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Illini Athletics 2022: Half-Year-In-Review

It’s been an eventful year. And there’s still six months to go.

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Previously, I’ve waited to review the year of Illinois Fighting Illini sports until year’s end. But with so much activity and so many notable events, I sifted through the archives so you don’t have to! Here are some of the Illini’s most memorable moments of 2022 (so far).

Away we go...

Jan. 4: Men’s basketball returned from a two-week COVID pause in a big way, blowing out the Minnesota Golden Gophers, 76-53, in Minneapolis. Kofi Cockburn dominated the Gophers (again), finishing with 29 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 blocks.

Jan. 6: The Fighting Illini defeated the Maryland Terrapins at State Farm Center, 76-64. Former Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu was in attendance to see his #11 get raised to the rafters, and one of his new Chicago Bulls teammates joined the party:

Jan. 8: One day after offensive coordinator Tony Petersen was fired, Bret Bielema hired UTSA’s Barry Lunney Jr. to the same position. Lunney helped coach the Roadrunners to an upset win at Illinois during the 2021 season.

Jan. 15: Ayo Dosunmu became the first rookie in NBA history to record 20+ points, 10+ assists, and 90% FG shooting in a single game in the Chicago Bulls’ 114-112 loss to the Boston Celtics.

Jan. 17: The Fighting Illini & Purdue Boilermakers played an instant classic in Champaign. Illinois overcame an 11-point halftime defecit to force overtime, thanks in large part to Andre Curbelo, who played in his first game since Nov. 23. The sophomore guard finished with 20 points and six rebounds, while Utah transfer Alfonso Plummer scored 21 of his game-high 24 points after halftime.

Another surprising performance came from redshirt sophomore Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk. BBV filled in for a foul-plagued Kofi Cockburn and energized the Illini defensively.

Despite the Illini’s valiant effort and a spirited home crowd, Purdue was able to pull away in the second OT, winning 96-88.

Jan. 20: A group of Illinois alumni formed a new non-profit, the Illini Guardians Collective, to help promote current Illinois student-athletes through NIL activities.

Jan. 30: Former Fighting Illini pitcher Jeff Innis passed away from cancer at age 59. A Decatur native, Innis played for the New York Mets from 1987-1993, finishing his MLB career with a 10-20 record and a 3.05 ERA.

Feb. 3: Illini football officially welcomed 28 new players on National Signing Day, including Illinois High School Player of the Year, receiver Hank Beatty. The 2022 recruiting class is Illinois’ highest-rated in more than a decade.

Feb. 19: Illinois defeated Michigan State, 79-74, for its first win in East Lansing in seven years.

Kofi Cockburn bullied the Spartans (27 points, 9 rebounds), Jacob Grandison added 24 points on 6-of-10 long range shooting, and Trent Frazier passed Dee Brown for second on Illinois’ all-time three-point list.

Mar. 1: Head coach Mike Small & the Fighting Illini men’s golf team made history by winning the Big Ten Championship for a conference-record seventh straight season. It’s the 19th Big Ten title for Illinois and 12th in the last 13 seasons.

Adrien Dumont de Chassart finished the three-round event in second place, earning a spot on the All-B1G Championship Team.

Mar. 4: Women’s basketball coach Nancy Fahey announced her retirement after five dismal seasons in Champaign. A member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, Fahey won 737 games and five national championships at Division III Washington University in St. Louis, but struggled mightily at Illinois, finishing with a 42-99 overall record (7-77 Big Ten).

Mar. 8: Three men’s basketball players — Kofi Cockburn, Trent Frazier & Alfonso Plummer — were named to the All-Big Ten Team. Cockburn was a unanimous First Team selection, Frazier was a Second Team pick, and Plummer was voted to the Third Team.

Frazier was also voted to the league’s All-Defensive Team for the second consecutive season.

Mar. 11: The Fighting Illini defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes on Senior Day to clinch a share of the program’s first regular-season Big Ten title since 2004-05.

Kofi Cockburn tallied 21 points & 14 rebounds, and the Illini took advantage of Iowa missing 12 of 22 free throw attempts — and Wisconsin losing at home to last-place Nebraska! — to secure the victory and a double-bye in the Big Ten tournament.

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Mar. 11: The top-seeded Illini fell to the Indiana Hoosiers, 65-63, in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. Illinois missed a combined 22 layups, dunks and free throws and was held scoreless in the final five minutes of regulation.

Mar. 13: Illinois was selected as a 4-seed in the 2022 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Mar. 13: Illinois defeated Liberty, 3-2, giving Tyra Perry her 600th career win as a head softball coach, and her 191st with the Illini.

Mar. 15: Center Kofi Cockburn was voted as an AP First Team All-American. Cockburn joins Ayo Dosunmu as the only other Illini to receive AP First Team honors.

Mar. 18: Illinois led for just 25 seconds in their first-round NCAA Tournament game versus Chattanooga, but were ahead when it counted most. Alfonso Plummer made two free throws with 12 seconds left and Coleman Hawkins blocked a last-second shot attempt (pictured below) to lift the Illini to a thrilling 54-53 win.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round - Chattanooga vs Illinois Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Mar. 20: Men’s basketball was eliminated by Houston, 68-53, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. It’s the second straight season that the Illini fail to advance past the first weekend.

