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2017-2018 Illini Athletics Superlatives

Here’s a few high school yearbook-type awards for your most recent Fighting Illini season. Enjoy.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Iowa vs Illinois Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Best Play of the year: Tito Odenigbo

Oh yeah, I know you remember this. I’ll just leave the link to the video here and let you cackle like I did for 10 minutes straight after I saw it happen.

Most likely to make the Sweet 16, like, every year: Volleyball

It’s no secret that Illinois volleyball is legit. When you have players like Beth Prince, Jordyn Poulter, and a senior Brandi Donnelly leading the way, anything is possible. Let’s not forget that this was coach Chris Tamas’ first season, and it’s fairly impressive that he was able to lead the women’s team to the Sweet 16 once again. Illinois volleyball continues to be a bright spot at a University where many teams are rebuilding, and each and every year they seem to get the job done at Huff Hall. If you’re a current student and you haven’t been going to volleyball games on campus, rethink your life decisions.

Most likely to play Benedict Arnold in HBO’s ‘Turn’: Mark Smith

Okay, okay. Enough about Mark Smith being soft. It’s not everyday that Mr. Illinois basketball commits to Illinois, has a disappointing season, and then bolts to the opposing team in a great college basketball rivalry. If anything, this is the best thing to happen to Illinois athletics since Brad Underwood and Lovie Smith were hired. As if Tilmon jumping ship to Cuonzo and the ‘Zou wasn’t enough, now Smith will just make the annual Braggin’ Rights game that much more sweet. I hope that Tilmon stays for the 2019-2020 season, because I am going to get front row tickets for that one.

Best guy/girl to take home to your parents: Isaiah Martinez and Jade Hilton

Isaiah Martinez is not only one of the most decorated athletes in Illinois history, he’s also just a good dude. Remember him lambasting Nerdwestern’s wrestling coach for talking smack about Illinois facilities? He bleeds orange and blue and doesn’t care who knows. Martinez will no doubt deservedly go down as one of the greatest athletes in the University of Illinois’ long history, right next to Grange, Butkus and Eddleman.

Jade Hilton is right there with him. She and the women’s tennis team burst onto the scene and have had an incredible season representing Illinois, going 8-2 in the Big Ten (19-3 overall) and showing that there are plenty of sports that the Illini kick ass in. (Jade is also a pretty good singer/guitar player, as if being a D1 athlete wasn’t good enough. Just check the Insta.)

Best (and also worst) Hair: Michael Finke

I’m pretty sad to see Fink3 go, because with some true big men like Samba Kane coming in, I thought a 6’9” guy who could shoot 3s would be potent in Underwood’s offense. Say what you want about him, but I guarantee he would’ve shot better than the 30% mark he hit this past season if he was healthy and there was someone on the team who was taller than him. regardless, you know the transformation he took from the man bun to his dazzling buzz/fade during the season.

It went from this:

To this:

A lot of people liked the bun, but man is he good looking when he doesn’t have it. I hope he doesn’t go to Penn State because I know he will definitely hit a dagger three on us at some point next season.

Honorable mention here: Lovie beard.

Most Likely to make stupid shots: Trent Frazier

Aside from Frazier having one of the best seasons a freshman in Illini history as had, you gotta give the kid credit for some of the baskets he was able to make. Not many guards have the poise to step into long threes in Big Ten play or finish around the rim like he did this past season. The kid oozes confidence, and I love it. He’s pretty much an Illini ambassador and I wish we had more of them. Anyway, the award is for stuff like this:

My favorite part is how he did a little hop as the ball was still in the air, because he knew it was going in. He’s the real deal.

Most Likely to save Illini Athletics: Josh Whitman

Listen, folks, this is going to be a long and drawn-out process. I’m not going to say you need to “trust it” or whatever those horrible fans in Pennsylvania say — because it’s cliche and dumb — but you should have faith in one very impressive man who was put in charge of bringing the Fighting Illini back to their rightful place.

I’m optimistic because I see the trends changing — fans are getting more supportive, recruits are coming, and there is excitement in the air. What better time to be an Illini?

Forget that volleyball and golf are always at the top in the conference; forget that baseball will be looking at a postseason run yet again this year; forget that gymnastics was outstanding again this year. (Don’t actually forget those things...we are really good at those sports.) Imagine what you are seeing take place at the University of Illinois. If basketball and football become relevant again, I’m ready to give Josh Whitman my inheritance.

So, Josh, you are wholly deserving of this award. Keep going, we’re rooting for you. (Also, congrats on the baby.)