Phil Pash’s simply sports: Illini clear more major hurdles

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-110796626428878.jpg’, ”, ‘Lou Henson’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-110796627928878.jpg’, ”, ‘Sammy Sosa’);

OK, so Illinois didn’t hit its 80.5 per game scoring average in its 60-47 victory over Indiana Feb. 6 in the House of Orange. Big deal.

The Fighting Illini still won by 17. Their average margin of victory is 18.2. They average 80.5 while holding opponents to 62.3. So it was their lowest point total since a 67-45 win over Cincinnati Dec. 31. Tell somebody who thinks that means something.

Illinois improved to 23-0, 9-0 in the Big Ten by winning its 19th consecutive conference game. The Illini are 75-3 in the last five-plus seasons at Assembly Hall. Illinois’ 23-0 beginning is the fourth-best start in conference history.

Roger Powell Jr. scored his 1,000th-career point. With 10, he increased his total to 1,003, good enough for 37th in school history. With 12 points, Dee Brown moved to 29th on the all-time scoring list, tying Tal Brody with 1,121. James Augustine blocked four shots to bring his career total to 104, fifth on the school’s all-time block list, passing Efrem Winters (103).

Illinois cleared another major hurdle Feb. 1 by beating 12th-ranked Michigan State 81-68 on the Spartans’ home court. The Fighting Illini made 13 three-pointers in that one, and should remain the unanimous No. 1 in the Associated Press’ college basketball poll for a second straight week. The Illini and No. 5 Boston College (20-0) are the only unbeatens remaining in Division I.

The Illini were the nation’s top-ranked team for a ninth straight week—the longest stretch for any team since the 1998-99 season—and a unanimous No. 1, the first since Duke three seasons ago. Duke did it for nine polls in a 10-week span in 2001-02. The Illini’s nine-week run at No. 1 is the longest since Connecticut was there for 10 weeks in 1998-99.

Upcoming games: Feb. 8 at Michigan, Feb. 12 Wisconsin at home, Feb. 16 at Penn State, Feb. 19 at Iowa, Feb. 23 Northwestern at home, March 1 Purdue at home and March 5 at Ohio State.

Grinnell’s different offense was supposed to be the star of the show on ESPN2 Feb. 3, but Beloit College made the most of its national television exposure with an 86-85 victory on the Pioneers’ court.

It was the first non-championship NCAA Division III game televised to a nationwide audience. The ESPN announcers were in love with Grinnell coach David Arseneault’s unique system, built on shooting within 12 seconds of each possession, preferably a 3-pointer; crashing the offensive boards; pressing full-court from start to finish to speed the tempo; and substituting in waves of five, often every 45 to 60 seconds.

The idea is to keep the Grinnell players fresh while wearing down the opponents. But TV timeouts may have hampered the Pioneers.

Grinnell has won three Midwest Conference championships with that style, and the last 10 national scoring titles. Last season, the Pioneers averaged an NCAA all-division record 126.2 points a game, and they came in averaging 110 ppg.

Old-timers may remember that a somewhat similar system was used by Bob Brinkmeier and his Forreston High School powerhouses in the late 1950s, maybe into the early ’60s. Brinkmeier platooned two five-man squads, full-court press all the time and switching off every second whistle, if I remember correctly.

Beloit junior Josh Hinz (Fort Atkinson, Wis.) had a lot to do with the win, scoring 30 points and moving into the No. 4 spot on the school’s all-time scoring list. He moved past 1949 Beloit grad Johnny Orr.

The Rockford daily, the biggest newspaper in the area, covered the history-making game with only a wire story while the Beloit Daily News and Janesville Gazette had much better coverage, including stories from the Beloit campus, where excitement was running high.

Ray Polhill played for the late Dolph Stanley at Beloit College in the 1950s, graduating in 1956. He was head basketball coach at Dakota High School 1960-61, spent two seasons as a Stanley assistant at Rockford Auburn and then was head basketball coach at Rockford Guilford for three seasons, 1962-65.

