Friday, April 29, 2005

Another Class Act

In my post yesterday, I mentioned what a class act Deron Williams has been and continues to be. Today, I would like to recognize another class act, former All-American Illinois Linebacker and current NFL player, Kevin Hardy. Not to date myself, but I was at Illinois for a portion of the four years Hardy spent there as a player in the mid-90's. Simeon Rice and he teamed to create one of, if not the best linebacking corps in the country at that time. While the team finished 6-5 in their senior season due to deficiencies on the offensive side of the ball, the defense was something to behold. Hardy won the Butkus award that year as the nation's most outstanding linebacker.

Now, after 10 years (and counting) in the NFL, Hardy is giving back to the University where he had so much success. He has donated $300,000 to endow a scholarship that will annually fund one of the starting linebacker positions. Illinitalk is glad to see former players continuing to be a part of the University and we admire Hardy's willingness to give something back to the Illini. While it doesn't have to be through monetary means. we hope other former players will follow his lead and maintain or renew their connections with the University. It is important to the athletic programs to have positive relationships with our former players now and in the future. Go Illini!


World's Largest Softball Tailgate II Plus Coach Weber

For those of you in the Champaign-Urbana area, tomorrow (Saturday, April 30th) is your chance to go out and support the Fighting Illini Softball Team. Not only can you participate in the World's Largest Softball Tailgate II but you can also see Coach Bruce Weber throw out the first pitch. Illinitalk hopes those of you that can will go out and support another one of our Fighting Illini teams--Go Orange and Blue.


Thursday, April 28, 2005

Catch up

First of all, allow me to apologize to all of our readers on behalf of the Chief and I for going so long without a new post. We have each been swamped at work and at home and simply haven't been able to get things up in as timely a manner as we would have liked. Also, there really hasn't been a whole lot going on to report and comment about. That being said, we will try to catch you up on a few things that have taken place over the past couple of weeks.

--Deron Williams officially entered the NBA draft and hired an agent. While I am sure all of us Illini fans were holding out a small, tiny bit of hope that he wouldn't hire an agent and maybe even decide to come back, I think we all knew that wasn't very realistic. He is projected to be a top 15 pick and could go as high as #4 or #6 overall according to some rumors. I can't really blame a guy for choosing to go pro when he has that type of an opportunity and has played 3 years of college ball. He is a great player and represented the Illini well. In case any of you missed it, he put ads in the sports sections of the Tribune, Sun-Times, and the News-Gazette this past Monday to thank the students, alumi, and fans for all of their support. Now that is a class act!

--Recruiting. Apparently some good news and some bad. Greg Oden, a 7-foot jr. in Indiana who may have the ability to go straight to the NBA, has narrowed his choices and the Illini are not one of them. On the flip side, his highly rated 6-1 point guard teammate, Mike Conley has Illinois as one of his final four universities under consideration. Illinois stopped recruiting him so Westinghouse center DeAndre Thomas is headed for Missouri. I don't have any strong feelings on this either way since I trust Coach Weber's judgement on who he wants to have play for him. That being said, you always hope something like this doesn't come back to bite you down the road.

--The Rev. For those of you that live in the Chicagoland area and are interested in having the chance to see Roger "The Rev" Powell, Jr. in a ministry setting, your opportunity has arrived. Powell, a licensed Pentecostal minister will be appearing this Saturday and Sunday (April 30th and May 1st) at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington where he will be interviewed by Associate Pastor Gene Appel about the "God Who Sits Next to You." Powell will be at the 5:30 p.m. service on Saturday and at the 9:00 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. services on Sunday.

--On newstands now. Check out 96 pages of Illini cheer (according to the Sun-Times) in the new Illini Magic publication from Sporting News Books. It covers the entire regular season game by game as well as the post-season and is $9.99. It should be available on newstands now for those of you who are interested in this commemorative keepsake magazine. (Note: Illinitalk receives no proceeds from the sale of this publication.)

I am running out of time so I need to be brief here. Lots of good articles the past couple of weeks, especially the one Chief posted on earlier. Here are some others worth a read:

--Illini unveil their no-huddle offense and are also using the shotgun formation

--We may have a new starting quarterback. Although nothing is final yet, Tim Brasic of Riverside-Brookfield is the leading candidate after the spring game.

--Ron Zook came with a reputation as being a great recruiter. Need proof? Click here for the full story from the Sun-Times.

