Hoop schemes

Hoop schemes

Your mission, Coach Groce, should you decide to accept it, is to hold a joint basketball practice with the Dayton Flyers under such circumstances that no one, not even you, learns anything from or about it. Should you or any members of your team or coaching staff be injured or captured by the news media or any statistics or offensive sets publicly revealed, the secretary will disavow knowledge of your activities.

It's usually an impossible mission to keep an issue as important as the Fighting Illini's men's basketball team practice performances secret.

But, by NCAA decree, mum is the official word regarding an upcoming clandestine clash at a gymnasium not-to-named-later between the Fighting Illini and the Dayton Flyers, one of the Cinderella teams from last spring's NCAA Tournament.

"We're talking about practice, man. How silly is that?" Philadelphia 76'ers star Allen Iverson once said.

Don't tell that to the grim-faced enforcers at the NCAA. Their decrees are all business, and their practice is to enforce silly rules for their own sake.

It's a rare embrace of common sense for the NCAA to permit joint practices/scrimmages between Division I teams. They sure beat those preseason exhibition games that feature Duke vs. the Little Sisters of the Poor or the Illini against Jefferson Middle School.

Practices ought to be routine, and prohibition against coaches discussing details or disclosing statistics invites ridicule.

Fans and reporters don't have any trouble distinguishing practice from the real thing. Nobody puts much stock in the Major League Baseball's Grapefruit League, a prelude to the 162-game regular season.

Still, the rules are the rules. Sometime in early November — at least that's the scuttlebutt — the Fighting Illini and Flyers will meet. It'll be easier to sneak a gun aboard an airliner than to learn the Illini's free throw percentage, although sportswriters will be desperate to breach the wall of secrecy surrounding this surreptitious event.

Everybody's operating on a strict need-to-know basis. So the NSA, er the NCAA, says.

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