Mike Basgier is one of the unsung heroes in Hawaii. The first-year strength and conditioning coach is responsible for keeping the Illini game-ready. That’s especially hard after a nine-hour flight.
“The first practice after that flight was our longest stretch of the year, for sure,” Basgier said
At the Maui Invitational, the challenge is less adjusting to stiffness, time change and humidity, and more about tournament conditions. Because there’s always a game on the gym floor, there’s no opportunity for the ritual pregame warmup. Basgier took matters in hand by taking athletes one-by-one on the poured concrete floor of the Lahaina Civic Center.
Sam McLaurin and D.J. Richardson both needed a lot of leg work. One by one, Basgier grabbed their ankles and laid into them with the full weight of his body.
“Guys tell me what they want, what they’re feeling,” Basgier said. “Tyler (Griffey) said he was tight in his hips, so we did an extended stretch on his hips.”
Basgier grew up in Virginia, but he spent the last three years working with Groce at Ohio University. So he’s accustomed to the kinesiological effects of an intense ball-screen spread offense and swarming pack defense on the bodies of 18- to 22-year-olds.
Groce making waves. If you're a new Illini basketball coach, there's nothing better you can do for your job security than win games. The second best thing you can do is win over the major donors.
Major donors are the people who fund athletic scholarships and stadium renovations. They have the ear of athletic director Mike Thomas, and he greets them personally and by name whenever they meet.
On the small island of Maui, Thomas meets major donors every time he turns a corner. Hundreds of corners, and dozens of donors line the sand path that runs along a two-mile stretch of luxury hotels and condominiums in Kaanapali, just north of the Lahaina Civic Center.
Thomas also greets fans courtside. In Maui, as in Champaign and just about everywhere Illini basketball travels, courtside is the domain of Dave Dorris. The former university trustee has not missed an Illini basketball game since the 20th century. More often than not, his wife Leigh Anne is by his side.
"I was just saying last night how thrilled I am with John Groce," Leigh Anne Dorris said while waiting out the Butler-North Carolina game in a queue of orange-clad fans outside the civic center.
Also in line are Decatur's Rork Williams and his son Troy. The Williamses met Groce in a hotel lobby in Maui. "He just walked up to me, stuck out his hand and said 'I'm John,' " Rork Williams said. "Not 'Hey, I'm coach Groce,' but just, 'Hey, I'm John.' I like that."
It's the brand of basketball these fans love, just as the man pulling the strings. The Illini scored 57 first-half points in their Maui opener. They played furious defense. Illini fans are still coming down from that high.
More the merrier. Even four time zones away from Champaign-Urbana, athletic director Mike Thomas couldn’t escape the Big Ten expansion talk.
The league added Maryland on Monday, and Rutgers joined the fold Tuesday.
Thomas is excited about the new additions.
“I think academics is important,” Thomas said, stressing that both are Association of American Universities members. “But the fact that you now have the Washington, D.C., Baltimore market ... really excited about it. A lot of (expansion) is about television sets and increasing that part of the market.”
A busy man. Chaminade basketball coach Eric Bovaird doesn’t have the same kind of support staff enjoyed by his Illini counterpart. For one thing, Bovaird is also the team’s bus driver.
After his team’s rousing 86-73 win against Texas, Bovaird was asked about scouting the Illinois-USC game, which followed the Silverswords’ victory. Bovaird said he’d probably return to watch some of the game live. But first, he had to drive the team back to its hotel.
“Coaches at this level usually have to drive,” he said.
Bovaird and his wife also had two little ones to wrangle. All the extra work didn’t seem to bother him.
“After I took this job, there hasn’t been two or three days without someone asking me about the Chaminade win over Virginia,” he said, referring to the program’s historic victory against Ralph Sampson’s top-ranked Cavaliers team from 1982.
Then Bovaird contemplated the impact of Monday’s win on the program.
“Maybe we’ll be talking about the Texas victory 30 years from now.”
Bovaird assured reporters he’d be prepared for Tuesday night’s game against Illinois no matter how many extraneous duties.
“I’ll watch it on TV at least three or four times before tomorrow.”
Longhorns carbed up. How did Chaminade beat Texas? The Longhorns were too slow to stop the Silverswords’ dribble penetration.
What slowed down the Longhorns? Maybe it was all that barbecue. Or maybe it was the bread.
To be on the safe side, Texas coach Rick Barnes avoided the pulled-pork sandwiches altogether Tuesday. Former Wake Forest and South Carolina head coach Dave Odom, the chairman of the Maui Invitational, escorted Barnes into the media galley shortly after 11 a.m. Hawaii time.
Odom watched while Barnes chose the turkey on whole wheat. Barnes then chucked the whole wheat and ate the tomato, green leaf lettuce and — for who knows what reason — the American cheese as an Atkins turkey wrap.
It’s characters like these guys who make college basketball so interesting.