Now living in Charlotte, N.C., he read the Jan. 26 Simply Sports column about basketball coaching legends Stanley and Bill Knapton and their roles in Beloit history (plus other legends Steve Goers, Frank Hood, Bob Suter and Lou Henson), and reacted to it in an e-mail.

Polhill left Rockford in 1965 to go to work for Caterpillar in Peoria in a management training program. “A good friend, Roy Colbert, who had coached at Chadwick and later Belvidere, went to work for them and encouraged me to come on down,” said Polhill. He has been with Caterpillar and then the Caterpillar dealer organization ever since.

“Dolph was truly revered by those who played for him in his prime,” said Polhill. “I think of him often, quote him frequently and reflect on his ability to perform at the highest level. Carried himself well, most professionally. Polite, courteous, well-spoken, he could be profane when necessary and/or for effect.

“But he was always very proper and almost always composed. The faces he could make are indelible in my mind. But when I think of perfection in athletics, I think of Dolph Stanley. He would be a little chagrined to see the game today become one of brute force, uncontrolled wild shots from 3-point range, unnecessary fouls, constant traveling and some of the things they’ve done to the game.

“He was the best in the business,” continued Polhill. “I learned a great, great deal about the game—and life—from being around/with Dolph for several years, yet never could quite understand or grasped the source of the magic that he had—and we all agreed he had a touch.

“Forgetful, but always effective. Dapper, always well dressed and nicely groomed. Clever, funny (sometimes without trying). A hell of an athlete in his day. A good golfer even as he aged. Always wanted to engage those of us he thought he could beat in a game of 21, with him shooting two-hand set shots from 20 feet. Johnny Orr always signed notes/letters to Dolph as ‘the best damned two-hand set shot you ever had.’”

Polhill also had some great recollections of Henson, the winningest basketball coach at both Illinois and New Mexico State who retired Jan. 22—21 wins shy of becoming only the fifth coach in Division I history to win 800 games. Henson was at the Jan. 29 Illinois 100 Years of Basketball celebration.

“My wife dated Lou a little (before my time) when he and a bunch of Okies came up to Lanark to work in the Green Giant canning factory,” recalled Polhill. “Later Lou married Mary Brantner of Lanark, whom we also knew. We’ve followed Lou’s career closely and feel badly his health has now forced him to give it up. Hope he makes it. He’s a prince of a person.”

It’s interesting that Henson should have married a Lanark girl; Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp, another coaching legend, married a girl from nearby Shannon. Rupp taught and coached at Freeport High School before going on to become “The Baron of the Bluegrass” and “The Man in the Brown Suit.”

“I also remember Chuck Keefer, Monte Helm, Rick Talley and others from the Morning Star days,” said Polhill. “Saddened by the news that Deacon Davis had passed away. He, Talley, Don Williams, Jim Lazenby, a few others and I played on a Rockford Adult League team, the Forest City Oilers, sponsored by a local fuel oil guy. A good guy, Deacon.”

Rockford attorney Pete Kostantacos also played for Dolph at Beloit. “Not a lot of people remember, but he also coached football, and I was lucky enough to play for him in both basketball and football,” said Kostantacos. “In those days, coaches did a little bit of everything.”

Kostantacos said he still keeps in touch with some of his basketball teammates—like Johnny Orr and John Erickson. “I’m going to send them this column; they’ll love it. We still talk about Dolph. He was a great one.”

Erickson attended Rockford East H.S., where he played on basketball and tennis teams. He entered Beloit in 1945 and went on to win varsity letters all four years in basketball and tennis. Captain of the basketball team, he was selected to all-conference and Little All-American teams.

Erickson coached at

Stevens Point H.S., Beloit Memorial H.S., Lake Forest College (where he met his wife Polly) and in 1958, became head basketball coach at the University of Wisconsin. He was appointed general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks in 1968 and after that ran for the U.S. Senate. He served 15 years as president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and in 1988, John accepted a position with the Big Eight Conference (now Big 12) as director of basketball and, in 1991, was promoted to assistant commissioner.

