Column: Getting good, fast

By Ian Gold

I was not lucky enough to make the trip out west to personally take in the beat-down at the Rose Garden. An 89-59 victory on the road, over a Pac-10 opponent, even after playing too many games in too little time is still an accomplishment.

While watching the game Saturday in the sanctity of my apartment, a visitor mentioned how terrible Illinois has been thus far this season. I couldn’t even open my mouth to argue, so instead I politely continued to take in the thrashing and ponder the future.

The truth to the visitor’s statement is that until Saturday, the Illini haven’t been able to win pretty. But what makes his statement interesting is that Illinois was 10-0, ranked in the top 10 of the country, and a fan was not happy. I shook my head slowly back and forth and turned my attention to whether or not it’s possible this team could give us the same rush as last year. And as the game got older yesterday it became more apparent that yes, it is possible.

Just in case you didn’t hear the Busch League announcers yesterday, this Illini team plays defense. Its intensity and length is going to be problems for any team. Also, if your television was on mute, Deron Williams and Luther Head are playing in the NBA now. But their departure created a unique situation at Illinois where every player on the court plays with a chip on their shoulder.

Illinois has had departures, but what they still have is a strong foundation. Dee Brown and James Augustine have been here for it all, and the younger guys on the team realize this and will go to hell and back not to let them down. When your All-Americans are diving for loose balls and taking charges, you better not loaf around. If there is a legacy that Bruce Weber and Brown have created, it’s tough basketball. Weber’s assistant Gary Nottingham even jots down the hustle points, and the intangibles end up being the difference early.

This team is so strong on defense, rebounding and the intangibles – the solid base for what is going to turn into a fluid offense. It seemed that from watching Saturday, every player has found their niche in the offense. It’s only a matter of practice time until the fluidity comes back. The motion offense is not easy to learn, that’s why its not easy to stop.

But Saturday it went a long way to convincing fans that we will once again see the wheeling and dealing that wowed America last year. Brown got out of his shooting funk and is finding other aspects of his game, all the while running the show and feeling out how to set up his teammates. Brian Randle will hit the occasional jumper but has started slashing with confidence and finishing near the basket. Marcus Arnold is looking like the guy we saw in Illinois State colors two years ago. This is the example of the blooming we have seen take place – the reason we were excited to see this team’s maturation.

With only three solid contributors back from last year’s poetry-in-motion, it was bound to be rocky, but suddenly rocky is 10-0. It appears Illinois has steered through the rocks of its last hard out-of-conference stretch. Who would have guessed they could go undefeated out of the conference? Certainly my visitor who claimed they have stunk so far did, but more than likely he is expecting three-peat Big Ten Champs and beyond.

But after comparing the Wichita State game to Oregon’s and realizing it’s only been a mere couple of weeks, maybe there really is something here.

Ian Gold is a senior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]