miss sometime. Weber is screaming at Demetri to move and at the whole team to “look inside”

BTW, McCamey just missed badly.

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Tell me again why this team is ranked #20? when they’re down 8 to a mid-major 12 min in?

In the words of Zhane, “hey mr. DJ, all night…on and on and on”….he hit a three to cut the deficit to 3, but then what would you expect? Terriers hit a 3 again. Somebody guard that Cameron Rundles guy, and Junior Salters…and someone stop leaving Noah Dahlman alone too.

I know that Billy Cole and Bubba Chisholm are in fact white. I can see that with my own eyes, but I still don’t believe them. With names like that, I still think they are lying to me about being white.

For you that are new to TSB, you stopped by on a very historical day!!! Earlier in the day we shattered the monthly page views record!!! with 6 days left in the month. And we just broke the daily page views record….right about..NOW! with 3 hours left in the day nonetheless. THANK YOU TSB READERS! And NFL Mock Draft, and Jimmy Clausen as well. Couldn’t have done it without you.

Hey Mr. DJ all nihiiiight.. on and on and on. Richardson hits a big 3 to put Illinois up for the first time in game 33-32 with a 1:54 left in half.

Maybe DJ will go to the NBA some day, maybe I’ll win a Webby someday? It’s the holiday season, and it’s feast week, so anything can happen, right?

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Yes, I think that is Mary Tyler Moore.

Demtri’s defense is actually better this year. no, really I mean it.  Still no excuse that they got out-rebounded so badly in the 1st half, from such a smaller team. NO EXCUSE Illini up 49-42 16:19 left in game. Lisa Salters is indeed tearing up Illinois.

49-47 Illinois, 15:50 left.

rebounding deficit is 29-15 now…ouch! neother team handling the ball very well. game tied at 50. 14 min left

THAT MOVE BY MCCAMEY, BEHIND THE BACK, REVERSE LAY-IN WAS SICK!!!

Wait., I’ll give it an even more favorable adjective; D WILLESQUE! 58-50 Illinois 10 min left

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DJ for 3 again. 70-57, 4:30 left Illini starting to pull away now. I don’t think they’ll win this game by 20, but they might finish winning by 15.

No matter what the box score ends up saying, Illini had a much harder fought victory than it seems. This team hung around a lot longer than anyone thought they would. And Illini are shooting 57%, if they had an off shooting night, this would have been trouble.

I’ll see you guys later after the presser. with quotes and final thoughts.

Press Box Live Blog: NU-ILL

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By Paul M. Banks and Paul Schmidt

(PMB) Here we go, Land of Lincoln trophy on the line….

(PS) Illinois’ offense looks anemic so far…great field position on their first two drives and no points to show for it. Jacob Charest has looked really, really sharp so far nice zip on his balls.  The problem still lies in my guy Matt Eller, who missed a chip shot field goal for a three point lead.  Stefan Demos missed a long one for the Kitties made longer by a false start, so we’re still stuck at zeroes midway through the first quarter.  In a related story, the glare is so bad in the press box, I can’t see my computer screen — I could be typing anything right now…how’d I do, PB?

(PMB) not bad not bad….I like how NU brought all their cheerleaders and band. It’s like a home game for them. No wait, the stadium is full, so really its nothing like a home game for them

(PMB) How are you enjoying watching Northwestern’s running game? And by running game, I mean Kafka throwing 5 yard slants and 3 yard flare patterns to Zeke Markshausen all day. Did you know Markshausen is the Big 10’s 2nd leading receiver? A former walk-on now 2nd in big ten in receiving…

(PS) Do you think that Zeke, every time he makes a catch, yells, “VERE ARE YOUR PAPERS!!!?????!!” to the defensive back covering him?  Actually…that probably didn’t make any sense to anyone reading so I’ll briefly explain. Zeke Markshausen sounds like one of the Nazis prosecuted at the Nuremburg Trials.  Seriously, yell, “VERE ARE YOUR PAPERS?????!!!!?!???” after every one of his catches. It’s fun!

(PS) It occurs to me that if someone had told me that Illinois’ Mikel Leshoure was going to emerge as a viable deep-threat at running back, as well as an every down back…well, I’d have first not believed you.  But after that shock, I’d have said that that meant the Illini were going to run the table in Big Ten.  Seriously.  And he just broke his third big carry of the drive…

(PMB) LeShoure has been impressive no doubt. he’s like the new Mendenhall. emerging late in the season as a starter…now wait, he just wears the same number, that’s about all he has in common with Shard.

(PMB) Now 3-0, 10:50 to go in half…after 3 missed FGs, Eller finally connects. still this 3-0 is a lot closer than the score would indicate. But since the Illini are getting just good production out of their run game, I’d say they have the momentum…and Sidney Stewart might just be the worst wide receiver in division 1 FBS football. that drop was atrocious, and a huge drive killer.

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(PS) Actually it was NOT Matt Eller…Derek Dimke has apparently become the Illini kicker.  If we were ranking position battles in NCAA Football, I’m thinking Dimke versus Eller would rank somewhere around 1,024.

Incidentally, Jarrod Fayson just got whistled for an illegal block after a fair catch, and that’s the SECOND time this season that he’s been called for that particular penalty.  Umm…did we keep the receipt on his transfer??

RAPID FIRE QUESTION — True or false — Illinois’ front four has outplayed Northwestern’s front four thus far.

(PMB) True, just look at Illini YPC so far. NU’s front four is getting blown back by Illinois’ big country corn-fed boys. They’re clearing space for LeShoure who has 73 yards rushing already, and Ford has about 20 as well.

