No. 4 MSU 78, UI 62: Notebook
CHAMPAIGN — Two hours before tipoff at State Farm Center on Saturday, Rob Jordan watched from the bleachers as Illinois assistant coach Jamall Walker put transfers Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby through a spirited pregame workout.
Jordan was leaned back in his seat, feet up.
The father of recent Illinois commit Aaron Jordan is relaxed now that the recruiting process was halted with a commitment to John Groce’s program two weeks ago. The phone is ringing a lot less these days.
“It’s been great. It’s calmed down a lot,” said Aaron Jordan, a Class of 2015 shooting guard from Plainfield East. “It’s a huge relief, a weight lifted off my shoulders.”
Since Jordan informed the Illinois coaching staff of his decision minutes after the Illini defeated Penn State at home, Jordan has received an outpouring of support from Illinois fans on social media.
“Every day somebody from Illinois has been talking to me, tweeting me. When the games are on, they’re asking if I’m watching, so it’s been pretty good,” Jordan said. “They pretty much tell me they’re excited that I’m going to be suiting up and can’t wait to see me shooting the ball.”
He’s also heard from rival fans, trying to get him to change his mind.
“I just ignore them, have a little bit of fun with it,” Jordan said.
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When Traevon Jackson was a bit player as a freshman at Wisconsin, his dad, Jim Jackson, was allowed to call a Badgers game on the Big Ten Network.
With the younger Jackson now in his second season as the starting point guard for Bo Ryan, Dad, the former Ohio State All-American, doesn’t get the luxury of providing color analysis of Badgers games.
“I wish I could get one, but I understand it,” said Jim Jackson, who called his first Illini game of the season Saturday.
Jim has watched as his son, a 6-foot-2 point guard, has developed into the floor general for the third-ranked Badgers, who lost their second straight game, 77-70 to visiting Michigan on Saturday. Thrown into the starting lineup when Josh Gasser went down with a torn ACL before the start of the 2012-13 season, Traevon has spearheaded Wisconsin’s revamped up-tempo offensive attack.
“He’s a playmaker by nature. Instinctively, he wants to make the play,” Jim said. “When you have the teammates that he has where you have options, you take A away and you take B away, you can’t take C and D, too. It gives him more variety with what he does. It opens it up for him to be more aggressive offensively.”
With Jackson at the point, Gasser and Ben Brust on the wings along with Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky inside and out, Traevon has a variety of weapons at his disposal.
“It’s been good. They’re playing with a different element with regard to their guards controlling a lot of the scoring. They’re spreading it out a little more, they love to get out in transition,” Jim said.
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Early Saturday, Indiana announced that it had hired former Illinois guard and assistant coach Rob Judson as the program’s director of basketball operations.
Judson, who played at Illinois from 1977 to ’80, was on the bench for the Hoosiers’ loss Saturday to Northwestern.
Judson, the former Northern Illinois coach, was most recently an assistant at Illinois State. He was an assistant at Illinois from 1996 to 2001.
“Congratulations to Rob,” said former Illinois coach Lou Henson, who coached Judson in college. “He was a great player for us and he’s a tremendous coach, and he’s going to be such an asset for Indiana.”
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Prior to the game, Henson and his wife Mary hosted some members of the Orange Krush, the Illinois student group they helped start in 1976 when they arrived at Illinois.
“It was nice. It was really nice to have them over,” Henson said. “The Orange Krush board, we had them over to eat with us once a year. They’ve got great leadership in the Orange Krush, and that’s why it’s so good and going so well.”
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With the win Saturday, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo passed Henson for fourth place on the Big Ten list for career conference wins. Izzo now has 215 Big Ten wins in his 19th season.
Former Indiana coach Bob Knight holds the Big Ten record with 353 conference wins.
“I’ve heard a lot of coaches say ‘Records are made to be broken.’ It’s good, but all it means is I stayed here longer where some coaches move around,” Izzo said. “I’ve stayed in the same place, in the same league, at the same school. It’s nice. I’m going to call Bob and make sure he realizes there’s no worries, nobody’s catching him.”
Izzo had a chance to speak with Henson on Saturday before he passed him on the list and hoped to see him again before the Spartans headed back to East Lansing.
“Lou was great, at halftime he talked to me,” Izzo said. “He looked healthy. He put in a lot of years here. When I first got in the league, it was Henson and (Gene) Keady and Knight and Clem Haskins. I was scared to go to the meetings, let alone the games. There were some incredible coaches and he’s one of them.”
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With Jabari Parker, Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate no longer in the program, it’s understandable that Simeon isn’t having the type of season it grew accustomed to while winning four straight state titles.
Illini recruit D.J. Williams, though, feels like through the rough early start, the Wolverines have what it takes to reach the top again.
“It’s good. We’re 11-3 right now. We’re a new team and we’ve just got to work on our chemistry and our leadership,” said Williams, who attended Saturday’s game. “We’ve got to work hard. I’ve still got confidence we can win the state championship again this year and next year. We lost a lot of talent, obviously, but we’ve got some good talent on this team as well.”
In terms of his own game, the 6-foot-7 forward feels like there’s still work to be done after some early struggles.
“It’s part of the game, I’m just going to keep working on my game every day and make my teammates better,” Williams said.
Since committing in November, Williams has heard regularly from Illinois fans, mainly via his Twitter page.
“I tweeted on my way down here and they were all saying they were looking forward to seeing me here,” he said.
He’s also actively recruiting to get some others to join he and Jordan in the 2015 class.
“I’m trying to work on Charles Matthews and Diamond Stone,” Williams said.