Orr was head basketball coach at Michigan and then Iowa State. He came from Taylorville in southern Illinois, and played on Dolph’s undefeated state championship Purple Tornadoes team. At 17, he became the youngest University of Illinois freshman ever to compete in three sports, and after World War II service in the Navy, joined Dolph at Beloit, where he garnered enough attention to be drafted into the pros upon graduation.

Orr’s 1976 Michigan team was NCAA tournament runner-up and he was named national coach of the year. He is the winningest coach in Iowa State history with 218 career Cyclone victories. His Iowa State teams recorded five 20-win seasons and six NCAA tournament berths.

For the good times Sammy Sosa provided in Chicago, his relationship with the Cubs should have been ended better than it did. But that’s the way it happens sometimes; there’s nothing to do but move on.

It was like a marriage that went bad for whatever reason, and Sammy did all right in the alimony department. Under terms of the addendum to Sosa’s contract, the Cubs will pay $16.15 million of the $25 million Sosa still was owed under his $72 million, four-year contract, according to details obtained by the Associated Press.

Baltimore is responsible for just $8.85 million of Sosa’s $17 million salary this year, with the Cubs paying the rest. Because Sosa is paid on a 12-month basis and already had received $1,307,692 of his salary this year, that amount was credited to what the Cubs owe Baltimore, meaning the Orioles will receive $6,842,308 in cash from Chicago.

As part of the trade, Chicago will pay Sosa $3.5 million in severance within 30 days. The $18 million 2006 option in his contract was eliminated, and the $4.5 million buyout was converted to a $4.5 million assignment bonus, which the Cubs must pay by March 15. He also agreed to eliminate the $19 million option for 2007 that his contract said would be added if he were traded.

In return for Sosa, Chicago received second baseman Jerry Hairston Jr. and two minor leaguers, second baseman Mike Fontenot and right-handed pitcher Dave Crouthers.

The Cubs also signed free agent outfielder Jeromy Burnitz, hoping to make up for some of the power lost by the departure of Sosa and Moises Alou. Burnitz signed a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2006, a deal that guarantees him $5 million. Chicago needed to wait for the Sosa deal to be completed before finalizing its deal with Burnitz, who hit .283 with 37 homers and 110 RBI with Colorado in 2004.

The 36-year-old Sosa hit 35 homers in only 126 games last season. He batted just .253—his lowest average since 1997—and had 80 RBI, ending a string of nine straight 100-RBI seasons. His 574 career homers includes three separate seasons of at least 60.

Just like many power hitters, Burnitz will strike out. Last season, he struck out 124 times in 540 at-bats. Sammy struck out 133 times in 478 at-bats. Corey Patterson struck out more times (168) and Derrek Lee struck out almost as many times as Sosa (128).

I’ll tell you this—I’ve got more faith in general manager Jim Hendry and manager Dusty Baker than I did in Sosa. The Cubs will be all right.

You can stop the debate—Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are a legitimate dynasty in the best tradition of the old Steelers, Redskins, 49ers, Cowboys and Packers.

What else would you call a team that wins two straight Super Bowls and three of the last four? The big question after the Patriots’ 24-21 Feb. 6 win over Philadelphia is will likeable Andy Reid and the Eagles ever win a Super Bowl with Donovan McNabb, the Chicago native who was an Illinois prep star?

The other big question I have is why do we need a Brit singing his songs for halftime entertainment? Sir Paul McCartney doesn’t like us much, anyway (except the dollars we spend on his albums), and super-imposing the Statue of Liberty onto the field didn’t make it an American moment.

It might have been more family-oriented than Janet Jackson’s peek-a-boob episode, but the Super Bowl is purely an American tradition. What’s wrong with an American halftime show of, say, Harry Connick Jr. crooning American standards in front of a massive orchestra, and maybe the Boston Pops?

They did a couple of things right with the entertainment, though, especially having the choirs of the four service academies sing the National Anthem beautifully and with reverence … not some rocker, hip-hopper or rapper trying to put his/her spin on it. Thank God (yes, God) for that.

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