(PMB) And welcome to the game Corey Wootton, who’s now probably 100%…just in time, with 1 game left in the season. I guess he heard me criticizing the NU def front

(PMB) Question for you, what is the most bad-ass thing that Illini football is known for. What is the most notorious or cool story associated with “the program”? My nomination is New Year’s Eve before the 1984 Rose Bowl. The widely circulated (yet ultimately unproven) story that UI alumnus Hugh Hefner had the team over at the Playboy mansion to do some blow and get wasted. And that’s why UCLA utterly destroyed them the next day. Top that?

(PS) Well, I heard tell (and by heard tell, I know people who saw them out) of Illinois players out on Bourbon Street at 6 in the morning the day before the Sugar Bowl, although the Hef story is certainly more scandalous.

I would say from a seediness standpoint it still doesn’t top the basketball team, though.

(PS) VERE ARE YOUR PAPERS!!!!????!!!!!!!!!

(PMB) Agreed nothing will be as seedy as the 2007 party/DUI incident. Jamar Smith is a watse of a human life.

Markshausen NEIN! MACH SCHNELL! DAS IST GUUD

Thats the same EXACT PLAY, to the same exact spot of the field, Kafka to Markshausen, both times!! same route, same spot, how do you get burned that badly twice like that? now 14-3 NU 6:30 in 3rd Kafka has 270 yards passing already. Kafka to Markshausen, that’s very Continental European sounding. as for that 50-60ish yard completion to Brewer, how do you not finish that? I can’t believe he got caught from behind by the Illini safeties

(PMB) on the radio broadcast in the bathroom, I heard Barnhart refer to Eddie McGee as Juice on the air. then later said “Eddie Mcgee still the quarterback” weird…

(PS) Man, what was the smallest gain on the last two Wildcat drives??  They look as though they are a juggernaut right now, as they are probably going to finish off an 80 yard drive after going 99.5 on their last one.

I think at this point, as has been the problem all season, the Illinois defense is just gassed.

As for the Illini offense, they have gone three-and-out…they have had some critically bad penalties…they just can’t finish drives off. Also, the offensive numbers that were once close are now completely out of whack, as NU is dominating time of possession and the total yardage situation.

(PMB) agreed. it was even, but NU has taken over completely this half. leshoure had 77 yards rushing at halftime, he has 76 now. passing yards 302 to 51! Yikes.

When they punch it in here, this game’s over. Looks like your prediction was well…off a bit. Mine was off too. I said 27-23 NU. btw, Arby Fields is the next Rocky Harvey.

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(PS) There’s our obligatory Rejus Benn injury for the game…he jogs off though so who knows what was wrong. I’m starting to think he might be a be a bit of a bitch…

No Jacob Charest and Mikel Leshoure for the entire third quarter.  They both come in on the first drive of the fourth quarter and VOILA…that’s a TD.  My buddy from Iowa, Ray, calls that being Zookered.

Incidentally, Illinois went for two and failed after the TD.  While they did and now still do need a two point conversion, conventional wisdom is that you wait until the last possible second to go for two, thus keeping you in the game as long as possible. Going for one and hitting it would mean we’re looking at a two score game still — TD and an FG.  Now, with the missed conversion, the Illini have penned themselves in to needing two touchdowns, not a move you want to make with so much time left in the fourth quarter.

BTW, that’s also being Zookered.

(PS) By way of a post-mortem, the final was 21-16, Northwestern, as they take home the big stove-pipe hat for the first time.

Part of the danger of being in the press is that you end up on the field here at Illinois, thus missing the end of the game from your bird’s eye view. Even worse, sometimes teams make a run like Illinois did.  Even worser (??), sometimes there is a play like the Jarrod Faison interception, and you don’t have any clue what exactly happened.

I still don’t really.

Paul Banks and I were actually right on top of that play, and what we both saw was Faison get one hand under the ball and one on top. No bobble.  He then brought the ball to his chest, it appeared.  Somewhere in the scheme of things, the Northwestern DB ended up with the football, with the salient points being that A) It looked like Faison had the catch, and had control of the ball, B) Not only that, he was on his back, and C) While on his back he was touched by the defender.

All that seems to me to point to a reception by Fayson and a first down, not a pick.  If anyone anywhere has seen a replay of this describing what exactly happened, please, let us know in the comments…

Of course, the Illini probably wouldn’t have scored a TD anyway…

(PS)  OK…here’s the official word from Referee Dan Capron regarding the game-clinching interception by Northwestern’s Sherrick McManis:

“What the line judge saw was the Illinois receiver attempt to catch the pass, but he never completed possession of the ball.  He was on his back in the field of play and the ball was basically on his chest. The receiver did not firmly grab and possess the ball.  Before he had an opportunity to do so the defender from Northwestern came up and did possess the ball, and that’s why it was ruled an interception on the field. That play was then buzzed by the replay booth, as we expected it would be given the magnitude of the call. Then, (replay official) Tom Quinn determined that there was not indisputable video evidence available to overturn the call on the field.”

Quite honestly, this is an absolute CRAP explanation.  I saw, with my own eyes, Jarred Faison grasp the football with two hands and then make a move to possess the ball to his chest.  He made a football move, which is all that is required in this particular case for the ball to be a reception (obviously, he also needs possession and one foot down — but I’m saying he DID have that possession, and since he was on his back in the field of play, essentially that counts as one foot down). When McManis touched Faison to try and intercept the pass, he was touching him down.  No interception, first and ten for the Illini.