Mar. 21: Shauna Green was hired as Illinois’ new women’s head basketball coach. Green spent the previous six seasons at Dayton, where the Flyers reached four NCAA tournaments.

Mar. 23: Head volleyball coach Chris Tamas received a four-year contract extension, keeping him in Champaign through 2026-27. Tamas owns an overall record of 100-52 (.658), including a 59-39 (.602) mark in Big Ten action. He has also coached the Fighting Illini to four NCAA Tournament appearances, including three NCAA Regional appearances and a trip to the Final Four in 2018.

Mar. 28: Andre Curbelo became the first men’s basketball player to enter the transfer portal this offseason. The Puerto Rican point guard averaged 8.5 ppg, 3.8 apg, and 3.6 rpg during his two seasons at Illinois and was the Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year in 2020-21.

Apr. 2: Backup center Omar Payne also announced his intent to transfer. The 6-foot-10 Payne played just one season in Champaign after transferring from Florida, averaging 1.8 ppg and 1.7 rpg.

Apr. 2: Former Fighting Illini women’s head coach Theresa Grentz was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Grentz spent 12 seasons at Illinois (1995-2007), reaching the NCAA Tournament 10 times, including Sweet 16 appearances in 1997 & 1998. She is the program’s all-time wins leader with 210.

Apr. 7: Five-star guard Skyy Clark committed to Brad Underwood & the Fighting Illini (on national television!), becoming the highest-rated signee in the history of the program.

Apr. 10: Longtime Fighting Illini radio broadcaster Jim Turpin passed away at age 90. Turpin called Illinois football & men’s basketball for 42 seasons before retiring in 2002.

Apr. 12: Freshman guard Brandin Podziemski put his name in the transfer portal. The former Wisconsin Mr. Basketball and Top 100 recruit saw limited time in his debut season, playing in just 16 contests and averaging 4.3 minutes per game.

At least we’ll always have this to remember Podz by:

Apr. 20: Kofi Cockburn declared for the 2022 NBA Draft, forgoing his remaining college eligibility.

Apr. 27: Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk also entered the transfer portal. The Belgian backup big (say that five times fast!) took on an increased role in 2021-22, playing in 24 games, averaged 2.1 rebounds while playing just 7.8 minutes per game.

Apr. 29: Brad Underwood got his first impact addition via the portal when Chicago native Terrence Shannon Jr. committed to Illinois after transferring from Texas Tech.

Apr. 29-30: Three Illini were chosen in the 2022 NFL Draft — DB Kerby Joseph went in the third round (#97 overall) to the Detroit Lions, OT Vederian Lowe was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the sixth round (#184), and the Chicago Bears selected center Doug Kramer later in round six (#207).

May 2: After trying to advance the cause for more than a half-decade, Athletic Director Josh Whitman announced Illinois would be ending its efforts to add Division I men’s ice hockey:

After more than five years of extensive evaluation and intense effort to generate interest and support, we have determined that it is not viable to bring Division I men’s ice hockey to the University of Illinois at this time.

Since we began our exploration of hockey years ago, meaningful landscape changes have pushed us to this unfortunate conclusion ... To date, we have been unable to generate the financial support necessary to greenlight the project.

We believe the interest in hockey and the opportunity for the sport to succeed here is very real ... That said, due to other programmatic priorities and needs, we can no longer allocate human and financial resources toward the ongoing pursuit of this project. My heart believes that we can support hockey, but my head tells me it is time to direct our attention elsewhere.

May 3: Former Illini Kevin Anderson announced his retirement from professional tennis. The South Africa native was named First Team All-Big Ten three times, won the Big Ten doubles title in 2006 and was voted Dike Eddleman Male Athlete of the Year in 2007.

As a pro, Anderson won seven ATP Tour events and reached the 2017 U.S. Open & 2018 Wimbledon final.

May 7: Head baseball coach Dan Hartleb notched his 500th career victory with Illinois’ 2-0 win over Miami (Ohio). Hartleb completed his 17th season as head coach in 2022.

May 14: Illini baseball’s Cam McDonald set a new program record by reaching base in his 58th consecutive game.

May 15: Illinois softball is selected to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2019. The Illini received an at-large bid with a 34-20 mark.

May 18: Ayo Dosunmu was named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. It was a fine season for the second-round pick — Seriously, can you name half of the players picked ahead of him? — as Dos averaged 8.8 points, 3.3 assists and 2.8 rebounds in 77 games (40 starts) for the Chicago Bulls.

Chicago Bulls v Milwaukee Bucks - Game Five Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

May 19: The university’s Board of Trustees approved a four-year contract extension for AD Josh Whitman through June 2028.

May 19: Men’s basketball assistants Tim Anderson, Geoff Alexander & Chester Frazier agreed to contract extensions through 2025. The University Board of Trustees also approved another contract extension for head coach Brad Underwood, keeping him in Champaign through 2028.

