Hug It Out Bitches

Friday night marks the official start of the 2006-2007 college basketball season as programs around the country have their first practice, and Illinois is no different. Well, they are different because Jeremy Piven, aka Ari Gold from Entourage, is rumored to be in Champaign. IlliniBoard.com uses the insight of the Entourage cast to help with this preview. Time to "Hug it out bitches".

With Midnight Madness on Friday, news is already starting to come out about the festivities including the recruits that are visiting, but nothing has been as newsworthy as the rumor posted by NYILLINI on the Hoops and Premium Fan Forums. I mean this rumor, if it happens, is definitely the greatest thing to ever happen to Illinois Basketball in the 102 years of the program.

Better than the Final Fours in 1989 and 2005.

Better than the Wiz Kids.

Better than the Chief.

Better than Johnny "Red" Kerr.

Since this night could be the most awesome night of the Illinois Basketball program, I will pretend that the rumor is true for the purposes of this story. Now, you are probably asking yourself, "what in the hell is he talking about?" Well, according to NYILLINI, none other than Jeremy Piven from HBO's Entourage will be in Champaign on Friday night as the night's emcee. According to other posters on the board, Illini Pride, the parent organization of Orange Krush, has sent out an e-mail stating that Piven will indeed be the emcee of the event.

With that knowledge, what if I were to tell you that IlliniBoard.com is going to steal a page from the Bill Simmons book of sports writing and use movie quotes to set apart our Midnight Madness preview, is that something you would be interested in?

(Many of these quotes contain colorful language, so if you are offended by such language, I suggest that you do not read this article, and wait for even more coverage of the Fighting Illini from IlliniBoard.com in the coming days, weeks, months, years, and maybe even decades).

Ari: You know what other class I took at Harvard, Joshie? Business Ethics. I do not steal other agents' motherf*cking clients. In your case, I am going to make an exception. I am going to take everything: your Reality TV writers, your B-list soap stars. When I'm done with you, you're going to be repping sideshow freaks. You need JoJo the dog-faced bitchboy? Call Josh Weinf*ck, the light-weight pen-stealing f*ckface. [Takes Weinstein's mimosa and sips from it] That's awful. Now, where's my boy Vinnie Chase?
The biggest story surrounding the Fighting Illini Basketball team leading into this season has not even been one which will have a direct on the court impact until a year from now, the recruitment of Eric Gordon. Without rehashing every little element of the saga since Eric's commitment to Illinois, and his more recent flirtation with Indiana, it looks like Bruce Weber has a dogfight on his hands right now in order to win this recruiting battle.

This battle has been played out in both the traditional media and the Internet, and has been fodder for columnists from Champaign to Bloomington, and even nationally. Illinois fans, and Bruce Weber in comments to the media, have pointed to the ethics of recruiting a committed player, especially one in the same conference as you. Their stance that Kelvin Sampson has been unethical throughout this whole ordeal has been boosted by the sanctions that Sampson was put under by the NCAA due to his illegal recruiting tactics while he was still in Norman.

Luckily, Signing Day is less than a month away, and the season starts in just over a month, so this recruiting saga that has taken up the better part of the summer on the IlliniBoard.com Hoops and Premium Fan Forums will be over one way or another then. Well, that is unless Eric Gordon decides to wait until the Spring to sign his Letter of Internet. Now that is what every one wants, right? Six more months of hand wringing on where Eric Gordon is going to attend college, right? Right?

Eric: What are you going to wear to a bat mitzvah, a Knicks jersey?
Turtle: It's formal. I was thinking "home whites."

This season Nike has provided Illinois with a new look for their uniforms, replacing the uniforms that the team has worn for about the last two years. Marketing and additional jersey sales, don't you love it? After looking at the new jerseys that Nike has designed for the Illini, I actually sort of like them. They are a little more trendy than the previous ones the Illini wore, and after seeing the silver strap that Nike thought would be good for the Illini's road navy jerseys, these are a step up.

Yes, for those wondering, the Illini basketball jerseys are still under the Nike Elite line.

Ari: The last thing we need is the soccer moms in the fly-over states thinking that Aquaman is a home wrecker.
With the news of Rich McBride's arrest on September 29 for driving under the influence of alcohol, Bruce Weber cannot be happy about the only news to come out of his basketball program this summer. It was not the welcoming in of two new recruits, but the arrest of his supposed senior leader for driving under the influence of alcohol that has become why Bruce Weber and his basketball program were taking away news cycles from Ron Zook's football program. McBride's punishment has yet to be announced, and it probably will not be announced until the legal system has taken its course, and McBride's next court date is scheduled for Monday, October 30.

