There’s a little bit of Giorgi Bezhanishvili in all of us.
Likely through watching your beloved Illinois Fighting Illini sports teams, at some point those game-watching experiences inevitably bring you back to some memories of your own time at the U of I deep in the cornfields of Champaign-Urbana,
Illinois is a good school. A serious school. Illini fans take pride in it. We know the rigors of the process just to get admitted, and also the rigors of how to sustain that success once there. Illinois athletics, for better in most cases and in some cases for worse, turns down a lot of good prospective athletes because the admissions committee does not believe they’d be successful.
No matter how studious or hyper-focused workers and learners we might be, whether it’s in engineering or journalism or law or medicine or anything else, and no matter how seriously some of us took our four years and more at U of I — there’s always a part of us that wants to throw everything up in the air and just say “fu** it”, let’s just have fun.
At Illinois, we do both. We are the kings and queens of the balance: Top notch academic reputation as one of top public state schools in the country, and yet we are always recognized as one of the biggest party schools in one of the best college towns in America.
Giorgi’s approach to being an Illinois basketball player and how he carried himself while wearing the orange and blue embodies the U of I spirit many of us share.
He was an absolute killer at times. Remember the game his freshman year against Rutgers? He set the freshman record for points in a game with 35, and the Illini needed all of those points to beat the Scarlet Knights at home 99-94 in overtime. He was accurate and efficient, making 14 of his 18 field goal attempts and adding 7 of 8 from the free throw line. He had just 1 turnover. That was one of those games Giorgi had Illini fans saying, “Wow. What a performance.” We’re not an easily impressed group, either.
But Giorgi was also a kid at times in large person’s body.
When I was a senior in high school, every student in my grade was required to submit to the yearbook committee an entire 8.5/11 inch page that would go in the yearbook as each student’s ‘senior page.’ Most students presented a collage of photos: Pictures of their family, friends, photos taken at our high school, pictures of awards they had won, sports they were in, copies of drawings they had made in art class, anything really. What did my senior page consist of? A large photo of me, in a white shirt, lying down face up on my back, huge smile on my face, covered in dirt, with this block quote at the bottom of the page:
“I just love that spirit that makes people do things they probably shouldn’t.” — Johnny Knoxville
That’s it. That was all. Through all the challenges and intensity of my own high school experience, that was the message I wanted to send as I left my bubble.
Giorgi understands that spirit and lives it. We saw it with our own eyes, and none of us (except maybe Coach Underwood) was all that disappointed by it.
That picture was taken just three days after the Illinutgers game in which Giorgi announced himself to the world as a player you never want to mess with. At Illinois, we succeed in the classroom and on the court... and we also, sometimes, just maybe succumb to the words of Johnny Knoxville. A lot of us, perhaps all of us, have memories of doing some pretty dubious things in college. That’s part of the experience.
The Rutgers game was the peak of Giorgi’s basketball time here at Illinois, but he did have many other great games that season, including a 26-point showing against Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament.
Life is too short to not let loose and enjoy the ride. Even the most consistent and hard working among us knows that we are much better at our jobs when we are happy and feeling well mentally and emotionally. Whether it’s a few hours on the weekend having a beer or spending time with family or playing video games or it could be a countless amount of ways of escape, we come back to work better because we’ve had the chance to just enjoy ourselves for even a little bit.
Giorgi brought that approach to the cut-throat Big Ten. And really, it was great. It was so great. It was amazing.
So as the great Bill Walton would say, what’s that guy’s name?
It’s Giorgi B.