That's all for now. We will try to never go this long again between posts. Thank you for your patience and understanding!


Saturday, April 16, 2005

Some Football News

The Tribune has a nice article on Ron Zook here.

In another article, Mark Tupper says there is reason for Illini football fans to be excited.


Friday, April 15, 2005

Illini in the news...

There have been a couple of very good recruiting articles this past week as well as some other items of interest, such as the Illini awards banquet and Deron declaring for the draft but not hiring an agent in order to keep his options open. I am short on time right now for a proper analysis but check out the links below. More on thoughts on recruiting later.

Jon Scheyer recruiting update

Illinois Recruiting Overview (good perspective on Scheyer by the way)

Deron declares for the draft

Deron and Dee Draft thoughts and Illini Awards Banquet


Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Moving On

I think I am going through withdrawal now that the basketball season is over. It was truly an amazing experience to be at the Final Four to watch the semi-finals and final. I am not going to lie to you. The end result on Monday hurt--a lot. It was certainly black Tuesday for me on the 6th. However, I don't think it was just the loss that got to me. I think it was the fact that we have to say good-bye to a team that I absolutely loved watching and writing about. I know some of the guys will be back and there will be other teams we enjoy in the future but I think this was probably my favorite team ever, of any sport, of college or professional. Even more of my favorite than the great Bulls teams of the 90's, and for me that is saying a lot.

I know it has been more than a week since I last posted but that time has provided me with some perspective. While the end result on Monday was certainly not what I or any Illini fan was hoping for, I am very proud of our team. I know there have been a lot of "what ifs" mentioned out there but we cannot change the outcome so instead let's celebrate what the 2004-2005 Fighting Illini accomplished.

In my opinion, this was the best Illinois basketball team ever. I know some people out there may disagree and it is difficult at best to compare different eras but it is hard to argue with the numbers and end results. The team tied the NCAA record for most victories in a season finishing with a 37-2 record. They made it to the Championship game fo the NCAA tournament and were so close to pulling off the victory. No other team in Illinois history has accomplished that. Beyond the numbers, they simply played as a team and were fun and entertaining to watch. I loved the 1989 team, but I believe this 100th Year Illinois basketball team was the best and my favorite.

With basketball season over, the Chief and I will still be publishing here on Illinitalk. We will focus on recruiting, what happens with Illini players in the NBA draft, football, and possibly other Illini sports and happenings. We may not publish as often as we did during the basketball season but please check back because we aren't going anywhere. We will still be blogging and, of course, getting ready for the 2005-2006 basketball season.

In closing, let me finish with a few brief comments. First, congratulations to Coach Weber and the entire Illinois basketball team for having such a wonderful season and givng us something that will be remembered forever. As Coach said, it certainly was special. Second, we wish the seniors--Luther, Roger, Jack, Nick, and Fred--the best of luck and thank them for all of their contributions to Illini basketball and to the University. As for Deron and Dee--ONE MORE YEAR, ONE MORE YEAR! In all seriousness, we would love to have them both come back but should one or both of them decide to move on to pursue their dream of playing in the NBA, we certainly do wish them luck. We know all of the members of this year's team who move on will represent the University well wherever their future endeavors take them. Besh wishes and may God bless.


Odds and Ends

It's been more than a week since the gallant effort came up short. The sports hangover I had a week ago today was brutal. Being on Eastern Daylight Time didn't help things, either. Skinny Sweetcheeks and I had to stay up till close to midnight to watch the end...and be at work the next day.

However, in the week since the game, I've heard many different things from Illini fans and foes alike. It goes without saying that Illini fans are proud of their team...but I've heard many fans around the Big Ten compliment us too on one fantastic season.

Even fans from teams in other conferences have complimented us. Not too many from the ACC, but hey, that's to be expected. I did have one Duke fan, rather than rub it in my face, say he couldn't believe our run and wished we would have won the whole thing because that would have been the fitting way to finish such an historic season...that, and I think he wanted to watch Roy Williams cry...

Anyway, there is still Illini news...much of it interesting.

On the basketball recruiting front, the Battle of the Titans pits Illinois vs. Duke for the services of Jon Scheyer. Scheyere was on WSCR in Chicago yesterday and said he has ruled out Arizona and Wisconsin. So now it's down to Illinois and Duke. The Tribune has a nice little story about it here. I have a feeling if we land Scheyer, the floodgates will open. Not to mention the fact that beating Duke for a high profile recruit will be a huge coup.