Luckily, good PR is coming for Weber and his team starting on Friday night, when the upcoming season itself will be discussed.

Ari: Of course he's not happy. Nobody's happy in this town except for the losers. Look at me. I'm miserable--that's why I'm rich.
It was thought that the big question entering this season would be how will Illinois be in the first year of the post-Dee Brown era. Now, instead of having a known senior leader, who just happened to be Illinois' third leading scorer last season, Weber will have to replace his three top scorers from a season ago.

So how will Weber replace James Augustine and Dee Brown? He can't, but replacing two players of their caliber is nearly impossible to do. The leadership that both of those players brought to the Illini on the court is something that cannot be measured, and they will definitely be missed at times. But it is college basketball, and at most you will only have special players on your campus for four years before you have to replace them. No one will ever again be Dee Brown, and no one will ever again be James Augustine. But there will be people on this team that step up to fill the void left by both players.

Expect Jamar Smith to increase his scoring load and become a leader in Illinois' back court.

Expect Trent Meacham and Chester Frazier to take over the running the offense duties.

Expect Shaun Pruitt to become more assertive inside, and big up some of the slack on the glass.

Expect Brian Randle to improve, and hopefully alleviate some of the pressure on both the guards and the big men on both sides of the ball.

So how will Weber replace McBride in the lineup during the time he misses due to his recent arrest? The easy answer is that Jamar Smith will slide right in to the starting shooting guard position. But the more difficult question is how will that effect the Illini's rotation, and Weber's ability to play three guards. Outside of Smith, the only other guards that Weber will have at his disposal are Calvin Brock, Chester Frazier, and Trent Meacham. With just four guards at his disposal, and only three of which have proven themselves on the Division I-A level, will Weber still line the Illini up in a three guard set for extended periods of time?

Probably not, but that is because even before McBride's sudden departure from the lineup, Illinois' strength was in the pivot. With Brian Randle, Shaun Pruitt, Warren Carter, Marcus Arnold, and the three freshmen (Brian Carlwell, Richard Semrau, and redshirt CJ Jackson) Bruce Weber has a multitude of options for the three forward spots. I think we will be seeing a new-look Illini offense this season that focused more on the team's strengths in the post, with Shaun Pruitt leading the attack. It may be the first time in the Weber tenure that Illinois uses the inside game to open up the outside shot, instead of working outside in.

Ari: All right, well when you talk to Dana, tell her I still have the pictures from Cancun. Tell her I'm going to start a website. Tell her it's going to be called imahollywoodexecutivewhore.com. There will be no registration or credit card required. Tell her I'm going to take out a full page ad in the LA Times promoting it. Tell her I want a f*cking call back.
I don't know how to tie this into Illinois basketball, but damn if I didn't think this quote and scene was funny.

Ari: Little memory trick when they introduce themselves - word association. Like you say "Eric Murphy" and I think, you know, "Loser."
Eric: Or like, "Ari Gold" - "Douchebag"?

I don't know, but the word douchebag just made me think of Bo Ryan. What about you?

Lloyd: Ari, I've worked 18 hours a day to save up the money to put myself through Stanford Business School. While I was there, I cleaned the cafeteria during hours I wasn't studying and still graduated top of my class. Only to take a job delivering mail to unappreciated overpaid little c*cksuckers, then to finally get the big promotion that would allow me to answer your phones and be both racially and sexually harassed for the next nine months. But I know the endgame, and you, Ari Gold, you are it! So stop your f*cking whining and go into your gorgeous three million dollar house, with your beautiful goddess wife, and figure out how you're going to make both of our lives happen tomorrow!
Ari: That was a good speech Lloyd. Man if I was 25 and liked c*ck, we could be something.

Bruce Weber's whole career has prepared him for where he is at Illinois right now. He spent seventeen years learning under Gene Keady at Purdue, and five years as Southern Illinois' head coach before being named Illinois' Head Coach on April 30, 2003. Since becoming the head coach at Illinois, Weber has seen some of the sharpest criticism and some of the brightest praise that can be placed on one person. When Illinois lost some games last season, his house was egged. When Illinois went to the National Championship game in 2005, he almost became Mike Ditka.

This season both Weber's critics and his biggest fans are looking to be able to say "I told you so." Now this isn't the end game, but it is time for him to prove once and for all to his critics that he can do just what his fans state he can do, and make all of their lives happen tomorrow.