While it could be argued whether or not there was indisputable evidence — the replays at the stadium sure seemed to indicate reception, however — the call was flat-out wrong to begin with.  Terrible job by the Big Ten officiating crew, and hopefully they will be censured at some point this week for completely screwing the pooch on this one.

Of course, it again bears mentioning that…yes…I know…Illinois probably wouldn’t have scored anyway…

Illini Leading Scorer Demetri McCamey Exclusive

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By Paul M. Banks

When it comes to Illini junior point guard Demetri McCamey, perhaps his Coach Bruce Weber describes him best. “If you study him over the course of time, he has very good games and a tendency not to be real consistent, this goes back way to high school and AAU and that’s where he’s got to mature. He has the big one and then average, average. He needs to be more consistent if we’re going to be a very good team because he can do things that other people can’t do,” Weber said this season.

Last season McCamey was the Illini’s leading scorer and became the man the team went to when a last second game winning shot was needed. As evidenced by his buzzer beater at Northwestern, he started to become a clutch player. The third-team All-Big Ten selection led the Illini in scoring and was second on the team and fourth in the conference in assists, He also led the Big Ten in assists during conference play, and finished second to Kalin Lucas in the league in assist/turnover ratio.dwilliams_feature01

But his game still needs polish which I discussed with both him and Coach Weber extensively during the season. His shot selection is sometimes suspect: “When my little brother says it than I know everybody notices, my little brother told me I was settling for too many threes, so I got to get back to attacking the paint like I used to,” McCamey said.

His work ethic needs improvement and his defense can often be non-existent. However, he’s also the Illini player with the most athleticism and star potential. On a team that will be ranked in everyone’s top 25 next season, that’s quite a compliment. “He’s got to learn the game: how to use screens, how to play without the ball, and if he could do that he could be the guy. He passes well, shoots the three, he’s got a big body and can pull-up,” Weber said.

McCamey is often criticized, by Coach Weber and Big Ten announcers alike, for his work ethic, but Demetri says he’s dedicated to edifying and bettering himself…

“A student of the game, that’s the only way you’ll get better. It’s all about making the right decision and every possession is worth something. Coach McClain and I watch film, I like to come in and watch film. If I’m at home, my roommate Alex {Legion} and I- that’s all we do is watch college and NBA basketball.”

watch the video below to get to know him better. He mentions former Illini Deron Williams as his favorite player to look up to.


And for excelling in the role of true point guard/go-to guy-“It’s not just scoring for me, especially on the defensive end and becoming a leader, being more vocal- don’t yell at guys, pick your spots and be a true leader.” Demetri is often candid about how he has to improve his defense, but I asked him what else he needs to improve?

“Standing up a lot and watching instead of attacking, sometimes I rely on my teammates too much when I can just push the ball and make plays happen instead of just trying to wait for them to happen. It’s being aggressive all the time and take every play like it’s your last and make the right decision,” he responded.

Current Bull and NBA Rookie of the Year Derrick Rose is a friend of McCamey’s and someone that he’s talked about modeling his game on.

“He’s a wonderful player. I played against him all the way since 7th grade, he knows me, I know him and I know I’ll be in the same boat and playing with passion if I just listen to everybody, because they’re only trying to help…No matter how young you are, you can be a real good player. We used to be enemies on the court, now I’m a fan, maybe one day I’ll get to where he’s at.”

If Demetri matures into a consistent player, the Illini could make a deep tournament run in March and Derrick Rose could possibly see another Windy City friend in the NBA in 2011.

More Illini exclusives, click name for video interviews:

Mike Davis

Mike Tisdale

D.J. Richardson

Brandon Paul

Alex Legion and Dominique Keller

Illini Ink Top 10 Recruiting Class

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By Paul M. Banks

In case you missed it, today was “National Signing Day” for basketball. I totally understand if it’s not on our your radar, because it’s the day that we “officially” learn what we’ve already known for months, and sometimes years. We pretty much know where all the top recruits are going, but this is the day it becomes a contract. It just puts the notoriously gray area that is the world of recruiting into black and white, with some concrete headlines. And with the University of Illinois’ incoming class, those headlines are very happy ones.

Today’s group, the class of 2014 officially silences the critics who said Bruce Weber can’t recruit. It further validates the exceptional contributions that Assistant Jerrance Howard brings to the recruiting table. It’s matter of redemption from the whole Eric “Basketball Judas” Gordon saga. Without further ado, I turns things over to SID Derrick Burson and company, here’s the official press release.Illinois
Richmond, Head and Leonard Officially Join Fighting Illini

Champaign, Ill.-Illinois head coach Bruce Weber announced today the signing of three student-athletes to national letters of intent in Jereme Richmond, Crandall Head and Meyers Leonard. The Recruiting Services Consensus Index lists all three players in the Top 75, giving the Fighting Illini the No. 4 class in the nation by ESPNU, No. 6 nationally by Scout.com and No. 10 nationally by Rivals.com.

“We are thrilled to officially welcome Jereme, Crandall and Meyers to the Fighting Illini family,” Weber said. “They are three outstanding young men who have been committed to us for a long time. They are all tremendously talented players, extremely athletic, with the ability to play a mixture of positions. We are pleased to bring in three in-state products who are the top three seniors in the state of Illinois.”

Richmond, a 6-8 wing from Waukegan, Ill., famously made a verbal commitment to the Illini program three years ago before ever playing a high school game. He is a consensus top-25 recruit who was named Chicago Sun-Times and Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette Player of the Year last season after leading Waukegan to a record of 26-5 and runner-up finish at the IHSA Class 4A State Tournament. Richmond averaged 20.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.3 blocks as a junior, and kept Waukegan on its path to Peoria by hitting a half court shot at the buzzer in a sectional final victory over Warren Township High School and future UI teammate, Brandon Paul. Richmond’s coach at Waukegan is Ron Ashlaw. He is a member of the Mac Irvin Fire AAU program, coached by Mike Irvin.

