Forget Chris Duhon: Illinois Is My Team
I’m sitting in front of my laptop in my parents’ dining room. It’s Wednesday, August 10, 2005. Fingers quickly bang keyboard. Like Speed at 100-words per minute.
I’m on AIM, talking to seven buddies. Trying keep up with all the conversations, my heart pumps in fifth gear. Neglect jogging, forgo cardio exercise – I’m already starting to sweat.
But then I saw it.
“Forget about Brandon Rush!” my friend says.
In the blink of an eye, six conversations are forgotten. One hundred words a minute are now devoted to one person.
Stop. Rewind past my friend’s quote. Pause.
See, I’m a basketball fan. For someone to mention anything about a player, recruit or team is to beg for one looong monologue (sound familiar?).
So, how did this happen? Well, it all began in the mid-1990s. The Bulls were my basketball world. I didn’t miss a contest from their first exhibition in ’95 to their last chip in ’98.
After Michael Jordan’s second retirement, I pained through seven sub 20-win seasons and countless wasted Top Four draft picks. Marcus Fizer? Elton Brand for Tyson Chandler? Jay Williams?
Unwittingly, I began to make other squads my de facto basketball interests. My high school basketball team. LeBron James’ St. Vincent-St. Mary’s HS parading circus. Heck, even my little sister’s YMCA squad.
It was an empty period of post-Jordan denial.
Then came freshman year at the University of Illinois. Then came the Season of a Century. I followed my new team like a dog follows its master.
It just so happened that the Bulls were winning games for the first time since Phil Jax and the Big Three left the Chi. This would’ve been a momentous occasion if it wasn’t for the Fighting Illini. After seven seasons, the Baby Bulls were delegated to second fiddle.
It was easy to like the Illini basketball team. Heck, for an entire year I lived in basketball’s Mecca! Plus, I kind of liked the concept of outscoring one’s opponent.
The Illini turned out to be mortal in the end, coming only five points short of a title. They didn’t come home with a trophy, but won the heart of yet another fan (I know, not a bad trade off at all).
There was the success. Then came the rumor. Word started circulating that McDonald’s All American Brandon Rush would consider Illinois if he didn’t jump to the NBA.
He didn’t jump.
And, to make a looong conversation short, he still hasn’t made a decision.
Basically, it’s down to Illinois or Kansas.
Will Kansas coach and former Illini skipper Bill Self lure Rush away from Illinois like he did Julian Wright? Or will Bruce Weber’s phone skills be enough to successfully court a player from thousands of miles away, as he leads the Big Ten all-star team in Spain?
Rush would be a more than excellent addition to Bruce Weber’s at best lackluster freshman recruiting class, even if he plays for only one year. Signing Rush would be validation to Weber’s contract extension and pay raise.
Basketball creates some good drama. And drama makes for some looong monologues.
I’m sitting in front of my laptop in my parents’ dining room. It’s Wednesday, August 10, 2005. I’m reading a letter to Rush from Kansas City Star and EPSN columnist Jason Whitlock:
“Going off to Illinois wouldn’t be a bad decision…But don’t go to Illinois because you fear playing in Lawrence. And don’t go to Illinois because you think you’ll get more shots.”
I’m on AIM, talking to seven buddies. Trying to keep up with all the conversations, my heart pumps in fifth gear. Neglect jogging, forgo cardio exercise – I’m already starting to sweat.
But then I saw it.
“Forget about Brandon Rush!” my friend says. “There’s something much more important.”
In the blink of an eye, six conversations are forgotten.
“Chris Duhon signed an offer sheet with the Toronto Raptors. The Bulls NEED to match!” he writes.
One hundred words a minute are now devoted to one person. Fingers quickly bang keyboard. Like Speed at 100-words per minute.
“Good, let Duhon go,” I jaw back. “The Bulls don’t need him to lose more games anyway.”
“Illinois is my team now.”