Ari: It wasn't the Cubs' fault when that douchebag grabbed that foul ball either, but they still don't get a World Series Ring. There are no asterisks in this life, only scoreboards, and ours is currently reading "F*cked."
Just remembering back to the last time Illinois played in a game. Many of the fans, players, and coaches all dreamed in black and white for the next few weeks after that loss, but there are no asterisks to put next to that game. This year, Illinois hopes their stay in the NCAA Tournament is longer than one and done, and the scoreboard reads something more like Sweet 16 (or even farther, a trip to Atlanta in April would be nice), than watching from home.

Ari: Emily! (Emily enters Ari's office) I want you to go to that party on Saturday, represent the agency, let Vince know that my Army's everywhere.
Emily: Ari, I really don't want to get in the middle of this.
Ari: You are in the middle of this, whether you like it or not. Okay? You wanna be a hero? You want a medal, or are you a coward? Knock off the hippie shit, strap on a helmet, and start shooting. This is Malibu, Emily, I want you to storm that beach like it's f*ckin' Normandy!
Enter article on the Internet, or a post on a message board, that looks unfavorably against the Fighting Illini basketball program, most notably written by either Gregg Doyel, Gary Parrish, an Indiana fan on Peegs.com, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun Times, WSCR, ESPN, or even a Kansas fan on Phog.net.

Quickly, a bat signal of some sort is set off in the Internet world, and a task manager icon pops up on the desktop of all orange and blue blooded Illinois fans to quickly respond to the erroneous statement made by the moron behind the keyboard. All mentions that look unfavorably upon the Illini must be stamped out as quickly as possible, and all detractors should be turned into supporters with their quick wit and brilliant debating ability.

Ari: You know what they feed people on an indie set, Vinnie? Nothing! They don't give you a trailer. They tell you to go sit on an apple box. Ever try to bang an extra on an apple box?
Just one look at the Fighting Illini's schedule this year, and you can see that a large outlay of cash was not given to the Illini's opponents in guaranteed games. The Illini's schedule this year contains four schools (two thanks to that tournament in Hoffman Estates) whose RPI last year was above 200. These guarantee games that all schools need to get to fill out their schedules require an outlay of cash from the school that is buying the win. Unfortunately, Illinois still is falling behind in gaming the RPI by getting more RPI friendly teams in Champaign for the guarantee games. This problem is easily remedied by a larger guarantee being paid, but the University of Illinois Athletic Department is continuing to step over dollars to pick up dimes.

Ari: Come on. Variety is like a high school paper. They pay their writers twenty-eight grand a year to find out something to write about the popular kids.
This is actually how ESPN picks up their television schedules for basketball. It is why Duke is on TV more than Leave it to Beav-ah re-runs (Pete Gillick, I thank you for that quote, and I want to know if you are still wearing your Virginia gear like you were during the 2005 Final Four after getting fired). But, thanks to the great success Illinois basketball has had recently, the Illini are now one of the popular kids for ESPN and CBS to pick up and broadcast nationally.

How popular you ask?

Not counting the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, the Fighting Illini have eleven games televised nationally by ESPN on either ESPN or espn2. (One game is televised nationally on ESPN U). CBS has already announced that they are picking up two of Illinois' Big Ten games, and they have an option on a third (the regular season finale in Iowa City). That is fourteen (or fifteen) out of 31 games the Illini play this season that will be on national television. At this point, only the early season games have not had TV announced for them, but starting November 28, every Illinois game will be available on television via ESPN, espn2, ESPN-U, CBS, or ESPN+.

Johnny Drama: I've been working steady for the past twelve years, minus the last three.
Johnny Drama, I would like to introduce you to Illinois' recruiting. Oh no, I didn't!

Vince: (talking about Brumby after that last joke) I'm gonna tell him he's a fat, comic book-loving prick.
See, even Aquaman doesn't like it when I crack jokes to make light of a situation that is more serious than life itself on the IlliniBoard.com Hoops Fan Forum. Remember people, sports are fun, and if you cannot make fun of yourself, who can you make fun of?

Ari: Let's hug it out bitches!
I can't think of anything funnier than attempting to imagine the faces of the people in Assembly Hall when Jeremy Piven delivers this line on Friday night. But after a summer of discontent, it is time for Illini fans to hug out their differences and once again join together to give the Fighting Illini the best home court advantage in the nation (well, that is when they aren't playing Penn State).


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