Head, a 6-4 guard from Matteson, Ill., attends Rich South High School, coached by Scot Ritter. He is the younger brother of former Illini All-American guard Luther Head, currently a member of the Indiana Pacers. Head is a consensus top-75 recruit who earned first-team All-State honors for Class 3A by the Associated Press after averaging 21 points, seven rebounds and four steals last season at Chicago Crane High School, under the direction of coach Tim Anderson. Head recently underwent knee surgery to repair a torn ACL and is sidelined indefinitely. Head also is a member of the Mac Irvin Fire AAU program.

Leonard is a 7-0 center at Robinson High School. He is a consensus top-50 recruit who averaged 12 points, nine rebounds and three blocks as a junior. Leonard won the IHSA Class 2A dunk contest and was an All-Apollo Conference selection, leading Robinson to a 21-8 record, conference title and IHSA Class 2A sectional appearance. His coach at Robinson is Bob Coffman. Like Richmond and Head, Leonard also is a member of the Mac Irvin Fire AAU program.
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JEREME RICHMOND
Wing
6-8, 195
Hometown: Waukegan, Ill.
High School/Coach: Waukegan/Ron Ashlaw
AAU Program/Coach: Mac Irvin Fire/Mike Irvin
Rising Stars/Brian Davis

Notes: Consensus national top-25 recruit (No. 18 on rscihoops.com) … Averaged 20.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.3 blocks as a junior … Led Waukegan to state runner-up finish in IHSA Class 4A … Ranked No. 16 nationally by Scout, No. 17 by both ESPNU and Hoopmasters, No. 18 by All Star Report, No. 21 by Prep Stars and No. 36 by Rivals … Chicago Sun-Times and Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette Player of the Year in 2009 … Consensus first-team All-State selection by the Associated Press, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and Illinois Basketball Coaches Association in 2009.

Weber on Richmond: “Jereme is extremely talented and so versatile that he can play practically any position on the floor. He’s a team-first player who makes everyone around him better and that was evident in the way he led Waukegan all the way to the state title game last year. Jereme has tremendous feel and knowledge for the game, and his best attribute of all might be his passing. He has excellent court vision. We’ve obviously been close to Jereme and the Richmond family for a number of years. We appreciate their loyalty and the commitment they’ve made to our program and university. I know Coach Ashlaw has been impressed with the growth and improvement Jereme has made, and they have big goals for his senior season.”
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CRANDALL HEAD
Guard
6-4, 180
Hometown: Matteson, Ill.
High School/Coach: Rich South/Scot Ritter
AAU Program/Coach: Mac Irvin Fire/Mike Irvin

Notes: Consensus national top-75 recruit (No. 59 on rscihoops.com) … Averaged 21 points, seven rebounds and four steals as a junior … Ranked No. 42 nationally by All Star Report, No. 53 by Hoopmasters, No. 59 by both Scout and Prep Stars and No. 73 by ESPNU … First-team All-State selection by the Associated Press and Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette in 2009 … Second-team All-State by the Chicago Sun-Times … Special mention All-State by the Chicago Tribune … Fourth-team All-State by the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association.

Weber on Head: “Crandall has been around us since he was in middle school, watching the success of his brother and our program during the Final Four run in 2005. So we’ve had a great relationship with him and his family through the years and are happy that Crandall also will be wearing that No. 4 Illini jersey. He has a lot of physical attributes that are similar to Luther, as he is extremely athletic and versatile with great jumping ability and is able to get to the basket. He has some rehab work ahead of him and needs to take his time and get fully healed. Sitting out will be a challenge because Crandall loves to play. ”

MEYERS LEONARD
Center
7-0, 215
Hometown: Robinson, Ill.
High School/Coach: Robinson/Bob Coffman
AAU Program/Coach: Mac Irvin Fire/Mike Irvin
Team Ramey/Terrell Ramey

Notes: Consensus national top-50 recruit (No. 36 on rscihoops.com) …  Averaged 12 points, nine rebounds and three blocks as a junior … Ranked No. 39 nationally by both Rivals and Scout, No. 44 by All Star Report, No. 47 by Hoopmasters, No. 51 by Prep Stars and No. 52 by ESPNU … Special mention All-State by the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and Illinois Basketball Coaches Association in 2009.

Weber on Leonard: “I rarely have seen athleticism and mobility from a 7-footer like Meyers has. The progress he’s made over the last two years has been impressive. He reminds our staff of James Augustine with that same ability to run the floor as a big man. He began his high school career as a guard but had an incredible growth spurt and then transitioned to center. I’ve known Coach Coffman for a long time. He does a great job and feels that Meyers has the ability to help Robinson contend for a state title this season.”

Meet your Illini Dominique Keller, Alex Legion

Illinois

By Paul M. Banks and Paul Schmidt

Welcome to The Sports Bank.net YouTube Channel! We just launched what will now be our primary home for the first-class interviews we conduct with the biggest names in Midwestern sports. Please subscribe to TSB’s channel by clicking here. We launch our channel with the first of our series of exclusive interviews with some of the #23 ranked Illinois Fighting Illini’s best players.

Meet forward Dominique Keller here

And wing Alex Legion. He was a highly sought after recruit who left both Michigan and Kentucky to come to Champaign-Urbana. Here him discuss the difference between the Big Ten and the SEC.

