With oppressive heat comes the doldrums of the MLS season, with teams slogging through the humid air and attempting to stay playoff eligible. Baseball is just not on the Beemsville menu, but the Illini are always on our minds. After a crazy-active off-season in which the three major sports all replaced their head coaches, it’s mostly quiet on the orange & blue front. But, hey, look! A blue helmet!
Yes, Coach Beckman has been implementing his changes, including COMPETING! for everything and anything. And, hey, if teams like Oregon and Boise State and Oklahoma State can have multiple uniform-helmet combos and score lots and lots of points, why not Illinois?
This design will look good with the orange or white shirts. It’s pretty basic, pretty similar to the Bears helmet, and also signals a logo/branding shift Illini fans are just going to have to accept. Athletic Director Mike Thomas has spoken about the importance of marketing/branding in college sports, how it builds familiarity, opens doors, sells shirts, etc. And since the Chief was taken from us (and even before that as they moved away from that symbol), the Block I has pretty much become the symbol and logo. Thomas has stated he wants to reinvigorate from a marketing/branding standpoint, so we should expect some kind of new variation on the Block I as an official logo. How much can you really do with a Block I? You don’t want it in italics. You can’t add a bunch of bling. They’re probably afraid to add any flourishes like feathers that might offend sensitivities of the anti-Illini crowd. At least we’re pretty much the only ‘I’ team in orange and blue.
Football has been picking up steam in recruiting, no doubt about it. Coach Beckman went out to COMPETE! and landed Bolingbrook Quarterback, Aaron Bailey, who will be great in the spread and is considered one of the nation’s top dual-threat QBs. The Illini have also added a number of defensive lineman and defensive backs, some O-lineman, and running backs. It’s a nice turn-around from the flailing about that marked then end of the Zook tenure, and people who know recruiting seem encouraged.
Like Robert, whose blog ‘alioneye‘ (pronounce it phonetically) is pretty much the best thing going for Illinois Football. Robert was on campus at roughly the same time I was, and he has a good sense of humor and great knowledge of Illini sports – especially football. He’s currently doing an overview of all 90 players on the roster in terms of importance(!) and is well worth adding to your feed list. As he pointed out last week, we’re only a month from training camp.
What can we or should we expect from this team? Talking with fellow die-hards/co-sufferers, we believe seven to eight wins and a slightly better bowl game seems reasonable. Three straight bowls would be a big positive for the program. The defense should be good again, the offense should benefit from Beckman’s direct philosophy (as opposed to the last staff, who couldn’t make up their minds), and special teams has to be better. Because they can’t be much worse. This guy at SBnation provides a nice accurate overview, noting that with Ohio State ineligible and other teams in flux, someone could make a move this year. The Orange and Blue are in that picture; of course they could also lose their opener and spiral down, down.
Basketball news has been a little slow, after a crazy April-early May. Chicago guy Paris Parnham joined the coaching staff after that other guy upped and left. Myers Leonard is indeed a lottery pick – barely, showing once again just how god-awful the offensive setup was last year. Brandon Paul suffered a broken jaw, Myke Henry hurt his ankle, hampering summer workouts. And Coach Groce implemented a 24-second shot clock in pickup games. For me, this last point is probably the most important, most welcome report of the summer. The only thing better would be a surprise commitment from a top recruit.
The Illini are going to play faster. It may take a few seasons and a roster overhaul, but they will get after it on offense. Points will come, fast-breaks will actually happen. Again, the fact that the staff needed to add a short clock to get the guys to think faster, play faster, speaks volumes about Coach Weber’s conservative, and ultimately futile motion philosophy. Enjoy that, Kansas State fans.
Groce has picked up Rayvonte Rice, transfer from Drake, and a guy I always liked as a hard-nosed scorer. He has to sit out a year, however. Sam McLaurin, a power forward and fifth-year grad school transfer, will compete for starter’s minutes and help the front court depth. The staff also renewed Belleville guard Malcolm Hill’s commitment while parting with a couple of guards who don’t fit the new style. Finally, Maverick Morgan, a skilled 6-9/6-10 center has committed from the Dayton area. This news, again, speaks loudly about a new recruiting approach. Groce and company will recruit the entire Midwest – not just Illinois. They will (hopefully) close quickly on guys they really like, and it looks like they’ll be more judicious offering scholarships.
The big-time Chicago area recruit is still a must for this staff. Who will it be, and when will it come? Right now the focus has certainly shifted to point guard, a position of extreme emphasis in Groce’s system and a dire need for the roster. People in the know, like Paul Klee, are mightily impressed with this staff, so this gives us hope. But fans need to realize that next season will be tough. The sooner we get a big-fish recruit, the better.
Illini fans will have some Olympians to root for in a few weeks. Former hoopsters like Deron Williams and Robert Archibald will be there. We will also see some gymnasts and track-and-field athletes. IlliniHQ and Fightingillini.com will no doubt provide the complete list for London soon.