“I know he played for the, I think, New York Knicks. He missed a layup. I know that. He missed a big, big layup.
(The layup, in case you’re curious.)
“But I obviously know he was a great player, one of the best ever. I haven’t really seen him play, or watched him play, but he obviously is one of the greats.
“I watched him play actually last year when they played Seton Hall. I watched that game in Newark, New Jersey. I think he’s a good coach because he’s with a great team.”
That’s Giorgi talking about Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing.
This isn’t how athletes usually talk to the media. And after a half-decade of missed NCAA Tournaments and heartbreak, Illinois fans deserve a personality like G-Bez.
By now, you know who Giorgi Bezhanishvili is. He’s Illinois’ big man — the only one who was eligible for the Illini’s season-opening win against Evansville — and he’s fun.
He said it himself.
“Two main things: win and have fun. Have fun and win. I had fun, and we won.”
Giorgi did more than just win in his Illinois debut. He silenced any doubters about if he was ready for this level of basketball with nine points and 10 rebounds last Thursday.
He also had fun in the season’s first game.
After pumping up the crowd during Illinois’ exhibition with Illinois-Wesleyan, Bezhanishvili interacted with Orange Krush students and had his name chanted late in the first half.
“That’s always kind of been my thing. I’m a simple person, and I give my energy to people and people give energy back. They help us, they bring energy to the team, too. I’ve always been the guy like that.”
Maybe the not so “fun” part was his technical foul during the game, which he claims was not the result of a ‘magic word’ or anything else. Just telling an Evansville player to “relax.”
“I told the [Evansville player] just to relax and touched him on the shoulder. He was going hard, so I told him to relax. And the ref said, ‘get your hand off.’ It happens, it’s just a game.”
He even had fun at his postgame press conference, walking in a few minutes later than his other teammates at the table — Ayo Dosunmu and Aaron Jordan — after doing an interview with an Austrian reporter who flew to Champaign to cover Giorgi’s debut.
“I never ever had a press conference [before],” Bezhanishvili said. “I came in and saw all you guys just watching, and it was just funny for me. For a guy like me, it’s a huge accomplishment to have a press conference and I was laughing and showing my personality. Hopefully I have another press conference.”
It’s more than just the media interacting with him. Students are stopping Giorgi on campus now, to which he responds, “Let’s go!”
While Giorgi understands that bigger games are coming up with Georgetown on Tuesday and three games at the Maui Invitational next week, Bezhanishvili doesn’t plan on being anyone else but Giorgi.
“Coach always says to all of the guys to be yourself on the court. Be yourself and have fun. If you play freely, you can play well.”
One final anecdote, if I may.
That Austrian reporter? Giorgi was spotted hugging him after the game.
So WDWS’ Scott Beatty — also in the media scrum Monday morning — asked Giorgi if he would hug us (the media) too?
“Yeah, sure, let’s hug.”
And Giorgi gave him a hug.
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