Illinois’ Jon Asamoah Talks Tough About the Season, His NFL Future

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By Paul Schmidt

The University of Illinois has had a challenging season. Everyone knows about the copious amount of talent on offense, but what might actually surprise some is that the top rated player, by position, by ESPN’s NFL draft guru Mel Kiper isn’t Arrelious Benn – it is offensive guard Jon Asamoah.

Asamoah has been a three year starter for the team, and in fact started his career as a freshman, logging playing time during the 2006 campaign. With that level of experience, and that many games under his belt, Asamoah is viewed as one of the anchors of a strong offensive line.

Thus far this season, the disappointments have far outweighed the successes, and it is starting to wear on everyone, not just the offensive line.

“Offensively we’ve got to get it going consistently,” Asamoah said. “We’ve had those drives where we were moving the ball and moving the ball and moving the ball, and we’ve got to keep that going the whole game.”

Not to beat too much coach-speak into the ground, but it’s the little things that would help turn things around.“Individually, no one is perfect out there. We just have to play at a higher level. The Rose Bowl year, we were just out there playing as hard as we could. We’re still doing that, but just not executing.”

For an offensive line, Juice Williams presents an interesting problem as a quarterback.  He’s very mobile and likes to move around in the pocket, as well as creating his own magic with his feet, which makes things interesting for the lineman assigned to protect him.

“I’m out there and sometimes I get so focused, I’m blocking my guy and I have to say to myself, ‘Wait, where is he going,’” Asamoah said as he chuckled. “Then I think to myself that I really don’t really know what’s happening.”

The same problem doesn’t exist every time Williams drops back to throw, however. When forming the pocket, Asamoah knows that every moment that can be spared for his quarterback gives him a little bit longer to make the correct read.

“The way the game goes, you’ve got to get out there in that pass mode. We scout the D-Lines so much, so we know ASAMOAH,-JON_0393what they are doing,” said Asamoah. “We go out there and fight against that as long as we can to give Juice every second that we can to throw. With all the great players that we have out there, we know they are going to make plays.”

And even though they haven’t always made those plays this season, it is that type of intensity that helps carry a warrior like Asamoah through every down of the game.

“I wish I could block every guy out there, but honestly, it’s not really like that, once you’re really in the game,” Asamoah stated. “I’m focused on my guy, and then I trust that my other four guys out there are going to get the job done.”

That all goes back to one of the most important factors in determining the success of an offensive line: Continuity.  Quite simply, the more an offensive line plays together, the better they will be.Though the Illini have some youngsters on the line, it is Asamoah and other upperclassmen’s leadership that have really held things together for the unit and the entire offense.

“It’s so important, because I feel so comfortable in between (junior Ryan) Palmer and (senior Eric) Block, we talk out there and we only have to say a couple of words to each other and we know what’s going on,” Asamoah said. “The young guys that come in, like Corey Lewis, I feel just as comfortable with them, because he’s learned over his time here. Without that kind of continuity on the O-Line, you’re just not going to be a good group.”

One thing that he and the rest of the Illini have placed emphasis on is staying positive and putting the bad things behind them – And it’s that type of attitude that finally may have paid some dividends this past weekend with their victory over Michigan.

“It’s hard, it’s hard to lose. Things haven’t gone the way that we wanted them to, but there’s a fight tomorrow, and we don’t let a team beat us twice,” Asamoah said. “You just have to refocus,” Asamoah continued. “You look at the film and see there were some really good things from this game or that game, but in order to do this consistently, you have to go out there, play balls-to-the-wall on every play.  We’re capable of it – We just haven’t been doing it.”

All of that leads to the question of Asamoah’s future, a question that was posed to him after one of the team’s many losses this season. To his credit, he wasn’t thinking about anything other than finishing the year as strong as possible.

“You know, who knows what will happen? I could go out tomorrow, slip on something and break my leg. I’m not worried about any of that,” Asamoah said. “All of that will come later. Right now, I’m just doing my job, playing as hard as I can. All of that stuff will come after the season. The feeling I have in my gut right now, this sick feeling…I’m not worried about any of that other stuff right now.”

Closing the Book of Isaiah (Williams)

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By Paul Schmidt

I’m going to attempt to walk that fine line of blasphemy today and tell everyone a little bit about the prophet Isaiah.  Sunday School is now in session.

Isaiah was a prophet from the 8th Century BC, in both Judaism and in Christianity — For the sake of my own sanity, we’re just going to be dealing with the Christian/Catholic side of things today, mainly because I really wouldn’t know enough about Judaism to write anything intelligent.  In Christianity, Isaiah is also considered a saint. One of the more important parts of Isaiah’s message was, when the people of Israel had turned their back on God, “This land will be completely laid waste and plundered.”  Heavy stuff.

The Book of Isaiah is a book of the Bible that was traditionally viewed as being written by Isaiah himself. He is the central character (so to speak) in this book.  Interestingly, there is now a very widely accepted critical hypothesis that claims most, if not all of the Book of Isaiah was actually written by one or more different authors at a much later date. Tradition ascribes it to Isaiah, modern scholars to two or three other authors. Let’s absorb all that for a moment and flash forward 2800 years, to the sleepy little hamlet of Champaign, Illinois, and their quarterback Juice Williams.

Juice’s first name is actually…wait for it…Isaiah.  Spelled the same and everything. No one ever calls him Isaiah, I know, but it’s still his first name.

I think that it’s safe to say, for his pleasant demeanor, friendly personality and all-around approachability, Juice was being considered for sainthood in Champaign.

