Column: Randle’s dunks, dishes lead Illini over Hawkeyes

By Lucas Deal

Basketball is a team sport. In order for a basketball team to be successful, all five of its players must cohesively work together offensively and defensively. However, one difference between basketball and other team sports like baseball and football is that, at times, one player can dominate a basketball game. Not every player can dominate an entire game like Jordan used too, but one can dominate for short bursts and stretches of a game.

On Wednesday night, Illinois junior forward Brian Randle had one of those stretches. Illinois led Iowa 46-45 with more than 11 minutes remaining when Randle decided to take the game over.

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First he dished off to Brian Carlwell for an easy basket, then to Rich McBride for a long three and then Randle finished off the stretch with a defensive rebound that led to a brilliant coast-to-coast lay in. By the time his streak was over, the Illini had a commanding ten-point lead and were well on their way to their first Big Ten victory; 74-70 over the Hawkeyes.

“I think Brian finally realized that he doesn’t have to make a play every time he has the ball,” Illini head coach Bruce Weber said. “He really drove to the basket and dished (the ball) well.”

But Randle’s aggressive didn’t just happen.

Late in the first half, Randle was passed the ball wide open on the left side of the lane. Known as a fantastic leaper, the Illini wingman quickly rose off his feet for what most of the 16,618 in attendance expected to be a thunderous jam. Unfortunately, Randle somehow misjudged his leap and instead of recording a thunderous dunk to give the Illini a five-point lead, he slammed the ball right into the front of the rim.

Iowa grabbed the carom and quickly scored to tie the game. Weber, sensing a confidence problem in his star forward, quickly called timeout.

“I told him to dunk the damn ball,” Weber said. “He looked at me kind of confused and I told him, ‘I’m not kidding.’ He went right out and dunked the next play after that.”

That’s what Randle is capable of doing. When he’s determined enough, he can be a dynamic offensive player. With his explosiveness, leaping ability and natural instincts he is already Illinois’ best player driving to the basket. And as his shooting form continues to improve he could become a very good spot up scorer.

It’s quite an exciting premise to think about, but it’s not going to happen without hard work. Randle has to continue to work; he has to continue to get better. But just think, if he can already dominate a game with the skills he has now, just imagine what he can become.

Heck, if he gets better and Weber keeps busting his hump, he might end up an all-Big Ten player. Something tells me Illini nation would have no problem with that.