Column: from CLANK to SWISH

By Ryne Nelson

Sometimes a miss can be as beautiful as a swish. Nearly identical in trajectory, the ball is released only to carry out a fatal attempt. Until it caroms off the rim, everyone is oblivious to its inherent purpose: to provide a second opportunity. A miss, when seen through a different lens, is basketball’s fundamental eye candy.

And if a CLANK was as good as a swish, a new star would be McBride … Whoops! I ruined the whole secret … I meant a new star would be born!

As much as the Illini seemed to break every three-point record last season, Rich McBride easily seemed to break every rim last year.

And, no, dude didn’t do it like Shaq.

The man who started off his sophomore year with lots of promise – exploding for 22 points on a Big Ten season high six three-pointers against Memphis his freshman year – began to fall off quicker than Wiley Coyote over a ledge.

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As McBride lost confidence in his shot, fans began to lose confidence in his game. It seemed like every time he released the ball, a loud CLUNK shattered an awkward, dissatisfied Assembly Hall silence. It became safer for him to have a towel on his bald head than sweat on it.

But then came the wins and the hype and the attention. Then came Wake Forest, Michigan State, Arizona, Louisville and North Carolina. Then came ESPN and Sports Illustrated.

Then came April.

And fans wearing the orange and blue finally took a step off the Shockwave-like bandwagon and said exactly what was on their mind: “Whew.”

Despite McBride’s disappointing performance last year, the team still made it to the national championship game.

Heck, it didn’t matter that McBride sat on the bench for most of the year. It didn’t matter that he made a grand total of five two-point field goals in 546 minutes. It didn’t matter that he averaged 2.6 points per game. It didn’t matter that he never scored in the double-digits. It didn’t matter that he shot 32.9 percent. It didn’t matter that the biggest change from his freshman season was his turnovers: from 13 to 19.

In short, Rich McBride didn’t matter.

So why make McBride a starter next season? Because the success of Illini basketball depends on him.

Other than Dee Brown, McBride is the only other Illini guard with college experience. Illinois can only count on inconsistent minutes from redshirt freshman Calvin Brock and true freshman Chester Frasier, making McBride the starter-by-default.

But, more than anything, this season is about reinvention for McBride. With his performance rests the success of the national runner up, and no one even recognizes it. Heck, even he probably doesn’t know it!

If McBride continues to believe he can’t put the ball in the goal, the Illini can kiss away their “reloading” slogan for one that says “rebuilding, come back in a couple years.”

And after two years at the collegiate level, McBride has lost the confidence and pride that landed him a scholarship to be a part of one of the nation’s top basketball programs. McBride needs to find the pride that made him a consensus Top 50 recruit.

He needs a little more “I do this” than “you do that.”

If the Illini are successful next season, you won’t hear anything about Rich McBride. He’ll be putting up the numbers that we all knew he could. Illini fans don’t expect McBride to ever become a bona fide star, but they do expect causal numbers – near 40 percent from the arc, 50 percent from anywhere inside.

You won’t hear how he added a mid-range jumper to his game. You won’t hear how he’s working on slashing more to the goal. You won’t hear how he spent twice as much time in the weight room to prepare for the rigors of a starting spot.

You won’t hear any of that because it’s what we expect out of McBride. We expect him to be a winner. We expect him to make that shot.

We expect him to take that second opportunity to change his game. Because a miss, when seen through a different lens, is basketball’s fundamental eye candy.

Ryne Nelson is a sophomore in communications. He can be reached at [email protected].