When it comes to the great Illini moments of the 2017-18 seasons, the first one that comes to my mind had no bearing on the season. It had no bearing on the future. However, it did have an impact on me.
The date was December 30, 2017. The venue was the State Farm Center. The task at hand was to take down the Grand Canyon Antelopes.
Following a five-point halftime deficit, the Illini had to find a way to muster a second-half comeback. Sitting at 9-5 on the season, Illinois still very much had NCAA Tournament aspirations, but a loss to Grand Canyon would make the climb to the Round of 64 infinitely more difficult.
It seemed in their matchup that the Illini had no answer for Keonta Vernon. I still remember the put back dunk that Oscar Frayer hit. The entire State Farm Center cheered, as we should have, for that magnificent play. I still feel bad for Kipper Nichols.
In the second half, the Illini shined. Outscoring Grand Canyon 35-26, the Illini would eventually go on to win 62-58. Learn Black played out of this world, scoring 20 while grabbing 11 boards. Trent Frazier scored 14, and future Grand Canyon star Michael Finke added another 9.
Oh, and Da’Monte Williams did some things.
The win, however, is not why this sticks out to me as my memorable moment in the past year for Illinois sports. The Illini’s record of 14-18 — no offense — does not really give a lot to define as great. I understand this is a process and I trust Coach Underwood and this staff through this process, but this past basketball season was an exercise in misery for most.
Yet, this Grand Canyon game will stand out to me for the simple reason that it isn’t always what you are doing — but who you are doing it with — that makes things matter most.
Every Christmas, I try to find something for my dad and I to do together. Growing up, he was a contractor and a business owner, so time spent together, especially on the weekends, was at times minimal. That is no knock on my father. He did what he had to do to support and provide for his family.
As I have grown older, I have begun to look for ways to spend time together as opposed to a Christmas gift. This year, I chose an Illinois basketball game.
Growing up, my dad instilled a love for Illinois Athletics in me. I remember watching the MicronPC.com Bowl with my dad, probably one of the first college football games I remember. Then the Sugar Bowl.
I remember watching the Illini in the NCAA Tournament through the Lon Kruger and Bill Self eras. I remember going to a local sports bar with him to watch opening NCAA Tournament rounds and eating until we needed bigger pants.
He taught me how to love the Illini, and I get to blame him for my recent misery and eventually celebrate with him when the Illini continue to improve on paper, on the court, on the field and in recruiting.
We spent the day enjoying the Grand Canyon game, we walked through the Legacy Club. I worked with Kent Brown, Assistant AD for Illinois, to get a picture with my dad before the game at half court. Truth be told, Kent didn’t have to help me with this request. Yet, he did. This is something I will never forget and will always cherish.
My favorite moment is not based on some dramatic win or a program-changing recruit, but solely on spending the day with my dad at an Illini game. As a new father, this is what matters to me: simple time together, laughing, eating and debating in the car what it will take to bring relevancy back to Champaign.
Take time to be a parent, a child, a sibling. Make memories. There is no better time than now.