Illinois basketball’s massive renovation project at State Farm Center is nearing its stretch run. The athletic department treated fans to yet another photo gallery of the construction on Saturday, giving us behind-the-scenes looks at a few new features in the process.
Included in the new set of 18 pictures was a quick glimpse at the Fighting Illini Basketball Hall of Fame under the West Grand Entrance. Again, the area is still very much in its infancy, but several display cases have already been installed, including one for the 1949-52 squads.
Progress has also been made with the LED Ribbon Boards between the suite level and 200-level; if you attended a game last season, you may recall that this area was simply a huge uncovered slab of concrete.
Lastly, the unfinished locker room was highlighted along with new therapeutic hot tubs and pools in the training room.
Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman previously said the $169.5 million project is on schedule while mentioning that the completed version of the venue will be, "one of the best in college basketball." Illinois’ first home game of the 2016-17 season will be an exhibition against Washington University on October 30.
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"We don’t want to put a number on it, we want to play up to our potential. Our goal is to become Big Ten champions and, when that happens, we’re going to enjoy the journey to accomplish that, but it’s one day at a time. At the end of the year I think we’re going to be satisfied with our run."
Illini commit Mike Epstein had a breakout performance in his first game in almost two years (ACL injury), rushing for 151 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. His long run was 71 yards.
"I've run a lot of NFL practices, and this is no different from that," Smith said. "So I think that's kind of appealing to them, too." Part of that appeal is who Smith draws to campus: more NFL scouts and former players such as longtime Bears cornerback Charles Tillman.
Lovie Smith is making an impact...He has brought instant credibility to the program and professionalism. Plus, Smith has built a good staff that figures to get the most out of the talent at hand. This was one of the more well-organized practices that I have seen on the tour. Very efficient. Not much hitting.