And Now We've No Choice But To Say Goodbye

Three players hand off a program to one - Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

The real tragedy of last night is not just that it ended the season, but that it ended the Illini careers of Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tyler Griffey.

It's been over 12 hours now since the Illini lost to Miami and I've had a chance to sleep on it. Well, sleep is not really the right word to describe it, because the truth is I didn't do a lot of sleeping last night. For the most part I laid in bed thinking about the game and a million different things that could have gone differently. Not just the out of bounds call.

What if this shot had fallen there, or Rion Brown had been having an average night?

So many things that could have happened differently that would have kept me up all night for very different reasons. Events that would have led to different feelings today.

But none of it's going to change no matter how long I think about it, and the fact is that this game is going to be one that I think about for quite some time. The fact that there are five months to kill before football begins will not help matters at all, as Illini fans have nothing but time to think about things now.

It wasn't just the game I thought about last night, though, it was the players too. As I mentioned in last night's recap, I feel terrible that the careers of guys like Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tyler Griffey have to end this way. It just doesn't seem fair to me, but I suppose that's life.

Now, the four years these three donned the Illini uniform were not the best four years in the history of this program. In fact, they were far from it. Still, supporting a college team is a lot different than a professional team. In a way the players that come through a college program are like your kids.

I know, I don't want to get overly sappy, but stick with me.

When they show up as freshman they're babies. Sure, you've been expecting them for a while, but then they finally show up and they're very real. Then over the next few years you watch them grow up. There are the good times and there are the times when they make decisions that drive you insane. Decisions you don't quite get, but even though you get angry with them, they're still yours.

They're still putting on that Illinois uniform and trying to do the best that they can. There's really nothing else you can ask of them.

And while there were plenty of frustrating times during the careers of these three, it seemed to be that a storybook ending was being written this year. Don't get me wrong, this was a great season, it's just kind of like the final episode of The Sopranos.

The ending could have been so much better.

However, while it may not have ended how I wanted it to, I still enjoyed watching the story unfold.

When I think back on the careers of these three I won't think about the bad times.

I'll think about D.J. Richardson lighting up the Cornhuskers for 30 points and hitting a huge three against Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament.

I'll think about Tyler Griffey shaking Cody Zeller for that game-winning layup.

I'll remember Brandon Paul for the 43 against Ohio State, the 35 against Gonzaga, the game-winners and the flashes of brilliance.

I'll remember that in their final game together they all did everything within their power to make sure that it wouldn't be their last game. That they left everything they had on the court in Austin.

I'll remember all of it, and when I think of it I'll smile.

Thank you for four years of everything you had.

Follow The Champaign Room on Twitter at @Champaign_Room. You can follow Tom Fornelli on Twitter at @TomFornelli.

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