Hi TCR readers, I’m Quentin. If we haven’t met before, I’m the stats guy. I usually write about things like effective field goal percentage and free throw rate. But that’s not what I’m writing about tonight. Instead, I’m here to tell you about my experience as an Illini fan.
You see, I’m young. I’ve been an Illini fan for as long as I can remember... but I don’t remember any great Illinois basketball teams. I wasn’t alive to witness the Flyin’ Illini in 1989. I was just a toddler when Frank Williams dominated the Big Ten in 2001. I don’t even have any memories of the run to the national championship game in 2005. In fact, my first distinct memory of Illinois basketball is the streak of eight consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances coming to an end in 2008. I think that right there encapsulates my experience as an Illinois basketball fan.
Now, that’s not to say I don’t have any good Illinois basketball memories. I remember Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis, and Mike Tisdale leading the Illini to a 5 seed in 2009. Then they lost to Western Kentucky in the first round. I remember Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson taking Illinois to the NCAA tournament — and even winning a game! — in John Groce’s first year in 2013. Then they lost a heartbreaker to Miami after a call so bad the NCAA changed the rules because of it. I remember Malcolm Hill kissing Lou Henson Court after a win over MSU on his senior night — a win that put the Illini squarely on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. Then they lost to a Rutgers team that had won just five conference games in three years.
All I’ve known as an Illinois basketball fan is disappointment. But what made everything even more disappointing is that I always knew what Illinois basketball could be. I’d heard lots of stories from friends and family about when Illinois basketball was ILLINOIS BASKETBALL. Stories about Nick Anderson and Kenny Battle terrorizing rims in 1989. Stories about losing just two home games in five years. Stories about Painting the Hall Orange in 04-05.
Those stories just never felt real to me. And I think it’s the same way that my grandparents’ stories about gas costing thirty cents a gallon never felt real to me. I know that it happened, but I can’t imagine living in that world.
Last night, I was living in that world. And ILLINOIS BASKETBALL is real to me now. In a few decades, I’ll be the one telling stories about the time Illinois ran the 2nd-ranked team in the country off its own floor, despite being without the best guard in the country.
I just hope Illinois basketball gives me a few more stories to tell.