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Terrence Shannon Jr. is who we thought he was

The Chicago native has brought star power and memories to a crazy season.

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

Anyone who knows me knows I am a big fan of a good coach explosion. From John Chaney threatening John Calipari to Mike Gundy telling us his age, a hilarious coaching moment will keep me unnecessarily entertained for years.

One of my all-time favorites is former Northwestern head man Dennis Green’s famous diatribe about the Chicago Bears.

Terrence Shannon Jr. is exactly who we thought he was. And he demonstrated his preternatural ceiling on Thursday night in Champaign as he led an electrifying Illini comeback against Northwestern.

Just a reminder, Evanston is not Chicago.

But Terrence Shannon’s game sure is. Granted, Shannon is the only native Chicagoan scholarship player on the Illini roster. But he brought the whole Chicago toolbox with him to the State Farm Center and showed out against a ranked Northwestern squad having an excellent season under Chris Collins.

He brought the toughness.

Shannon didn’t have to grab his lunch pail and head to work. He was/is recovering from a concussion. Everyone (every non-meatball) would have understood if he sat out this game, no matter how crucial it may have seemed. But he played with a grit and unwillingness to be defeated that Bears fans still reference about 1985.

He brought the intensity.

He shook off a poor first half. He aggressively took the fight to a Northwestern team whose future all-conference guard Boo Buie had torched the Illini in the first half as though he were the lovechild of Trayce Jackson-Davis’ game in Bloomington and both of Jalen Pickett’s games against Illinois this season. But Terrence Shannon put his own future all-conference stock elevator in motion with a 24-point second half performance.

He brought the starpower.

Chicago is known for producing players who not only put up numbers, but do so with a certain flair. Shannon’s flair is a mix of freakish athleticism and a big case of that dawg. He’s not the prospect Derrick Rose was. He’s not the sleeper Dwayne Wade was. He’s not the stray star Jabari Parker was. But he’s the punisher the Illini needed down the stretch.

This Illini team has been difficult to figure out. In recent years, there was a lot of “hero ball.” Well, that’s what happens when you have a pair of First-Team All-Americans. That’s clearly not what Coach Underwood had in mind. But when Chin Coleman and Orlando Antigua were able to leverage relationships into Ayo and Kofi, how was he going to refuse?

The current roster, with its versatility, length, switchability, and toughness, is widely considered to be the kind of roster Underwood wanted. And it has been a roller coaster.

This season has been like that 1990s classic Bittersweet Symphony by The Verve.

The line that always jumped out at me was “I’m a million different people from one day to the next.”

While I don’t take the line literally, I think this Illinois roster is similarly confounding.

Northwestern v Illinois Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

They forget how to hit shots. They put the ball in non-shooters hands at the end of the shot clock. Some players play tons of minutes and pass on lots of open shots. But other times, they go on colossal heaters that make the Illini look like a team with top-10 potential.

This team is puzzling, but the most recent Northwestern game and the UCLA game are signs that Illinois does have the kind of player who can carry them in March. With Shannon’s explosiveness, Mayer’s shooting and rim protection, and an expanded role for Ty Rodgers, it could be a pretty deadly combination for a team that has pieces like Dain Dainja in the post, Coleman Hawkins as a point forward, Jayden Epps as a bucket-getting tour de force, and the chaotic energy of Sencire Harris.

Northwestern v Illinois Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

There is also the “what will we get from Goode and Melendez?” question, but a healthy Shannon and an emerging Rodgers make that a slightly less important question.

In what will likely be his only season in Champaign, Terrence Shannon Jr. has given Illini fans some amazing memories. He’s shown that he is worth the effort that two different staffs put significant resources into recruiting. He’s a kid from Chicago with Final Four pedigree who is putting on for his home state.

Enjoy these moments while you have them.