Gordon-hating over, it is time for Illini faithful to support their team

By Jeremy Werner

This was it, what all Illinois fans were waiting for.

ESPN gave the anticipated showdown between Illinois and Indiana a primetime slot during its “rivalry week.” Even “Around the Horn” guest and Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti decided to show up.

And oh, what a spectacle it was.

Eric Gordon came into the Assembly Hall on Thursday night with a heavy load on his shoulders, but he leaves Champaign victorious.

Although it was a heartbreaking loss to the most hated of rivals, it is time for Illini fans to move on.

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Gordon made a mistake verbally committing to Illinois before he really knew where he wanted to play for his one-year audition for the NBA.

But, in all fairness, Indiana University just made sense for the young phenom.

When rule-breaking head coach Kelvin Sampson replaced Mike Davis in 2006, he quickly appointed Gordon’s former AAU coach and his father’s former college coach to the Hoosier coaching staff.

Gordon went to North Central High School in Indianapolis just about 70 miles away from Indiana’s Bloomington campus. It’s a safe bet that most of those around him grew up Hoosier fans and urged the 6-foot-4 guard to save the then-struggling Indiana program – which he has done for at least one season.

Illinois fans had the right to be angry. When Gordon made a verbal commitment to the Illini, it gave Champaign its highest-rated recruit since Dee Brown and returned hope to Illini Nation that the program would remain one of the nation’s elite.

But that hope was shattered when Gordon showed up to Indiana’s Midnight Madness wearing crimson just about a week before national signing day in 2007. He would go on to sign with the Hoosiers.

Weber said it was just another Big Ten game, which he has to say, but the decommitment surely still stings. Weber has been unable to recover after he lost his prized recruit.

After a disappointing recruiting haul in 2006 – Richard Semrau and Brian Carlwell – following the Illini’s NCAA championship game appearance in 2005, Weber needed a top-notch recruit to quiet talks that his recruiting savvy was not up to par.

Although the class of 2007 was deep, Gordon would have made it one of the nation’s best. With Demetri McCamey, the two could have combined for one of the Big Ten’s best 1-2 guard combos. The Illini’s disappointing season would look much different if Gordon would have signed on the dotted line and brought his Big Ten leading 21.8 points per game to Champaign’s Assembly Hall.

Most of the Illinois players also said the game was just another tough Big Ten matchup this past week, but Chester Frazier’s pregame shove to a surprised Gordon suggests otherwise.

Thursday night was a therapy session for all Illini fans. The reigns of boos, “liar” chants and “(insert expletive) you, Gordon!” gave the Illini faithful a release for frustrations that had boiled for nearly a year.

Hopefully everyone feels better because unless the Illini run into the Hoosiers during the Big Ten tournament, Illinois basketball will never see Champaign’s most wanted man again – unless they watch some of Gordon’s NBA games.

The Orange Krush gave its loudest and rowdiest performance of the season Thursday night, but it is sad to see that this kind of incident was what the “nation’s best student section” needed to get enthused for a basketball game at Assembly Hall.

The Illini have been struggling, but aren’t about half of you Illini fans also fans of the Chicago Cubs, a team affectionately called “lovable losers”?

Weber has done his best to recover with verbal commitments from four top junior recruits and two of the top in-state sophomore prospects.

Now, it is time for Illini fans to start supporting Illinois basketball more than hating Indiana basketball. They need it now more than ever.

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