Tate: Dear Santa ...
Santa is loading up his sleigh,
And will soon be on his way,
Clear the chimneys if you’re needy,
And you’re advised to make it speedy
Timmy Beckman is down there waiting,
With the pressure non-abating,
So sprinkle out a miracle shower,
To feed his credo: “Positivity is Power”
— Beckman already has nine new January candidates. That’s a start. But you, Santa, with your ability to put folks in a good mood, can encourage a give-him-a chance attitude that is missing in Illini Nation. It’s true for all of us: Positivity is Power.
Tell me, is there any better time than Christmas to hang out in the underdog’s corner? Didn’t Ron Turner beat Michigan and Ohio State in his third year, and wasn’t that a Rose Bowl season for Ron Zook? Third time’s a charm. Try.
— Santa, kindly resurrect Frank Sinatra to sing the praises of New York, New York. It’s bad enough that the Yankees, trying to contend with a feeble shortstop, finished 12 games behind Boston ... but look around.
The Mets were 74-88, the Knicks and Nets (now hopeless without Brook Lopez) were a combined 17-35 through Sunday, the Rangers 17-18, the Islanders 10-20, the Jets 7-8 and the Giants 6-9 (look, Eli Manning is about to throw his 27th interception).
The forgotten stepchild, college basketball, is struggling at St. John’s, where Steve Lavin’s team shows a 26-28 Big East record and a recent loss to Penn State.
Next thing you know, the New Yorkers will be switching their TV sets to Rutgers, the Big Ten’s newest. You think?
— Hand out some special gifts for Penn State’s volleyballers. That’s five NCAA titles in seven years.
For those who believe Kevin Hambly should ease off on UI nonconference scheduling, does that prepare the Illini for what they have to face in the rugged Big Ten?
— Papa Claus, is there anything in your bag — you know, like Jack’s magic beans — to make Jay Cutler more lovable? Actually, his dour mood was appropriate after Philadelphia’s Trent Cole ignited a series of Eagle jail breaks by overrunning Matt Forte’s inept blocks. Marc Trestman’s team has too many problems (they gave up 514 yards and 54 points) to revive the fuss about Cutler and his 34-year-old backup.
— On your way, could you drop off a couple of extra scholarships for John Groce. The Illini are at the limit (13) next season and, in just a few months, an estimated 400-plus transfers will be announcing their willingness to move.
Many modern coaches consider raiding rivals a better recruiting ground than the high schools.
It’s a changing world, Santa. Of 13 UI squadmen, five are transfers. And my mind is still spinning from the fact that half of 60 opposing starters in 12 UI games began their college careers elsewhere.
— Santa, you have great influence. People young and old adore you. With that kind of power, please arrange for the Lakers to have a standby medic near the baseline when Kobe Bryant returns. Or are all the doctors busy with Derrick Rose and Derek Jeter?
— The New Year dawns with the beginnings of renovation at the UI Farm. We all know, Santa, that you’re never vindictive. So don’t drop a lump of coal on all those wrong-headed decision makers who created an incredibly expensive marvel-of-the-world that can’t handle hockey.
Maybe you could drop a hundred million for a new rink, as did billionaire Terence Pegula in setting up Penn State.
The addition of the Nittany Lions has turned hockey into a major Big Ten sport. Folks here can’t imagine what the UI is missing. This university draws a high percentage of students from Chicagoland where it is rumored the NHL has a somewhat popular team. Sorry, it’s inappropriate to mention that team because its nickname is hostile and abusive.
— Santa, you might want to replenish the supply of Groce’s luck charms. Don’t want them to run out. Since his arrival, the Illini stand 8-0 in games decided by two points or less, and several were undecided with the clock at :00 and the ball in the air.
No, Saturday’s 65-64 defeat of Missouri wasn’t the best. It must take second place to last year’s 74-72 upset of No. 1 Indiana.
So, when you see her, remind Lady Luck how much we appreciate her because Illinois is planning a first: Defeat Indiana twice at home in one calendar year (New Year’s Eve).
P.S. If you have any extra shoulder pads, drop them off at the Farm. The Missouri game is an indication that Big Ten play will be a scrum.
— Who better than Saint Nick to explain in a less busy time — while Rudolph is grazing — how a “basketball state” can produce so many awful college teams.
Other than 10-2 Illinois, 11 Division 1 schools stood 54-70 through Sunday, with none having a reasonable chance to reach the NCAA tournament.
Best record of the 11 are Illinois State and DePaul, both 7-5, and the Demons haven’t yet waded into the Big East, where they’ve lost 82 of 90 in the last five seasons.
— When you’re in Portland, give Meyers Leonard some encouraging words. Life is tough being a third-string center, even if you’re making $2.2 million.
Makes a fellow wonder how one season (or two) under Groce would have impacted him ... and what it would have done for the Illini. This is the latest reminder that college coaches recruit on the come, and NBA scouts project in the same manner ... often wrong.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.