Speaking of recruiting, I was talking to another Duke fan Sunday (this is what I get for living on the East Coast) who was giving me the usual misperception that Weber can't recruit. When I told him that Weber signed Shaun Pruitt and Calvin Brock he shut up. He said, "well Pruitt was top 100 so that's pretty good." Good grief.

Speaking of Brock, I don't know what it is but I am really excited about seeing him play. From what I hear, he's got mad hops and is very athletic. However, there is one intangible of which I've really taken notice: his enthusiasm. The guy was one of the best cheerleaders on the bench this year. If he brings even a fraction of that to the court, he will be great. I'm thinking he's goona step in and bring the fire of Kenny Battle and Dee Brown. And TV folks will love his baby face.

The Illini conditioning program is featured in this story in the Sun-Times...good stuff...

There are a number of articles out on football as well. Herb Gould has some good info in this article in the Sun-Times...Tribune story here...Supinie here...


Tuesday, April 05, 2005


Skinny Sweetcheeks is wearing black today. As for me, well, the suit that I can wear my black tie with needs to be altered. So I'm proudly wearing my orange and blue tie.


Because I am so proud of this team. They are an awesome bunch of young men who gave 110 percent every single minute of every single game this season. Not sure I can say that of the group of individuals who bested them last night.

We'll have more wrap-up, analysis and outlook for both football and hoops for next season later but the following articles by the pro writers pretty much sum up my feelings today:

Morrissey...Tribune editorial...Mariotti


Sunday, April 03, 2005

#1 vs. #2--We settle it on the court

Oskee Mom Mom asked me if I wanted her to pinch me this morning just so I would know last night was not a dream. I said no but she did it anyway. Wow, what an amazing experience being able to watch the Fighting Illini win a Final Four game in person and advance to the National Championship game.

As a Big Ten fan, I was disappointed to see Michigan State lose, but Illinois-North Carolina is the game virtually everyone wants to see. The two teams ranked Number One and Number Two in the polls for most of the season and the two teams that were clearly the best in the country. Well, tomorrow night the two teams will settle it on the court. We will find out who is truly number one and the National Champion. Deron Williams agrees, saying, "It is the matchup everyone wanted. It's finally here, and we get to play it on the court instead of people taking about it."

I heard a North Carolina fan accuse Illinois fans of wanting Michigan State to win so that Illinois would have a so-called "easier title game." I suppose it is possible that some Illinois fans may have felt that way but I think it was more a case of Big Ten solidarity, which is something most ACC fans would no nothing about. The title game is going to be tough no matter who we were going to end up playing.

Perhaps Illini fans are feeling some trepidation or nervousness about playing a team as talented as North Carolina. Do you think that perhaps North Carolina fans might be feeling some of the same things about facing a team as talented as Illinois? If they aren't, then they are making a mistake. All I can say to all of you Illini fans out there is believe.

This is the way it should be. The two best teams facing each other for the title. Despite the fact that I was cheering for Michigan State, the competitive side of me knew that if we were to beat North Carolina for the title it would be just that much more satisfying and finally settle the debate over which team is best this year.

Tomorrow night's game will not be easy. But the one thing Michigan State did do last night was to show our guys how to attack North Carolina. They are not a good defensive team. We have to look inside to our big guys as well as drive to the basket. If the Illini to that, UNC will foul them. It is important for us to get to the free throw line and to get their guys into foul trouble. Michigan State did that in the first half and then got away from it in the second half when they settled for jump shots. Illinois can shoot much better than the Spartans and we should still look for the three when it is there but we have to drive the ball and look inside in order to force them to defend us.

Defensively, UNC is a load for our guys. The Heels have talent at every position. However, Deron has done an outstanding job of locking up whichever man he is guarding and should be able to do the same to Felton or McCants tomorrow. That could put Luther who has also been outstanding defensively on the other talented UNC guard. Williams, Brown, and Head all have great hands and this could be very important as North Carolina sometimes gets a little careless with the ball. This could lead to some steals and easly baskets.

On the frontcourt side of things, Augustine and Ingram also played outstanding defense against Louisville's big men. They will need to do even better against Sean May. Our guards are also going to have to help out by making it difficult for their guards to get May the ball. Ultimately, he is going to get his fair share of points but if we can hold down their other guys, we can live with that. Marvin Williams can also create matchup problems but Illinois' experience should help them against the talented freshman.

