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Oh, What Could’ve Been

March 8, 2020 was a different world.

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

How could you not be romantic about March 8, 2020?

As I was putting together our “How to Watch” article for Friday night’s game against Iowa, I came across TCR’s recap from last year’s matchup with the Hawkeyes. Not going to lie, it hit me a bit. So much so, I chose to use the same article picture in that one for this one.

We all know what happened. Da’Monte got into it; Kipper played his second-best game against Iowa he’s ever played; and Kofi rejected Luka. All in front of a sold-out orange-clad crowd at State Farm Center.

“This is what Illinois Basketball is to me,” said head coach Brad Underwood after the 78-76 win. “I’m the biggest advocate for student involvement. I hope some young kid wants to come to the University of Illinois because of something that happened today. Truly one of the best home courts in the country.”

There was literally no way to know what was to come back on that Sunday night, but this quote from Brad strikes a chord with me, a young adult and Illinois alum. Over the past 11 months, everything we know about home-court advantage has gone away. Instead of playing a top-20 midseason Friday night matchup in front of 15,000 fans who want to behead Fran McCaffery, a couple dozen journalists and event staff will be on hand?

We’ve all had time to reflect on the season we wished the Illini could have had last year. While Andres Feliz and Kipper never got their shot at the tourney, Ayo and Kofi did return, and the Illini are well on their way to the big dance this year, so at some point, you just come to terms with the situation and move on.

But, in so many ways, it’s hard to move on from March 8. While I wasn’t physically in the building that night, I know dozens of people who were, and I can only imagine what the energy was like as the final buzzer hit. And having been in that building for dozens of games over my four years at Illinois, I know the power that can have in forming those bonds for life and a love of the Illini. So when Brad says he hopes some young kid comes to the University because of that game, he’s not lying.

So what’s the point here?

Well, I think we could still see the Illini and the Hawkeyes get into it on Friday night. We’ve already seen Illinois and Penn State have a few near-brawls, so amp that intensity up a bit and it could get nasty.

But that’s not it. With the week of March 9, 2020, being the one where the world forever changed, I kind of view that time as Before Kofi’s Block (BKB) and After Kofi’s Block (AKB).

In BKB, there’s hope. There’s excitement. There’s a sense of community. And there’s a desire to look ahead.

In AKB, there’s resiliency. There’s anticipation. There’s — to be honest — a stronger sense of community, even as we’re apart. And, of course, there’s a desire to look ahead.

Come Friday night, it’s been 327 days since that game. And while we likely won’t one day look back at January 29, 2021, the same way we do March 8, 2020, nobody will complain if the Illini knock off the Hawkeyes again — even in front of an empty arena.

And, hey, maybe it will inspire a young kid to want to be an Illini, so one day they could join Orange Krush and experience their own March 8.