Senior Night game not just for players

By Lucas Deal

Tonight is Senior Night. For Warren Carter, Marcus Arnold and Rich McBride, tonight’s men’s basketball game against Michigan will be the last time they ever step foot into the Assembly Hall as players in a regular season game.

It will be the last time they will ever feel the rush of running out onto the court to see more than 16,000 screaming fans chanting their names.

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It will be the last time they will ever have the privilege of being introduced by PA announcer Jim Sheppard; a favorite of all three players.

It will be the last time they will ever play in front of the Orange Krush; the last time they will ever “wow” the student section.

As players, it will be the last time they will ever be able to gaze at the “Final Four 2005” banner they helped win.

It will be emotional; it will be a blur.

And yet, Carter, Arnold and McBride will not be the only Illini experiencing the emotional roller coaster of Senior Night this evening.

As students and fans, we’ve got to deal with it, too.

I’m a senior, and I’ve attended more than 60 Illini games since moving into PAR my freshman year. Unlike most students, I was an avid Illini supporter long before my arrival here, so going to my first Illini game as a student was like an unofficial baptism into Illini Nation.

I’d been cheering for the Orange and Blue for several years, but I didn’t really feel like I was truly part of the action until I trucked up to my seats in Section C-38 to see the Illini wipe the floor with Mercer on Nov. 26, 2003.

It’s been a great ride ever since.

We’ve had two undisputed Big Ten regular season championships, a Big Ten Tournament Championship, two NBA first-round picks, five NBA players and, of course, the winningest season in Illinois history with the 2005 Final Four run.

Heck, I’ve even seen the Cardinals win a World Series and play in a pair; the Bears have made the Super Bowl and the Bulls have found the playoffs twice. Since I hit Champaign, my sports teams have made an incredible run.

But all good things must come to an end, and tonight’s game will begin the dramatic conclusion of my life as a college sports fan. Whether this team dances or not, by the end of March I’ll never watch the Illini as a student again.

That chapter of my life will be over.

That’s why tonight I’m taking it all in; The stadium, the atmosphere, the experience; I want to remember all of it.

I once heard that during Super Bowl week most players become so overwhelmed by the game and its hoopla that they never really have the chance to actually take a step back and enjoy it. As a result, some former participants have said that once the game starts, it’s good to pick one specific moment to simply take it all in. It can be two seconds or 15, just long enough to take a mental picture or form a memory you can keep forever.

That’s what I’m going to do tonight. At some point, among all the hysteria surrounding the Chief’s final dance, the celebration of our seniors and the actual game, I plan to single out one moment and take note of it and remember it forever.

I want to look back in 10 years and actually remember tonight – not just say I did.

So, seniors, whether you’re playing (Warren, Marcus, Rich) or simply watching (the rest of us), I suggest you do your best to enjoy the game and have a good time. And remember, after you walk out of the Assembly Hall tonight, going back in will never be the same.

Tonight is our last chance to watch this team at home as students. Let’s enjoy it.

Lucas Deal is a senior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]