Sports column: Fractured frustration

By BobLa Gesse

The 16,618 people at Assembly Hall for the exhibition game against Lewis Sunday wanted to walk up to Illinois sophomore forward Brian Randle and ask him one question.

Why punch a padded wall in frustration? Only an idiot would jeopardize his season – and maybe Illinois’ national title hopes – by breaking his left hand in frustration at practice Wednesday. The punch will keep Randle out of action for six to 10 weeks.

I want to scream at Randle for doing such a stupid thing. The problem is I can’t. People always hit or kick something when they get mad. I punched my desk last week – and all I did was forget to add a comma.

“It’s human nature,” said Illinois men’s basketball coach Bruce Weber. “You get mad and hit the wall. I’ve done it. I thought I broke my foot the other day.”

One Illini hits the wall almost every practice. Randle has before too – without needing to have pins inserted in his hand.

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During the exhibition on Sunday, most of the Illini could have hit a wall, basket or scorers table out of frustration.

Dee Brown missed a layup. Warren Carter caught a pass out of bounds. Roger Powell Jr. stepped out of bounds with the ball. Nick Smith had two questionable fouls.

None of them acted on their frustration. That only happens in practice – when no one’s around. And normally, the walls don’t hit back.

Not this time.

Randle was the biggest surprise in the first few weeks this season. He showed marked improvement. He was doing everything but shooting like a starter. Weber said he was the only player in practice who could hassle Deron Williams when Williams had the ball.

Randle would have brought energy off the bench and created havoc with his athleticism and lanky body.

Instead, he has the best seat in the house to watch the Illini.

“If I really can’t make it back by the Big Ten season, if I’m not comfortable enough in a game situation, more than likely I’d redshirt,” Randle said.

Gone for the whole season, Brian?

It’s a likely scenario. Six weeks from now, Illinois will be playing at the Las Vegas Holiday Classic. Once the tournament is over, Big Ten play begins. If Randle wants to play this season, he must heal in six, not 10, weeks.

Illinois will need someone other than Rich McBride to come off the bench to lighten the load for the starting guards. Last year when Williams broke his jaw, McBride stepped up.

Who will it be this year?

Calvin Brock? Weber doesn’t want to take the red shirt off him yet.

Carter? He wasn’t impressive Sunday.

Powell Jr.? He played small forward his first two years at Illinois.

The problem is, Powell Jr. will need to improve his ball-handling and three-point shot – the same things he needs to improve on to play in the NBA. Powell playing well on the perimeter could help Illinois get to St. Louis and land Powell on an NBA roster.

If Weber gets frustrated trying to replace Randle, all I ask is he refrain from punching a wall.

Illinois doesn’t need a coach with a broken hand too. After all, he almost broke his foot out of frustration.

Bobby La Gesse is a senior in communications. He can be reached at [email protected].