The football team, the offense in particular, was certainly going to play football with the book according to Juice.  The offense was certainly focus as the team marched out in 2009.  And when the offense came out of the gates struggling this season, the blame (from fans in particular) was laid at young Isaiah’s feet.  Anyone intelligent really zook_thinking1knows that there’s other authors to that offensive playbook– Namely offensive coordinator Mike Schultz and even head coach Ron Zook himself.

The book Juice should be credited with writing, all on his own, was the record book: breaking  total offense records at three stadiums last season; and just last week he became Illinois’ all-time career total offense leader.

At this point, after we have stuck with Juice for as long as we have, we’re looking at a season laid completely to waste. I think I can also safely say that anyone watching last week’s stinkbomb against Penn State could use the word “plundered” in describing the Nittany Lion offensive line versus the Illini defense.

Isaiah or “Juice” certainly could have been considered the prophet, at regarding Big Ten football. He was easily the most experienced and knowledgable quarterback returning to the Big Ten this season, entering his fourth year as a starter.

Except, not so much.

Today, head coach Ron Zook benched Williams for backup Eddie McGee, putting Juice in the odd position of holding many major Illinois records, having 3-plus years of starting experience, yet relegated to the role of clipboard holder.

This is where the similarities between the prophet Isaiah and Isaiah Williams, unfortunately end.  This isn’t about a kid saving a program from the depths and returning them to the promised land any more.  It’s about a coaching staff and, in particular, a head coach frantically trying to turn a season around in an effort to save their jobs.

Mike Schultz almost certainly will be a one-and-done coach.  I cannot envision any scenario where he is allowed to come back and call plays for the offense next season.  Ron Zook, however, is another matter.

Zook, with an amazing amount of talent coming back and a predominance of optimistic feeling surrounding  that the team, signed a one-year extension to his contract, keeping him contractually obligated to the Illini until 2014 (to the tune of $1.5 million per season). This off-season it looked like Juice and Zook would either ride the tide of victory or sink together.  They would be inextricably linked, especially since Juice was Zook’s first recruit.

ill-osuNow, it appears Zook is not only willing to chuck the under-performing QB under the bus for all of his team’s problems, and use it as a last ditch effort to save his job. Hopefully, it will have the opposite effect. By benching Juice, Zook is essentially admitting that he was either unable to coach Juice (a blue chip recruit out of high school) into the star he should have been, or that their talent evaluation of him was initially wrong.

It doesn’t really matter which part of that statement is correct. If either one is, it doesn’t bode well for the Eddie McGee era — especially given that McGee is so similar to Juice to begin with.

One thing can be said for certain — This effectively signals the end of the 2009 football season for the Illini, and that the rebuilding for next year has begun. But never forget that 90 percent of college football is recruiting. If you were a high-profile recruit, would you come to Champaign to play for a coach that historically hasn’t gotten the most out of his team’s talent? Or maximized the talents each player possesses?

There’s been no comment from Juice, as of yet. There really isn’t much he can say, because he would tell you that he hasn’t been playing well.

Still, you can’t help but feel this was supposed to end differently.  Anyone who saw Juice diving over center on fourth down one dreary Columbus night in November 2007, gaining that first down after convincing his coach to believe in him, to go for it with him…you can’t help but feel a little misled.  A little betrayed.

And more than anything?  Just really, really disappointed.

Live! From the Press Box! It’s the Illini Football Exchange!!

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By Paul M. Banks and Paul Schmidt

10:30 AM – YAWN.  What in the world are you doing here now??  Even Red Grange Statue is still sleeping….and he stands on one leg!  In front of Memorial Stadium!!!

Anyway, PB and I will be back here in roughly 4 hours bringing you all the news that’s fit to print from the aforementioned Memorial Stadium, maybe with some campus stories earlier than that (You ever stand in line at a Follett’s on game day?  Yeah, I didn’t think so…).

So sit back and relax, maybe read why Paul and I are so disappointed in this football season.  Or check out my college picks against the spread.  I call this week my own personal “Battle to get to .500.”  If mediocrity can’t drive us, really, what can??

And don’t forget, we’ll see you in 4 hours!  I-L-L!!

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3:00 til game time: Shockingly, the weather is crappy here at beautiful Memorial Stadium, but it’s sold out!  Well, at least in terms of ticket sales, anyway…it’s probably about 2/3rds full by my estimation.  Some space shuttle action here today.  Woo.

Late prediction is a Penn State route, 31-7.  On the plus side, Illinois gets on the board for a score in Big Ten play…on the down side, they get killed again and a fan base revolts….PS

Illinois 0, Penn State 0, 10:13 left 1q
Interesting start to the game, and special teams are failing the Illini early.  TERRIBLE kick catch interference penalty by Jeff Cumberland and then terrible positioning from Jarred Fayson on the ensuing punt left Illinois backed up to their own three-yard line, when they could have had Penn State similarly backed up.  The Illini offense has shown some early life, but two stupid mistakes that are becoming symptomatic of the Ron Zook era. PS


Illinois-Penn notted up at 0, 6min 1st qtr

My prediction is closer than that. I’ll say PSU 26-17. But that score again is only that close, because I think ILL will score a lot in garbage time. At least Juice is now throwing ahead of his receivers instead of behind them, so that’s progress right? Well it’s a start. JoePa are doing a great job taking away the deep ball. He’s had to go all check-downs and safety valves

Clay Nurse is having a big game again..early at least he’s getting to the ball. Not many guys on ILL def we can say that about. Clay Nurse is a great name for an emo punk band. Maybe an indie emo punk band. “Dude I saw Clay Nurse when they were openers and unsigned 5 years ago man. Now they’re all corporate sounding man..since they play arenas these days. Clay Nurse sold out”

PMB

Illinois 0, Penn St. 0 1:41 left 1Q
The Illini defense deserves some credit for their start to this game, as they’ve done a really nice job of shutting down a good, if not great, Nittany Lion offense.  They’re dynamic, and they do have a lot of weapons, but so far they aren’t looking anything other than shaky.

