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Saturday, March 12

What I've learned...       Send a link to a friend

By Jeff Mayfield

[MARCH 12, 2005]  CHICAGO -- What I've learned at the Big Ten Tournament, or at least through the quarterfinal games...

That it takes a big dog to weigh a ton.

Translation: It's a lot easier to win games and to be successful if you have a team full of talented players. That is especially true if they can defend, rebound, shoot and make free throws.

Money isn't everything.

Translation: Some people have it and a lot of us don't. At an event like this one, money is flowing all over the place. As we have remarked several times before, that is the only reason that tournaments like this even exist to begin with.

But a lot of these people who have money apparently have a lot of it. They're spending lots of money on expensive hotel suites, pricey steak dinners and game tickets in ritzy club boxes.

An Illini family struts the stuff. 

While I am notoriously cheap (having been known to save bucks by sleeping in my car), I really am happy using coupons, eating sandwiches and sharing expenses (there's five people in our room this trip).

And as far as the tickets, I admit that I really like going to the games -- BUT, I'm just as happy to sit in the top row of any stadium as press row. I like the action, and I just want to be there and get a feel for our pulse and our intensity level.

Love makes the world go 'round.

Translation: When they announced that former Illinois coach Bill Self has the best winning percentage in Big Ten tourney games, it got a chorus of boos. I assume that is many fans' way of showing their love.

I ran into Rudy Tomjanovich, and he told me that he loved Brian Cook. He said that when he took the Lakers' job he told Brian that he would give him 20 minutes a night of playing time. He told Cook that he liked the way he picked and popped to hit that classic baseline jumper. Cook told Coach T that he could hit the same shot from 3-point land. Rudy said, fire away, and Cook is making the sixth-most 3-pointers per game in the NBA.

Since that is the case, I asked Rudy why Cook's playing time is disappearing. He said that he didn't know and I believe him. He thinks that Cook could really become a special player in the NBA.

One humorous note… I told Rudy about coaching Cook in high school, and he asked me if I was the one who taught him such a quick release. I laughed out loud and said, "Coach, I don't think I taught him a thing." Coach T concluded our visit by saying that Cook may have the quickest release in the game. I could feel the love.

I thought that since Illinois is the No. 1-ranked team in the country and since so many people in Chicago get to see the Illini only once or twice a year that they would be loud and plentiful. They were strong in number, but where did they go once the game started? I think I heard them twice all day. If you were there or watched it, you be the judge. Is that acceptable fan performance?

I hope we ratchet it up several notches for Saturday's game. I want the love to be thunderous, and I want to be able to experience it in every way. Since there is no rooting on press row and no orange to boot, fan noise is a vice I usually look forward to.

One other love note: CBS commentator and former coach Steve Lavin and I had two more good chats this weekend. I told him that I would really like to see him patrolling the sidelines once again. He said that he had too good a gig doing the TV thing. I said, "I only have one problem with that, Coach. I know where your heart is!" I could feel the love.

[to top of second column in this article]

I'm also glad that he and Brent Musburger love Illinois so much -- doesn't everybody? Lavin also said that he's not staying for the rest of the tournament; he's going back to Bristol (the ESPN headquarters). I asked him if he was going to provide "expert" commentary the rest of the way. He said that he would let Jay and Digger be the experts and that he will try to bring "levity" to the situation to lighten the mood.

All I can say is I love the guy -- and his hair ain't bad either (and yes, it's important for coaches and media people to have good hair)!

All for one and one for all.

Translation: Most of the time I'm all over that one. But when it comes to the Big Ten tourney and the NCAA Big Dance, I don't want to hear about everyone else's team. Do I want a lot of BT teams in the NCAA tourney? It would be nice… but, I'm really not going to lose much sleep over it. And do I care that the right teams advance in the BTT? I never give it a passing thought.

Shoot me if you must, but I only care about Illinois advancing. I also don't care if they win ugly and score no style points along the way. I'm ONLY interested in one thing and one thing ONLY: Survive and advance.

From that standpoint Illinois was very successful against Northwestern. Now they play a rapidly improving Minnesota squad to advance again. The Gophers should already be in the NCAA field, but they were embarrassed at the Hall just a few weeks ago during the 100 Years of Illinois basketball celebration.

However, Illinois coach Bruce Weber's mother was rushed to the hospital just before the game with a torn aorta and is in critical condition. Perhaps the players will rise up and try to ease the Weber family's pain by taking care of business. Coach Weber may not even coach the game, depending on her condition.

The win took on a subdued atmosphere when media members were alerted to her condition in the closing moments of their time in Illinois' locker room.

Thoughts and prayers of players, the other coaches' families, media members and the fans are certainly with the Weber family. Believe me when I say we're all for one in this endeavor… PLEASE get well, Mrs. Weber!

Life is good.

I know that is a huge cliche. I know that it has even been made into a few commercials. But the truth is, at times it's the reality.

I don't know about you, but sometimes I really get cabin fever. I feel as far as work is concerned that we really put it into overdrive when school starts. Fall is long and winter is never-ending. That six-month stretch is even more complicated by navigating the holidays.

Every year I try to make it to March because the Madness helps defuse the blues. This year the Illinois basketball team has helped me every step of the way since it all began. They have been a pleasant distraction to life's ups and downs.

I will always remember where I was during so many of these remarkable games. Getting to see the nation's best coaching staff in action has been a treat. Watching the No. 1 basketball team has been a blessing. Getting other "benies" along the way -- priceless.

Illinois wins again -- life IS good!

[Jeff Mayfield]

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