dream got better… We were facing perhaps the greatest pitcher of our
era, Roger Clemons himself, in the decisive Game 7, and we knocked
him and the 'Stros back to Houston. It was almost as sweet as dreams
But then I rolled
over and realized in my dream that we were going to our first World
Series in 17 years. Could it get any better?
Not until the games (if you want to
call 'em that) started. My stomach started to churn. When Game 1
slipped away, I got a real bad feeling in my gut. Then Schilling in
Game 2 and Martinez in Game 3… My stomach was really hurting by
then. Just when I thought I'd get a little relief in Game 4 Derek
Lowe decides to do his impersonation of a MLB pitcher. I thrashed in
uncontrollable pain (that's what I get for eating clams before I
I cannot seem to wake from the dream
that turned into a nightmare. However, it is Halloween and we are
coming off a lunar eclipse. Maybe when I wake up, the REAL World
Series can begin.
What's that, you say? How's Illinois
football? I'm going back to sleep!
Seriously, I just can't make myself
write about Illini football. I know I have a responsibility to you
loyal LDN readers, but I just can't do it… Hate me if you must. It's
hard enough to watch, much less rehash. If it makes any of you feel
any better, I did the dad thing Saturday (instead of the game) and
took my son to a friend's birthday party. Boy, did that kid bail us
But take heart, Illini Nation, we
are less than five days away from tipping off the 2004-5 season. I
have NEVER needed a basketball season to start any quicker than this
one! I sure hope it's the wild ride that every expert in the world
is predicting… Wouldn't that be fun? I'm sure that Greg and I will
have some features over the next few weeks, but for starters let's
take a quick preseason glance.
What to look for:
1. My contention is that Illinois
will go as far as their inside game takes them. That means if James
Augustine's time at the Big Man's camp this summer was well spent
and if he becomes an animal in the paint, that will be a good start.
Rumors from Champaign say that Roger
Powell picked up where he left off dancin' on Dookie heads even
though his teammates refused to join him. Powell is a man without a
country, as he is undersized and appears to this semiprofessional
scribe as one who gets a lot out of his limited beef. His ability to
shoot over people and snake around people to get rebounds will be a
huge contribution to this edition of the Illini.
Something you will read here and NOT
in the big-money magazines is that I am NOT projecting NBA-like
moves from Nick Smith. If he continues to improve, that will be more
than enough to make me happy. Last year I predicted that he would be
an instrumental source for us in winning a few games… and Nick came
through. Not as often as the Nation would've liked, but the
realistic fans know that he gave us what he had to give. His ability
to knock down 75 percent to 80 percent of his free throws,
especially during crunch time, is a huge bonus. I repeat, IF he can
help us win five or six games, that will give us a huge lift, and
there's no need putting pressure on him by expecting more.
IF Warren Carter, Brian Randle,
Shaun Pruitt and anyone else can eat up quality time in the post,
not to mention lend Illinois a few more fouls to give, that could
help as well.
Lastly, don't forget the humongous
contributions Jack Ingram put forth toward season's end. If he does
anything remotely close to that this time, then this category will
take care of itself.
2. I was never much of a defensive
pundit as a coach, but I loved playing tenacious defense as a player
(well, it seemed pretty tenacious to me anyway). If this team wants
to contend for another Big Ten title and a deep NCAA run, it will
have to be a ferocious pack of wolves on the defensive end of the
You may think that I'm dissing last
year's effort. Quite the contrary. What I learned from last year's
edition is that these guys are capable of being stifling… when they
wanna be! There were times when they handcuffed other teams and put
such a tight lid on the bucket that I thought they were just giving
free defensive clinics (the IU and Purdue games come to mind). All I
am saying is that they need to improve it even more this season, as
teams have had all year to draw something up to expose the Fighting
I hope that they can't do it… that
we're too quick… that we have too many hands in the passing lanes…
that our footwork is impeccable… and that we body and block-out as
if we're covering and protecting the last piece of pizza! This
component alone could win us a dozen games and is something that
should never slump.
Staying out of silly foul trouble is
also a must under this category.
3. If I ever write a book on
basketball (and believe me, it'll be a very short book), one of my
commandments will be that "Good shooting covers a multitude of
sins!" For example, if we go through a time when we aren't getting
any offensive rebounds, we can just go to our "60 percent shooting
package of plays."
It's pretty simple when you stop and
think about it. We have seen what can happen when Deron Williams,
Dee Brown or Luther Head get hot. We'll need a lot more of it this
time around. Rich McBride's contributions and maybe Calvin Brock's
could also be an "x" factor.
Better shot selection will be an
extraordinary key toward the success for this team.