It’s difficult, at this point, to say whether or not they ARE just shaky or whether or not the Illini D is playing UP to their competition.  Either is possible (though the former is more likely).  No turnovers yet though for either side.

Something that is slightly depressing is that I’m thinking the Illini offense is looking lively, and that’s simply based on the fact they have 64 yards of total offense in the first quarter….PS


Illinois 0, Penn State 0 End 1Q
Well, for Illinois fans, you have to feel as though the first quarter was a success.  You’re not down two scores already, you don’t look overmatched, and, for the first time this season against FBS competition, it looks like your team showed up ready to play today.

The offense has been a little sketchy, but don’t underestimate the effect of the wind and weather on today’s game.  Illinois really didn’t effectively throw the ball into the wind, and Penn State’s Darryl Clark had a lot of trouble throwing the ball WITH the wind.  It looks as though the running games of both teams are going to be extremely important this afternoon. PS

Penn State 7, Illinois 0 11 min 2nd qtr

Well, there you go, the first major offense of the day, as PSU’s 2nd back Stefon Green breaks off a 52 yd TD run. At least Illinois bottled up Evan Royster. the rain has been on and off, I agree that this battlefield’s contest will not be decided in the air, but on the ground. It’s a shame…cuz Juice Williams and Darryl Clark are essentially very similar. both dual threat QBs that have led their team to a Rose Bowl…both got destroyed by USC in that Rose Bowl. I was hoping for total offense show between the 2 today PMB

Penn State 7, Illinois 3 7:16 left 2Q
A beautiful pass over the middle to Rejus Benn (remember him??) for 49 yards — more than doubling Benn’s receiving yards for the season — set up first and goal for the Illini.  Who promptly gained one yard and had to kick a field goal.

Juice Williams also became the total offense leader at Illinois with the Benn pass. Which proves just how meaningless that record really is.  LONG LIVE KURT KITTNER! PS

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Penn State 7, Illinois 3 2:28 left 2Q
Penn State is driving and just got an unfortunate call on an incomplete pass that they challenged, because the catch looked pretty good from where we were and on replay.  Perhaps just not enough to overturn the call.

However, that may not matter as the Illini can’t seem to stop the Nits when they throw the ball.

Nice play by Donsay Hardeman over the middle on a deep ball though, and Illinois holds and will take over on their own 1 yard line with 1:31 remaining in the half. PS

PSU 7, ILL 3, 33 sec in half

Those were some good YACs there by Rejus. And now the pass sets up the run. Juice QB draw this IS what we signed on for. This is why we came down here on a 100 degree in August for Media Day to see offense like this drive, or the last one. PMB

Why did they just play Garth Brooks “Friends in Low Places”? not really a football song. more like a drinking with pick-up trucks and gun racks song…

Dufrene looked almost Pierre Thomasesque on that run. Sort of.

I love this ref, and his authoritarian announcements. He’s the college Ed Hochuli.PMB

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Penn State 7, Illinois 3 HALFTIME
Wild end to the first half as Penn State got a looooong run back on an interception on the last play of the half.  Stephon Morris made that run back everything that it was, because the Illini had that pretty well contained around midfield.

Of course, he could have taken it back to the house and it wouldn’t have mattered because of the block in the back, but still.

All in all, if you’re an Illinois fan, coach, player or whatever, you have to feel really good about that first half of football.  Solid job on defense (if not spectacular) and a nice effort on offense that got the Illini over 200 yards of offense in the first half.  Arrelious Benn has 84 receiving yards already, continuing his assault of Penn State over his career here.

The rushing attack has been adequate for the Illini, but they’ve made their bones passing the ball and running an occasional option pitch.  That’s what the offense needs to look like in the second half to remain successful.

Also, as a side note, the hurry-up was a nice addition this far, and has really kept Penn State on their heels thus far.  PS

Penn State 7, Illinois 3 13:50 left 3Q
Quick post to say that the Illini kick coverage has been excellent today.  Typically Penn State has moved the ball out of that field position easily, but still, it’s nice to start them backed up.

Nice 21 yard carry from Darryl Clark, easily the most confident he has looked with the ball today.  Nits at midfield. PS

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Penn State 7, Illinois 3 11:49 left 3Q
And the Illini get an all important hold!  Wayne Ellington came in out of nowhere on Penn State’s Derek Moye and put his hat right on the ball to force a fumble, and Evan Frierson made the recovery.  It’ll be first and ten Illini on their own 30.

It’s also important to note that this is the Illini’s quarter WITH the wind…look for Juice to come out passing early and often this quarter. PS

Penn State 7, Illinois 3 9:14 left 3Q
What looked like it could be good for the Illini has turned very, very bad…

First, the Illini’s last drive was 4 plays for -5 yards.  Ouch.

Then, on 3rd and 6 in Penn State territory, their QB, Daryll Clark, ran a designed QB draw for 51 yards, deep into Illinois territory, and now the Nits are knocking on the door.  A complete swing of momentum at Memorial Stadium, and it is very, very quiet in the stands here. PS

Penn State 14, Illinois 3 6:34 left 3Q
And as quiet as it was about a minute ago, you could hear a pin drop now.  The crowd doesn’t even look like it is moving.