Illinois hasn't faced a team with quite as much talent as North Carolina but UNC hasn't faced a team as fast, team-oriented, and defensive-minded as Illinois. It is going to be a battle between two heavyweights. CBS Sportsline gives Illinois the backcourt edge, North Carolina the frontcourt edge, and rates the overall edge as even. I think it is a cliche, but whoever wants it more is going to win. I believe that team is Illinois. I think they are sick and tired of hearing about how North Carolina is better than them and I think they want to prove once and for all that they are the best team in the country. I watched both teams play in person last night. Illinois just has that look like this is their year and no one is going to prevent them from accomplishing their goal of winning a national championship. I'll be in St. Louis again tomorrow night to watch the Illini finish the job and cut down the nets. In the 100th year of Illinois basketball, that is the only way such a special season should end.


Saturday, April 02, 2005


Well, Good Hope Orange had a number of reports in the second half but they mostly had to do with the terrible officiating--especially the no-call Powell bodyslam. Anyway, here is his postgame analysis:

"Outstanding finish. Powell is my player of the game followed by Luther and honorable mention to Jack. Our seniors stepped up big time! One more game!!!"



Goop Hope Orange's thoughts at halftime from inside the Dome:

"Overall, I like how the Illini have played, especially considering the terrible officiating. We have a little bit of foul trouble but no one with more than two. Weber gambled by leaving Deron in as long as he did after he got his 2nd foul but it paid off. It will be good to have Powell back in the second half. He's a senior and he's probably a bit ticked right now so he may have a big second half.

"Offensively, we need to keep moving the ball and be careful not to get too locked in on taking the three. We need to drive to the basket more, especially Luther, and also look for the big men inside. They can do some damage if we get them the ball and can also force the Cards to foul. Driving should also open up some kick-outs to the open man.

"The Cards defense is vulnerable to baseline shots. Defensively, we have to cut off their drives. They are penetrating way too easily, which let's them dish for easy shots or kick out for the three--basically what we need to do more of on the other end. We need to help as much as we can although I know it is hard with their shooters.

"Finally, we have to rebound better and if we are going to foul, hammer them so they don't make the shot. I still feel good about the flow of the game. Although we are only up three, we have never trailed and I feel they have been in control."



More from Good Hope Orange:

"Just had a moment of silence for the Pope and then the Star Spangled Banner. The teams just went to their respective locker rooms. Seven minutes to tip-off."


Right Before the Game...

Good Hope is obviously enjoying himself:

"Last update before the game. Crowd noise seems pretty good for a dome and orange is definitely the dominant color. While it won't be like All State Arena, the crowd can definitely be a factor, especially if State fans join in with us. Louisville just came out to boos from our fans. Here come the Illini--huge cheers. One minute until game time."


T-minus 23

Good Hope Orange reporting in...I almost feel like I'm there:

"Twenty-three minutes until game time. We are in our seats. We are high up but have a great view of the court. No complaints from this fan!

"Louisville came out a few minutes a go to some cheering from their fans and a lot of boos from the rest of the people in attendance. Illinois came out a short time later to a ton of cheers and an extended version of the ILL-INI chant.

"I should also mention Louisville has some silly chant where they all spell out CARDS and then yell it. Sarcasm alert--I can't believe they are so original!

"Well, we are down to 19 minutes until gametime and there are still a lot of seats to fill. Our section is filling up fast, though and I think we are in the row right behind the Orange Krush section. Simply awesome! Look for us on TV. We'll be the ones in orange."


Inside the Dome

More from Good Hope Orange...inside the dome:

"Okay, we have been inside for about 30 minutes. It is about 35 minutes until game time. We have seen some very cool souvenirs but are holding off for now. We were able to see both the Illini and the Cardinals warm up.

"Louisville's warm-up I can only describe as semi-organized chaos. Basketballs flying everywhere. Illinois was very focused. Went through stretching, drills, and shooting. The dome background didn't seem to bother them as shots seemed to be falling.

"The coolest part was seeing the five starters meet at center court and put their hands together.
"The team seemed very focused and purposeful--but not tight or under pressure. I believe they are ready to play."



Good Hope Orange just provided his first you go:

"Lots of people on the streets looking for tickets. Red Rock and I are in a very long line waiting to enter the dome but it is moving can feel the excitement and anticipation from all the fans regardless of which team they are cheering for.