Sadly, you can't predict when our
shooting will go in the dumpster… That's why if you rely on it too
much, there is no doubt that it will bite us (i.e., we looked pretty
good against the Bearcats last season but not so good against the
[to top of second column in
Good shooting also needs to rear its
beautiful head at the table of free-throw shooting. This team needs
to shoot between 72 percent and 76 percent from the line, and there
is no reason that it can't do that. If they do, they will win some
important games that will make the difference between being a good
team and a great one!
4. Team chemistry and role play. I
was worried about this aspect early in the season last year. In
fact, one day I ran into Dee Brown and he was miserable. I will
always think that our season was within a week or two of totally
unraveling. Luckily, the fellas got together, fabricated an "us
against the world" mentality and went on to win 14 of their last 15
regular-season games to claim their first outright Big Ten title in
Most of the experts and many of the
locals think that this aspect is incredibly overrated. Obviously,
they are entitled to their own opinion, as here at the LDN that is
highly respected and regarded. However, if they think that, they are
I have been around the game all my
life. I didn't just play it, coach it and spectate it. I studied it
laboriously (in fact, my mother always wished that I would've
studied school work with that kind of passion, BUT, if she could
only see me now…). AND I am telling you, my LDN friends, that you
HAVE to be, you MUST be, a well-oiled machine when you are between
I am not saying that you have to be
best friends off the court. I am not even saying that you have to
like each other necessarily, BUT what I am saying is that once you
hit the cage, EVERYONE must be pulling on the same end of the rope.
At times early last year that was
clearly not the case. By the end of the season, likewise, it was the
reason that Illinois was one of the 6-8 best teams in the country.
It will be a critical factor in Illinois' ascent to one of the top
spots this season. When the players finally listened to Illini coach
Weber and his staff, they did a magnificent job of defining
Here's to everyone liking their
defined role THIS season and to playing it with passion and the
relentless pursuit of perfection!
5. Intangibles are another area that
I see as critically important but that many people have labeled me
crazy with over the years (should I be worried that I see more
people with white coats walking around near my office?). A lot of
dudes (and dudettes for that matter) will sarcastically say in my
general direction something like, "Intangibles never won any
If they are right about that, why is
Illinois something like 63-3 over the last five years in the
Assembly Hall? Do you think it's our slick unis (I love 'em, but
c'mon)? The pep band? The Orange Crush? It's ALL of 'em! At Illinois
WE truly are the sixth man! IF we don't keep it up, and I mean if
we're not whipped into an absolute frenzy and we let the team down,
we will have no one to blame but ourselves… and whoever is elected
Avoiding the injury bug is another
aspect that could take on epic proportions… but, that's all I'm
gonna say about that.
Ease of travel and how the schedule
plays will also be factors to toss into the mix. I for one see some
tough stretches, but hopefully our guys will continue to rise to the
There are dozens more in this
category, not the least of which is officiating, but we can cross
that bridge when we come to it. In fact, I prefer not ever having to
talk about it, but since not nearly enough attention is given to it
on the Big Ten or national level, I doubt that any of them will
listen to the LDN's ideas on how to improve it (I will get with Greg
and we'll give our suggestions in an upcoming feature).
Well, that's just my starter package
on a second's notice, just throwing it out there for your
I am not predicting another Big Ten
title. I'm not predicting a trip to the Final Four. I'm not
predicting that Illinois will win 16 of their final 18 and be
dancing in the streets (but believe me, I don't care if I dance like
Mark Madsen, IF the Illini give me a REASON to dance)! I AM
predicting that it could be a lot of fun and no nation deserves an
ecstasy ride like this Nation does!
I had precious few updates this
weekend… but, I do know that LCC's Angel volleyball team won their
district title for the 100th time and they will host the national
tournament here Nov. 11-13.
I was amazed and a little puzzled
that more local people didn't come out for the tournament last year.
This is some of the best volleyball you will ever see in this part
of the country. If you don't know how to get to the Laughlin Center
or are struggling for tickets, PLEASE give us a call and we'll help
you leap as many of those hurdles as we can.
Since most kids in our area that
want to pursue college sports after high school will probably play
at a small college, what better way to introduce them to small
college sports than by attending a national tournament right here in
Lincoln? I know of NO better way!
Non-sports item of the week: PLEASE
Unlike every other media outlet in
the world, I will resist the temptation to presume to tell you who
and what to vote for. I will say that this is a critical election on
I hope that leadership issues are
not left out of the equation when voters evaluate who they will vote
for. As local, state and national leaders are analyzed, the one
characteristic that I hear that most people are looking for is
genuine visionary leadership by leaders with integrity. It seems
like it would be hard to go wrong if all the leaders we choose have
that as a foundation.
Well, that's all on that because I'm
the sports guy, not the political pundit.
Have a great week, everybody, and
I'll see you at the polls/poles!!!