Us and Them

ESPN, sports “journalists” and talking heads have been bashing our fans for their behavior Thursday night at Assembly Hall where Illinois played Indiana. On the surface, I can understand the reaction of the sports media. Fans throwing ice or mardi gras beads at the families of opposing players should not be tolerated and I don’t condone it. I also don’t condone families of opposing players taunting our fans and giving them the finger.

I was at the game and thought the fans were rowdy and attempted to bring a little home court advantage to the action on the hardwood. The bump during introductions wasn’t much of anything and I thought Gordon just wasn’t ready for it. Frasier does that all the time. Right before “the bump,” Brian Randle and an Indiana player gave each other manly hugs. It was nothing.

The boos every time Gordon touched the ball affected him greatly in the first half. Gordon had one point and was obviously rattled. I wasn’t happy with the “Fuck you, Gordon” chant, but it was quickly squashed by cooler heads.

Regarding the Gordon family, the father is simply not a smart person. The Gordon’s knew their son was going to be the target of a charged-up and upset fan base, yet they still attended the game and baited our fans. I was sitting directly behind the section reserved for the families of Indiana players in C-Section. The Orange Krush cheering section is right up against the opposing family section. At no point did I see anything but fired up fans and nothing was directed at the Gordon family.

I didn’t see Gordon, Sr. flipping off the crowd and I didn’t see the ice being thrown. I firmly believe both happened. Both are inexcusable. A fan posted on a message board that after the game, he told the Gordon’s, “Good game and good luck in the future.” Gordon Sr. replied with a, “Fuck you and your fans.” I have no idea if this really happened, but it has a nugget of truth to it.

Many in the media don’t seem to understand or care to dig deeper for the reason why the Illinois fans are so angry with the Gordon’s. It isn’t just that the kid decommitted from Illinois to go to Indiana. Let me present everyone a history lesson.

Eric Gordon, Indiana-native and possibly one of the best high school basketball players in the country, verbally committed to the University of Illinois while a junior. A verbal commitment isn’t a binding contract. However, it is common decency for other coaches not to recruit a “committed” kid. It is exactly why players will verbally commit to a school – they can focus on school or basketball and not have to deal with coaches trying to get them to come to their school.

Having an enormous talent such as Eric Gordon basically pencilled in to your line-up is a coup. Even if he’s a one and done college player, he makes potential recruits think twice about coming to your school, especially since they know they won’t get playing time and would be overshadowed. Why would a talented guard come to your school and not play when they could go to another school and start? Recruiting doesn’t end, but there’s little incentive to get a shooting guard when you have the most talented shooting guard verbally committed.

Big Ten Conference rival, Indiana University got rid of their coach, Mike Davis, and hired a known cheater and violator of NCAA rules in Kelvin Sampson. The cheating part is not sour grapes. While at Oklahoma, he broke rules regarding contact of potential players and the program was placed under NCAA sanctions and Sampson himself was unable to contact players directly. These sanctions carried over to Indiana and recently new allegations of wrong doing have come out and a new investigation is ongoing. Sampson is a cheater. This is fact.

It is unknown whether or not Sampson initiated calls to the Gordon family or if the Gordon family contacted the new coach. In any event, contact with a verbally committed kid to another school within the conference occurred. This was a breach of ethics. If the Gordon’s contacted Sampson, the Indiana coach should have contacted the Illinois coach, Bruce Weber. If Sampson contacted the Gordon’s, he’s an unethical asshole. Either way, it was done with malicious intent to hurt Illinois.

Throughout the entire time after Sampson was hired, the Gordon’s were asked constantly if they were talking with Sampson and Indiana or if they were backing out of their verbal commitment to Illinois. In the press, the Gordon’s said they were staying with the verbal commitment. At no point over the course of about six months did Eric Gordon back out of the commitment and reopen the recruitment process.

Sampson and the Gordon’s deliberately and with malicious intent attempted to hurt recruiting at Illinois by continually saying to the press and to the coaching staff at Illinois they were coming knowing full well they were not. Gordon withdrew his commitment to Illinois via a cell phone call to Coach Weber the night before Midnight Madness where he was scheduled to appear. The next night he appeared at Indiana’s Midnight Madness event and the shitstorm against Sampson and the Gordon’s began.

If, after Sampson was hired, the Gordon’s had decided to publicly reopen the recruitment process and decommitt to Illinois, the fan base would have been disappointed. BUT THAT IS NOT WHAT HAPPENED.

Lets play what if. If Eric Gordon had verbally committed to Duke and the night before their Midnight Madness-type event he tells Coach K he’s backing out and going to North Carolina because Roy Williams made a backdoor deal with the Gordon family by hiring friends and coaches, the massive shitstorm in the ACC and on ESPN and all across NCAA Basketball would have been a tidal wave of feces.

Illinois isn’t Duke and Indiana isn’t UNC. However, the only difference is in perception and reporting.

In the grand scheme of things, all of this matters very little. My crystal ball is cloudy, but I foresee good things happening in the future of Illinois basketball and bad things on the horizon for Indiana basketball.

Indiana will probably not go very far in the NCAA Tournament this year. Eric Gordon and DJ White will be gone from the program next year and Indiana will probably be looking for a new coach as the findings of the NCAA investigation into Kelvin Sampson’s illegal phone contact with recruits comes out.

Illinois will continue to struggle this year and will not make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in eight years. Incoming recruits to the program are considered some of the best talent in the state and ranked very high nationally. All the experience the freshmen receive this year will pay dividends in the following years. The addition of Alex Legion and Jamar Smith next year will improve our guard play and outside shot considerably.

I also foresee Eric Gordon coming off the bench in the NBA and getting his ass handed to him by Deron Williams. That will be something to see. I bet Deron does more than chest bump him.