"This reminds me a lot of when I was at the Sugar Bowl with the football team. However, this time the stakes are higher and, to their credit, fans of the different teams seem to be more respectful of each other.

"I think Illini and Spartan fans definately feel a kinship. Louisville fans seem to be the most obnoxious by far. Carolina fans have that southern hospitality. More later..."


From the Dome

Good Hope Orange is on his way to St. Louis with Red Rock to watch the last three games of the men's basketball season. He will be feeding me reports about the experience. Check back frequently as we make our first attempt to blog LIVE.
By the way, Happy Birthday Good Hope!!!


Lots of Weber

Lots of coverage on coach today. All of it stellar: Washington Post...Daily Southtown...Tupper...Morrissey...Mariotti...

Tupper's blog is good today too...


All I want for my birthday is....

An Illini Victory. Well, okay, in all honesty I want two. My birthday is on April 2nd. For that reason alone, I expect an Illini victory over Louisville. Beyond that, though, it is amazing to me how many people I have talked to, who say that after the way Illinois came back to beat Arizona, how could you not believe they are going to finish the job and win the national championship. I for one agree with that sentiment.

Bright and early tomorrow morning (well today actually now that I look at the time), Oskee Mom Mom, the Illinette and I will load up the Illinimobile and head for Oskee Mom Mom's parents. From there, Red Rock and I will head to St. Louis to watch the Illini battle Louisville in the Final Four. Yes, that's right, Good Hope Orange has managed to procure two tickets to tonight's and Monday's games. No April Fools.

Chief and I have been discussing the possibility of doing some live blogging during the game if we can make it work. Not sure if that is going to happen but I am sure Chief will let you know via a post if that is going to be the case.

There have been so many articles and coverage of the Illini this week, it has been hard to keep up. Chief has done a great job of providing you with links to some of the better ones and hopefully all of you have been able to check some of the others out as well. I don't have time to provide links tonight, but Sports Illustrated's website has a lot of experts favoring the Illini. Glad to see Illinois getting more respect. Haven't checked out ESPN today, though how many of you would be shocked if they are favoring North Carolina?

Illinois vs. Louisville. Illinois has to be patient and take their time against Louisville's zone. They can get great shots if they work the clock and pass like they are capable. Louisville has a lot of similarities to the Illini, but Illinois' guard should be quicker and have to take advantage of that as they will be at a height disadvantage. Augustine has a favorable matchup and has the potential for a big game and could be the difference maker. He will want to make amends for a subpar performance against Arizona. Illinois also needs another strong defensive effort and I look for Head and Williams to lock down Garcia.

I think the pressure is off the Illini. They have made it to the Final Four and now they should be able to relax and play their game. Although dome's can be tough to shoot in, I think the Illini will come out firing on all cylinders. No score prediction but as for who will win I think you already know where I stand when it comes to the Illini. I feel very good about Illinois' chances.

North Carolina vs. Michigan State
I think everyone and their dog is picking North Carolina to win this game. I think part of that is they are really hoping to see Illinois vs. North Carolina in the title game. In all seriousness, I have seen a few people who have picked Michigan State. Although I could be wrong (it wouldn't be the first time or the last), I don't see this is a North Carolina blowout.

Tom Izzo now has the second highest tournament winning percentage (behind only the legendary John Wooden) and his team is playing their best basketball of the year. In addition, they should feel very little pressure. No one expected them to be here despite their talent. At the same time, getting this far also removed some of the criticism of Michigan State's seniors for failing to live up to their potential, especially in big games. On the flip side, I believe North Carolina faces the most pressure of any of the Final Four teams. This is due to how much talent people believe they have, the expectation that North Carolina should win championships every year, and finally the need for Roy Williams to get over the hump. This pressure may weigh on them. Again, no score prediction but I have a nagging feeling that this game just might be there for the Spartan's taking if (and it's a big if) they can control Sean May.

Tonight we will know the final two teams standing. GO ILLINI (and what the heck, go Spartans)!!!


Pulse--April Fool's Edition

Media Pulse

WSCR: DOWN...even though it's April Fool's Day, "reporting" that Dee and Luther are sick is way over the top...

Eric Neel: DOWN...please tell me this guy doesn't get paid to write stuff like this...

ABC 7 (WLS Chicago): UP...very nice story (make sure to click on the video) the many Chicago reporters does it take to cover this team?

Mandel: UP...nice shout out to Illini fans...


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