May 27: Former Baylor forward Matthew Mayer committed to Illinois. The 6-foot-8 forward — and his magnificent mullet — was a key member of the Bears’ 2021 national title team.

May 29: Jacob Grandison withdrew his name from the NBA Draft, leaving open the possibility of returning to Illinois for the 2022-23 season.

(Narrator: He would not.)

May 29: Former Illini pitcher Cody Sedlock made his MLB debut with the Baltimore Orioles. The Sherrard, Ill., native was an All-American for the Illini in 2016, winning Big Ten Pitcher of the Year and setting a school single-season record with 116 strikeouts. Sedlock was picked by Baltimore in the first round (No. 27 overall) that same year.

Jun. 4: Before donning orange & blue, incoming freshman Ty Rodgers represented the red, white & blue of Team USA at the FIBA U18 Americas Championships — and won a gold medal!

Jun. 5: New turf was installed at Memorial Stadium, and it looks amazing.

Jun. 6: Former Illini Zeke Clark won his first professional singles tennis title at the ITF Futures Men’s 15K.

Jun. 10-12: A pair of Illini track & field stars shined at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. Senior Jon Davis scored a First Team All-America finish by placing sixth in the 1500m with a time of 3:46.15. Olivia Howell was named Second Team All-America following a ninth-place finish in the women’s 1500m final (4:12.22).

Jun. 11: Isaiah Martinez was named as an assistant wrestling coach. I-Mar, arguably the most decorated wrestler in Fighting Illini history, was a four-time Big Ten champion, two-time national champ and two-time national runner-up, and finished his career with an astonishing 116-3 record.

Jun. 11: Former Illini guard Trent Frazier inked a two-year professional contract with FMP Meridian in the Basketball League of Serbia.

Jun. 12: The aforementioned Ty Rodgers helped Team USA to a gold medal at the FIBA Americas U18 Championships in Tijuana, Mexico.

The 6-foot-6 forward averaged 5.3 points on 72.2% shooting along with 5.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. Team USA outscored its opponents by an average score of 105-55 during the tournament.

Jun. 13: Current Illinois tight end Luke Ford signed a name, image, and likeness (NIL) deal with WWE.

Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

Per WWE’s website, the “Next In Line” program aims to provide athletes “access to the state-of-the-art WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Fla., in addition to resources across the organization, including brand building, media training...and community relations. Upon completion of the NIL program, select athletes offered a WWE contract.”

Jun. 16: Former Illini running back Reggie Corbin was named to the All-USFL Offense Team. Corbin played 44 games for the Orange & Blue, rushing for 2,361 yards — 12th-most in school history — and 18 TDs.

Jun. 24: The Utah Jazz signed Kofi Cockburn as an undrafted free agent.

Jun. 27: Fighting Illini men’s basketball received a late 2022 commitment from 6-foot-10 French forward Zacharie Perrin, one of the top rising international prospects. Perrin — who doesn’t even turn 18 until August 30 — was the MVP of his pro team, Antibes, in the French Espoirs Pro B League, averaging 21.5 ppg and 10.9 rpg this past season.

Jun. 27: In other Illini-adjacent basketball news, legendary point guard Dee Brown was named new head coach at NAIA Roosevelt University in Chicago. The former Illinois All-American had spent the previous five seasons as an assistant at UIC.

Jun. 27: Ashton Anaya (men’s gymnastics) and Lauren Wiles (softball) were named the 2021-22 Freshmen of the Year.

Anaya claimed a Big Ten championship in Still Rings with a career-high score of 14.375. He followed that performance by being named an NCAA Still-Rings All-American after finishing in fourth place at the 2022 NCAA Championships.

Wiles appeared in 28 games (16 starts) and led all B1G freshmen in ERA (2.72) and batting average against (.236). She recorded 105.2 innings with 92 strikeouts and pitched six complete games, helping lead the Illini to a third-place Big Ten finish and an NCAA Tournament berth.

Jun. 28: Kofi Cockburn & Olivia Howell are honored with the Dike Eddleman Award, given annually to Illinois’ top male and female athletes.

Jun. 28: Men’s gymnastics head coach Justin Spring resigned to join the coaching staff of Alabama’s women’s gymnastics team. Prior to his 12-year coaching career in Champaign, Spring was a 13-time All-American with the Fighting Illini, as well as a bronze medalist at the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Jun. 30: Illini men’s golfers Piercen Hunt & Tommy Kuhl finished first and second, respectively, to qualify for the U.S. Amateur in August.

Jun. 30: Finally, the half-year ended with some pretty B1G news:

Seriously, we could write a dozen articles on this announcement alone — and probably will! — but the additions of UCLA and USC to the Bee-One-Gee is yet another tectonic shift in the power struggle that is major college football. How this affects Illinois long-term remains to be seen. But, hey! At least the Illini have another chance to play in the Rose Bowl!

Whew! What a year it’s been, and we still have six more months to go. Anything you think I left out? Yeah, probably. That’s what the comments are for! See you in December. I-L-L...