IU’s Gordon spurs rivalry between neighbors in Big Ten

By Jeremy Werner

North Carolina has Duke. Kentucky has Louisville. Kansas has Missouri. Now, Illinois has Indiana.

Despite a decade of excellence and a great history on the basketball court, Illinois has failed to develop an opponent it can callously call “rival.”

Indiana-Illinois seems like a natural rivalry. The states share a border, and the campuses are separated by about a three-hour drive. Plus, both schools have elite basketball programs.

The schools just had not had bad blood between one another. Then Eric Gordon chose Indiana.

The former high-school standout reneged on his oral commitment to the Fighting Illini in 2006 without even telling Bruce Weber. Gordon showed up to Indiana’s first practice last season wearing a crimson warm-up shirt to announce his intentions to sign on with head coach Kelvin Sampson and the Hoosiers.

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That ignited the fire of hatred from Illini fans for Gordon, the Hoosiers and Sampson, who has violated NCAA recruiting regulations not once, but twice.

The Gordon controversy gained national attention. Shaun Pruitt and Indiana’s preseason All-American D.J. White graced the regional cover of Sports Illustrated’s college basketball preview in November under the headline “Rivalry!”

The increased intensity between the two clubs was prevalent at the Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind., Sunday afternoon as No. 10 Indiana narrowly defeated Illinois 62-58. Indiana fans, probably surprised at Illinois’ competitiveness, were rowdy and deafening.

Their number one target for the game was Weber. They jeered him while he talked to refs saying, “Sit down, Weber” and “Shut up, Weber.” They even mocked him chanting, “We got Gordon!”

The players seemed to give a little extra, as well. Pruitt and Indiana forward DeAndre Thomas were both given technical fouls after exchanging blows fighting for a loose ball in the first half. Indiana guard A.J. Ratliff clocked Calvin Brock on a layup attempt and should have been called for a flagrant. In total, 40 fouls were called.

Trent Meacham said Gordon gave the team a challenge.

“Anytime you face a player that good you want to shut him down it doesn’t matter if he committed here or not,” Meacham said.

Even though Gordon will likely leave after one season at IU and become a top-10 pick in the NBA draft, the loathing he has stirred in Illini nation will not go away after his departure.

All Illinois fans should have Feb. 7 circled on their calendars for when Sampson, Gordon and the Hoosiers come to Illinois’ Assembly Hall.

The game will likely be the most meaningful in the middle of a disappointing season for the Illini. Then, we will see if Illini fans’ retaliation can “Krush” Gordon.

Jeremy Werner is a junior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected].