Tate: It's simple - Illini need talent

Tate: It's simple - Illini need talent

Illini must be a player for state’s junior gems

An incredible, 29-point performance by Jabari Parker — great players respond to primetime situations — overwhelmed everything else that happened at Argo this past week.

On Friday night, Parker, slowed early this season by an injury, climbed a peak unattainable by any other Illinois prep. He led senior-laden Simeon to a 69-51 rout of junior-dominated Whitney Young in a matchup of the state’s top 4A teams.

Mark him down as another big fish that got away from Illinois, the senior star preferring Duke. He had been less than himself earlier this season, but he ruled this night. Future Illini Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate contributed without impressing as Parker simply stole the show.

With participants in this sectional so critical to the UI future, I attended two nights and watched Friday on TV. Here’s my take on the Little State Tournament:

If Curie junior Cliff Alexander has Illini leanings — he visited the Assembly Hall recently with Nunn and Tate — this should be pushed to the limit. He helped Curie to a 10-point midgame lead against Young on Thursday before superior forces took their toll, 62-58.

The showdown between the 6-foot-9 Alexander and Young’s 6-10 Jahlil Okafor was essentially a standoff. Both compare favorably with the premier centers in Chicago history. John Groce would be thrilled with either one, and scuttlebutt has it that Alexander may be more receptive at this point.

The difference in their play was Alexander’s high-level tenacity. He’s more active and aggressive as a rebounder-blocker, while the highly touted Okafor is more intent on passing and seemingly reluctant to fully assert himself.

Alexander, who averaged 24 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks on the season, was held to 14, 8 and 3 as Young’s 6-9 junior Paul White contributed toward double-teams every time the ball went inside. Okafor tallied 13 (as he did Friday) and yet another junior, T.J. Peak, racked 23 as Curie’s zone appeared to overlook him while putting extreme emphasis on Okafor and White.

All eyes on Alexander

Even though the UI recruiting board shows no available 2014 scholarships after Centennial’s Michael Finke grabbed the last one, Groce has offered a high-quality list of juniors. In addition to Alexander, Okafor and White, there are at least a half-dozen more.

Yes, as the coach stated, he can count ... so it’s obvious scholarships will become available if commitments are forthcoming from one of these Chicagoans, Leron Black of Memphis, Jaquan Lyle of Evansville (his six-team list also includes Louisville, Ohio State, Florida and Tennessee) or others.

This is serious business and Groce is hunting big game. The UI basketball future hangs in the balance. The Illini need help to become an upper-division program in the rugged Big Ten. As it presently stands, multiple teams will enter next season with superior talent. If the UI can’t attract them, the Illini will be facing the task of beating them somewhere else. And that’ll be a tall order.

If Alexander chooses Michigan State, that’ll help extend the magical run of Tom Izzo (he attended Argo on Friday). If Lyle picks Indiana, that’ll add to the Hoosiers’ new surge. Wherever Okafor goes, he’ll attract teammates who respect his reputation and unselfishness.

In signing Nunn and Tate, Groce is hoping the magnet factor will bring results. Both were impressive Wednesday as they pulverized DuSable, but were less so Friday. At 6-2, Nunn is a dunking machine with defensive quickness but ...  and there is always a but ... he is not a point guard and he must improve on his three-point effectiveness to be a productive Big Ten wing.
A man and his word

There was a time when verbal agreements served as contracts, when a handshake deal meant something. What happened?

I’m reminded of the late Lou Baker from my Monticello days. He was a football star at Illinois State, ran our summer Legion team and took coaching assignments at Bethany, Arcola and Paris. He was the friend who phoned me in 1966 to tell me The News-Gazette had a job opening that I took.

So, yes, I remember Louid. But mostly I remember when he accepted a job in 1962 as backfield coach at Colorado State. He was packed and ready to leave when Pete Elliott called to offer a spot on the Illini staff. It broke his Kentucky heart, but Baker was a man of his word, and he headed for Colorado with considerable regret. He was rewarded a year later when Elliott brought him back, and he remained on the staff under Jim Valek.

A commitment like Baker fulfilled at Colorado State is no longer in vogue. Coaches move these days before they even walk onto the field. When Ron West joined North Carolina recently, it was his third job (New Mexico, Arizona State) since leaving Illinois after the 2011 season. This is common. Ron Zook had Larry Fedora on his staff one day. The next day he didn’t.

There have been multiple situations recently at Illinois in which coaches have agreed to terms and left abruptly ... including the decision by Isaac Chew to accept Marquette’s offer after signing on with Groce.

But when line coach Jim Bridge walked out of a two-year contract in favor of Purdue, my jaw dropped. It was the start of spring practice.
Then, just as I was preparing to criticize such extreme disloyalty, it occurred that Bridge’s replacement (A.J. Ricker) would be doing the same thing to someone else (Middle Tennessee State).

That was, obviously, a step up for Ricker, and clearly more reasonable. But whatever happened to a man and his word?     
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.


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namber wrote on March 10, 2013 at 9:03 am

It's called a contract.  Athletics have prostituted the word from coaches being fired, coaches moving on, pro players wanting to renegotiate after a good season.  OTOH how are athletics  different than any other aspect of life.  The one with the smartest lawyer does what ever he wants.

OKOMIS wrote on March 10, 2013 at 11:03 am

coaches being fired dosn't break contracts... they are paid as agreed in the contract..allways

Moonpie wrote on March 10, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Blah blah--more life and death, black and white, from Oracle Tate before he slips back into the good old days before automobiles.

As for this season's Illini -- they can't shoot and have no inside game. One and done in the Big Dance.

And it will be the fans', fault, too!

Col.Jessup wrote on March 10, 2013 at 8:03 pm


Grow Up.  You can't handle the truth.

JDG613 wrote on March 11, 2013 at 12:03 pm

But the fact is, Moonpie....they MADE the Dance, which is an improvement.  Unless you're saying you won't be happy unless they win it all.....in which case, my guess is you'll STILL blame Tate for something, even though he's just a writer....which you still seem to read, even though you obviously can't stand the man....

When you graduate Junior High, maybe you'll take a class to actually ATTAIN some class....  In the meantime, since that will undoubtedly take you several years to accomplish, could you just avoid reading Tate's articles, since they obviously give you great consternation??  We'd ALL benefit from that, if you did....

JimOATSfan wrote on March 11, 2013 at 5:03 am

Unfortunately, it depends on the being making the agreement. And there are also beings that are manipulating the world who prefer to pit anyone against anyone.  That means to them, that any type of conflict they can generate is all good.

Another passing wisdom of life was 'do unto others, as you would have them do unto you'. This so-called golden rule probably went the way of the US gold standard in 1971.  Neither remain and now both inflate into much less then desirable conditions.

I think we would all be in a better place if people kept their verbal agreements, instead of running out the door when a better deal arrives; and the dollar was still backed by gold; and no one made effort to create conflict between people.

Those would be my preferences. Cheers


walker wrote on March 11, 2013 at 12:03 pm

nor can he discern the truth, which is equally bad

IlliniMike05 wrote on March 11, 2013 at 6:03 pm

The great thing about basketball is, you don't need an entire roster full of 5-star studs to be a national contender. Most of the best teams in the country have rosters mostly comprised of talent rated similar to Illinois' current roster, as well as what future Illinois rosters will look like with the 2011 class becoming upperclassmen (plus Rice) and a solid 2013 class on the way. I say "mostly" comprised, of course, because it just takes one or two big fish to put you over the top. Zeller and Yogi are Indiana's only 5-star recruits.

Assuming Abrams, Egwu and Henry keep developing at a normal rate and one or two of our current players or incoming recruits can exceed expectations (still looking at Malcolm Hill for this; like Klee said multiple times, if he was coming out of Chicago he'd be a 5-star), adding Cliff Alexander to the mix would make Illinois a Big Ten title/Final Four contender in 2014-15.

I hope I'm not saying this because we have a legit shot at one and not the other, but I think I like Cliff more than Okafor. Okafor's a tremendous talent, but he's stationary. In today's game I'd rather have the mobile big, and Cliff's a lot more mobile. He isn't nearly as refined in the post as Okafor and is at least two inches shorter, but he does have a nice touch in the paint, is a beast of a rebounder, is even more physical despite not being quite as big and is a lot more athletic.

I also don't agree on Nunn or Tate not impressing. They don't put up huge numbers because their team doesn't need them to. But they find a way to make things happen. Loren's reminder that Nunn isn't a point guard is unwarranted and (no pun intended) pointless. We know he isn't. He's a highly athletic combo guard that can make things happen on both ends of the floor one way or another; he might not be a pure shooter but he has deep range and can get crazy hot. Sounds a lot like Russ Smith at Louisville, except two inches taller and with (hopefully) less bad shots. You don't have to be 6'6" to be a college two-guard. You don't even have to be 6'4".

Tate will never put up big numbers in college but he's a floor general and true point guard in every sense of the word. He makes big plays when they need to be made, he has good size for a 1 and he's pretty athletic (he threw down a pretty sick one-hander Friday night that was waved off by a foul on the floor). There have been numerous times this year in the several times I've seen Simeon where Jabari either can't get good position or can't create his own shot from the perimeter and either Nunn or Tate have basically said, F-ck it, I got this, and make something happen for themselves or someone else. Obviously they play with one of the 4-5 best players in the country, but they're both going to be good Big Ten guards.



minwyhe wrote on March 13, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Why would any of the top recruits in the State of Illinois want to come to the state university.  So far both the football coach and the basketball coach hired in the last 2 years have shown they cannot change the malaise that has infected this team.  Perhaps when both coaches have players they recruited instead of the hand me downs they inherited this pattern will change.  However, they will not be getting the top talent until the process is rectified.  Hopefully it will, but in the meantime the Illini will be, at best, a second tier team in the Big Ten.