Not so long ago, in a college town far, far away... Illinois was on top of the college basketball world. Now? The program currently sits at an abysmal 10-12 record and are pretty much a lock to miss every postseason tournament this year. So let's step away from the darkness for a moment and have a little fun.
I've seen the new Star Wars movie three times now, and while I'm no Star Wars super-fan, I certainly know a thing or two about the characters. And that got me thinking: what would the Fighting Illini basketball squad look like as characters from the saga? Without further ado, here's your (mostly) Rebel Alliance!
WARNING: SPOILERS FROM STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS
Jaylon Tate -- Admiral Ackbar
Tate and Ackbar don't really do much in the grand scheme of things, but their leadership qualities are of tremendous importance to their respective teams. Tate, while not a flashy scorer, runs his unit just like Ackbar does, calling out the plays and formations to try and keep his guys
alive on track. While most of their actions are behind-the-scenes, their troops would be completely unorganized without them at the lead.
Tate has also been known to yell out "IT'S A TRAP" in late-game situations, too.
Kendrick Nunn -- Han Solo
Arguably the most popular characters of these two worlds, Nunn and Solo are talented sharpshooters (Han just tends to do most of his shooting from the Millennium Falcon). Both have an uncanny ability to hit their target(s) from long-range and, while they aren't that physically imposing, each have great quickness and awareness. Nunn has also been known to talk a little trash and even got into a Cantina-like altercation with Penn State guard D.J. Newbill a few years back.
Now we just have to hope that Kendrick's newborn son, Kason, can stay on the path to the light side of the force. Illinois can't really afford a Han Solo/Kylo Ren incident right now.
Jalen Coleman-Lands -- Poe Dameron
Now we dive into the The Force Awakens! Coleman-Lands and Dameron are new on the scene, and both are known as some of the most accurate members of their craft. JCL can knock down three's with a sharpshooter's accuracy, just like Poe knocks TIE fighters out of the sky. Dameron saved the day at Maz Kanata's castle against the First Order fleet, much like the way Jalen saved the day for the Illini against Chicago State (and Ohio State in regulation).
Dameron was also a prisoner of the First Order, much like how JCL was a prisoner of the state of Indiana. Luckily, both have escaped to the light side.
Malcolm Hill -- Luke Skywalker (Pre-TFA)
This one's pretty obvious. The force is very strong in Hill, who, while already extremely strong and intelligent, still has much more learning to do. His basketball fundamentals and morals are rock-solid, and you couldn't ask for a nicer and more down-to-earth (or Tatooine) guy. He, like Luke, is soft-spoken and cares deeply for his family no matter the circumstances. Hill is slowly but surely growing into the young man who may one day become the leader of a new Jedi Order.
Though very little is known about Skywalker's endeavors since the destruction of the second Death Star, we do know that he's now essentially a hermit on an island in the middle of an ocean. Hopefully Hill has a better future ahead of himself.
Michael Finke -- Rey
Rey is the main protagonist of the new trilogy, just as Finke is probably the best "new" Illini player.
In many scenes throughout The Force Awakens it's suggested that Rey is related to another very prominent Star Wars character; Finke's lineage runs deep, too, as his father, Jeff, played basketball and football for the Illini. Our two beloved characters are quick learners in the ways of the Force, as Michael has been required to fill a much larger role than originally anticipated. Finke had a lot of training coming into the 2015-16 season due to his redshirt year, just as there's speculation that Rey may have had some sort of Jedi training as a child.
Leron Black -- Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader
This one is more of a reputation call than anything else. Black is known for his aggressive style of play and has been known to show a little bit of his 'dark side' during games. He is an extremely strong and effective player, and, much like the Sith lord, has his way with whomever he's playing against. He's detested by every player who guards him and his physical play gets under the skin of opposing teams and coaches. Both Vader and Black have the ability to strike fear into the opposition and, while neither are intentionally the way they are, they've done things in the past that have made people hate them for it.
Tracy Abrams -- Yoda
No, Abrams isn't green or three feet tall, but he has been in Champaign for about 1000 years and he shares several qualities with the Jedi master. Abrams, like Yoda, is one of the leaders of his team and his contributions are immeasurable. He has seen a lot of basketball over the years and due to recent injuries has had a lot of time to sit and reflect on the X's and O's of the game.
Hopefully Tracy has spent some time in the swamps of Dagobah these past two seasons to help hone in his Jedi basketball training.
Maverick Morgan -- Chewbacca
We'll start with the obvious physical similarities. Though Morgan doesn't quite have Chewie's iconic hair, they're both huge presences that use height, mobility, and strength to their advantage. Are you telling me you wouldn't want a Wookie as your starting center? Like Chewbacca, Morgan isn't always playing a major role in the grand scheme of things, but their contributions are much needed and appreciated by their companions.
I'd love to hear Maverick let out a good in-game Wookie roar.
Mike Thorne Jr. -- Finn
FN-2187 (aka Finn) is a stormtrooper who defected from the First Order; though it was far from his primary goal, he ended up aiding the Resistance in their fight against the bad guys. You might call him a transfer! Thorne, has defected from one program to another in hopes of helping his new teammates succeed just like Finn did. Although knee injuries have hampered his Illini career, Thorne's never-say-die attitude and mental toughness would make him a great Resistance fighter.
The long-term statuses of Thorne (knee) and Finn (multiple lightsaber wounds) are currently unknown.
Khalid Lewis -- Boba Fett
One of the coolest characters in the Star Wars universe transmitted his swag to Illini backup point-guard Khalid Lewis, who now dons a LeBron James-esque headband during games. Both were guns for hire; John Groce desperately needed a point guard, and the Empire desperately needed a bounty hunter to help track down Han Solo.
Let's just hope that Khalid's fate doesn't rest at the bottom of a Sarlacc pit.
D.J. Williams & Aaron Jordan -- Captain Phasma
Even though Captain Phasma is just one person -- and a female -- the similarities to Illini freshmen D.J. Williams and Aaron Jordan are clear. All three of these characters were hyped up in their trailer debuts (Williams came from Simeon and Jordan was a four-star recruit), but none of them really delivered on that promise in their first go-around.
Phasma's lack of screen time hurt her character development, but it's been confirmed that she'll be playing a larger role going forward. Hopefully the same will be true for Williams and Jordan.
Mike LaTulip -- Lando Calrissian
Being some of the older cast members, both Lando and LaTulip are charismatic fan-favorites. Though their allegiances were, at times, questioned (initial reaction of LaTulip's ongoing redshift/transfer and Calrissian's betrayal in The Empire Strikes Back), but their overall contributions make it easy to see why they're definitely good guys.
John Groce -- The Emperor
Didn't think I'd go here, did ya?
Chancellor Palpatine was a rising star in the Galactic Senate throughout the prequels, much like Groce in his inaugural season in Champaign. Many people adored both of these leaders at the beginning of their reigns, but things slowly went south and soon enough people -- and Rodians -- were calling for their heads. The Republic crumbled just a few years after Palpatine took power. Do I even need to tell you how the Illinois basketball team is doing right now?
Have some thoughts about which Illini players should've been matched up with which Star Wars characters? Agree? Disagree? Drop by in the comments section below and let us know!