The score came on second down, a one-yard vertical dive from Daryll Clark, but the damage was truly done on his 51 yard scamper just three plays before.  It was the longest run of Clark’s career.

The crowd isn’t even getting up for “Heyyyyyyyy Baby…” with the band…they sound defeated right now.  Let’s hope the Illini have more fight. PS

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PSU 14, Illinois 3 3:25 3rd qtr

Is that the same Wayne Ellington from UNC hoops? and the NBA Draft last year? Ever since ESPN started banging us over the head with Greg Paulus coverage, the idea has popped into my mind. Mehhhh. This game flew by in the 1st half. Getting more blah as it goes on though. Illini are getting hard to watch on offense PMB

Lions are running it right down Illini throats right now. UI running game? looks decrepit PMB

start of 4th qtr. Penn State 14, Illinois 3

PSU is right near the Illini goalline. A TD here pretty much seals the deal. Cuz an 18 pt lead in a game like this, is like a 40 pt lead in a regular game. PMB

TD State 17-3 now 14:28. And you can put a bow on this….Juice Williams HAS STILL NOT THROWN A TD PASS THIS SEASON! And we’re getting to Mid October!

Remember when Jim Everett of the early 90s L.A. Rams didn’t throw a TD pass until like week 8 or something crazy like that one year? And Wayne Gretzky didn’t score a goal for the Kings until unexpectedly late into the season? But still scored ahead of Everett, that’s how this feels? PMB over to you PS

Penn State 21, Illinois 3 12:43 left 4Q
I guess this is how that feels, PB, but I thought that those Rams teams won some games.  That’s not exactly the greatest example.  At least I don’t think.  Plus I think they had Eric Dickerson or Jerome Bettis or someone at running back…they had people who could score for them.

Right now, the Illini don’t.  Another uninspired 3 and out for the Illini, and Penn State just picked up 22 yards on their first play from scrimmage on the ensuing drive.  To put that in perspective, that’s more yards than the Illini have in the entire second half — only 16 for Illinois.

It should be mentioned that Ron Zook, at halftime, said that that last drive of the first half, the way it all went down, was deflating.  That should have been a tip for how the Illini were going to come out in the second half — Deflated.

Also, Penn State outgained the Illini 208 yards to just eight in the third quarter.  An all-around fail for the Illini.

This is going to wrap up our in-game content…I will be back with a post game summary and some comments from the presser.  For now, this is shaping up as another Illini debacle.  Truly a stomach punch for the team and the fans. PS

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Penn State 28, Illinois 10 8:46 left 4Q
Ok, I lied….but Juice just threw his first TD pass of the season.  I had to check in.

Of course it was against Penn State’s second string…and they were in a prevent defense…but still!  His first TD pass of the year!!!

AND IT’S OCTOBER!!!!!!!!!!

Oy. PS

Penn State 35, Illinois 17 FINAL
Sooo…I guess the Illini showed some life in the final minutes with the wind at their backs.  That’s great.  What I was looking for today was some life.  In the end, it didn’t really matter, because they fell to 0-2 in Big Ten play, effectively ending the Big Ten season before it began.

All in all, the defense played pretty well, but was hung out to dry by an offense that didn’t wake up until the fourth quarter.

Again, from Champaign, your final was an underwhelming 35-17 victory for Penn State, effectively keeping them in the Big Ten race.  PS

Area College Football Teams Need to Step it Up

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By Paul M. Banks

If you follow college football, you know by now that Illinois was pretty much the biggest disappointment coming out of the gate in week one. Of course, that’s another story for another post, but they did get some redemption tonight when they throttled Illinois State 45-17. And they did that pretty much entirely without their star combo of Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn.

More concerning for the Big Ten conference could be the unexpectedly impressive showing by “Directional Michigan,” who gave the conference numerous problems on Saturday. 15 point underdog Central Michigan upset Michigan State 29-27. (Usually, MSU screws up mid-to late season, and dominates in September. Guess they got started early this season)

Eastern Michigan, a 20 point dog to our hometown Northwestern Wildcats, took NU down to the final seconds before junior place-kicker Stefan Demos nailed a 49 yard field goal with 6 ticks left. And Western Michigan lost to Indiana by just four. Maybe it’s a good thing Northern Michigan is a D-II school in the GLIAC conference. And yes, I did have to look that up. And I’m not sure Southern Michigan University exists, but if they did, they’d likely be a thorn in the side of the Big Ten as well. Although other local favorites, Ohio State and Michigan, have looked impressive at times in this young season.

There’s an old football saying claiming, “you improve the most as a team from week one to week two.” If true, it could be a long year for the Big Ten, and maybe a very productive year for the MAC (Mid-American Conference).

“To win a game they way that we did is worrisome across the board. We need to execute better in all aspects. It’s easy when you see the ball run the way it was today, to point the finger at the defensive line. But I’m not prepared to do that yet. I need to watch some video. It is disappointing. We should be better than that,” Northwestern Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald said after the game. To their credit however, they were missing their top DB (CB Sherrick McMannis) and best DT (Adam Hahn). And their best overall player (DE Corey Wootton) may not even be 100% yet.

Another positive to take away is the fact that Northwestern posted its seventh straight victory versus a Mid-American Conference foe, and they avoided their traditional early season slip-up at the hands of a vastly less talented team. Beating EMU by 3 in ’09 is a lot better than losing at home to D-1 laughingstock Duke in ’07 or to D-1AA opponent New Hampshire in ’06. So, the program has shown some growth, at least in the month of September.