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Ty Rodgers wants the locker room to buy in. That’s good.

Rodgers made some bold comments to 247 Sports’ Derek Piper this week.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Minnesota
Illinois guard Ty Rodgers looking ready to play the point, and isn’t afraid to speak his mind.
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Greetings and salutations, Illinois Land!

It’s refreshing to see Illinois basketball back where it belongs — embroiled in social media controversy yet again. This time it feels different.

The difference this time is the feverish extrapolation of the impact on the Illinois program stems from comments made by a particular player — Ty Rodgers — rather than head coach Brad Underwood.

BU isn’t afraid to speak his mind during press conferences, or in general.

When a college basketball player makes the decision to give his honest opinion on other human beings, the truth revealed from that honesty is particularly hard from some to stomach.

Rodgers’ authenticity is being hijacked by media members looking to get retweets and comments.

I’ve seen some link Rodgers’ comments to a systemic problem of Illinois “trashing guys on the way way out of the program.”

This is neither a fair critique, nor accurate.

Illinois has made its bed of controversy over the past several years. It now must lie in it, whether it’s legitimate or not.

This Sunday column is going to be a wild ride of sorts. I’ll be connecting some dots that seem to be on different linear planes, because they are.

At times, the Illinois basketball program can feel like WWE, or reality TV. I would argue it feels like WWE because it perpetually grabs attention out of seemingly nowhere. It can engage its fanbase to keep the entertainment alive.

Much like WWE, Illinois sports has no offseason.

“Hard work pays off, and dreams do come true. Bad times don’t last, but bad guys do.” Razor Ramon.

Mid-card heel Razor Ramon was based on Tony Montana from “Scarface,” played by actor Al Pacino in the 1983 Brian De Palma film. Razor Ramon was famous for the saying above this photo.
Ringside News

The reason I’m referencing the particular comments made by Razor Ramon stems from the fact that the comments Ty Rodgers made were about the potential quality of human being on the roster last year, or lack thereof.

Rodgers referenced players leaving during the off-season are factually addition by subtraction.

RJ Melendez, Matthew Mayer and Jayden Epps, along with Skyy Clark (transferred to Louisville), seem to be the players drawing the comments made by Rodgers.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Minnesota
Dainja (42) is the only player in this photo returning for the 2023-24 season. Melendez (15) transferred to Georgia and Epps (3) is gone to Georgetown. Mayer (24) is off to the professional ranks.
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Before we unpack the comments made by Rodgers, and the social media fallout as a result, let’s take a look at where Rodgers is getting his cue. You don’t have to look far.

It’s the end of the Illinois bench.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Missouri
Underwood doesn’t hide his emotions - good, bad or indifferent. Let’s just say he’s not cleaning up in the neighborhood poker game.
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Honesty, whether you like it or not, is a structural tenet of Underwood’s leadership and coaching style, and a pillar on which he’d prefer to build out in perpetuity. He is always himself.

Sometimes this involves making fart noises into a microphone to audibly critique the leadership of his best on-court player.

Other times, it means getting tossed from a home game against Ohio State because he feels his All-American, Kofi Cockburn, isn’t getting a fair whistle.

Underwood is verbally hard on his players in press conferences, because he views this as accountability, not as airing dirty laundry. This form of direct communication is not only effective as a matter of utility, but because it’s authentic to Underwood.

Leadership, either by staff or players, must come from a place of empathy and authenticity, if it is to be effective at all. Underwood cannot run practice like Scott Drew from Baylor or Mark Few at Gonzaga.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern State at Baylor
Scott Drew coaches Baylor with infinite positivity and encouragement. It has worked well in Waco. Not everyone has that in them, in reality.
Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

The reverse is also true. Drew can’t run a Baylor practice and scream at his guys and expect that to motivate them.

Now, let’s get back to the actual comments made by Rodgers to 247 Sports’ Derek Piper.

When you listen to the audio from these particular quotes, it’s blatantly obvious that Rodgers is neither smearing the departed players, nor is he making a value judgment about their character.

It’s all about context. Context is king.

Let’s try a little exercise here. First, I’ll layout the comments from Rodgers prima fascia. Then I’ll layer in the context and nuance. The former is easy to grasp, while the ladder is nearly impossible for most to contemplate or employ.

Here’s Rodgers on the culture change from last year to this year:

“I will say that my first year, it wasn’t the culture that they (the coaching staff) talked about. Honestly, I really didn’t know what the culture was. But, this year, it really feels like we are putting something together.”

Here’s Rodgers on the new guys, and how they fit:

“All the guys they brought in, they’re good human beings. Some of the guys we had last year weren’t.”

If you just read these comments as presented above, it would be easy to add to the current online narrative of drama surrounding the above quotes.

Rodgers is simply stating his opinion around the context of culture and what he sees as value added. He clearly didn’t think that the guys on the roster last year were bought in to the culture he was recruited to, and he wasn’t happy about that fact.

NCAA Basketball: Eastern Illinois at Illinois
Rodgers with Hawkins early last season. It seems like these two will be the keeps of the culture flame for the Illini this year.
Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

It sounds like Rodgers communicates directly and succinctly. These comments would be “more palatable” had he rephrased them differently. Rodgers could have made the comments about him, and his point of view.

Something like “I didn’t like some of the guys last year” or “some of my teammates weren’t bought in like they should have been” and everyone would be talking about his leadership and accountability.


How concerned are you around the culture of Illinois basketball for 2023-24?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Sunshine and rainbows, babay!
    (25 votes)
  • 64%
    I’m encouraged by the improvements.
    (242 votes)
  • 16%
    I’m not sure if there are improvements.
    (63 votes)
  • 0%
    Here we go it’s even worse.
    (1 vote)
  • 11%
    Don’t tell me about the pregnancy, show me the baby.
    (43 votes)
374 votes total Vote Now

I get it. When you talk about someone being a bad human being, or at least imply it, it’s not a good look, particularly when they’re a former teammate.

In almost every case, what someone decides does not do is just as important as what someone makes the decision to do.

Actions speak louder than words. Nonaction can be deafening.

No one from the Illinois program has made an attempt to clarify his comments, or further add context. They are all standing by their man. It seems like you have the freedom to speak your mind if you play for Brad Underwood.

What a wild concept.

Not a soul at Ubben seems to be bothered by what Rodgers said. They all know who Rodgers is and how he communicates. I’m adding context because that’s what I do.

The fact that silence is all you hear from the program is all the confirmation you need.

This is Illinois basketball.