Columnist says his farewells to Illini

By Kevin Spitz

Tonight the Illinois men’s basketball team plays Michigan State at the Assembly Hall. On Saturday, Illinois will host Minnesota. And just like that this forgettable Big Ten regular season will be over.

Is this the way I wanted to go out?

No, of course not.

I thought that the 2004-05 Final Four appearance could have been the spark that finally ignited Illinois into the elite program I knew they could become. Instead, three years later, I end my student career watching them win less than 50 percent of their games at the Assembly Hall.

As a season ticket holder, I have seen some of the most exciting games every played by the Fighting Illini. In 2004-05, games against Wake Forest, Wisconsin and Iowa stand out in my mind. My sophomore year, I will never forget Dee Brown single-handedly taking out Michigan State at the Hall. Last year, wins against Indiana and Michigan State again felt so good.

So it is with sadness that I bid the Assembly Hall farewell like this. But, as I embark on adulthood and the chance to see the Illini through the eyes of an alumnus, I want to bestow a few words to thy happy children of the future.

First off, college basketball is a game of momentum. How many times do you see a team down 10 in the second half come back to win the game because they got going?

Sometimes, especially at home, players feed off the fans’ energy to get momentum or to regain lost momentum. Sadly, I don’t feel as if the Assembly Hall has been this momentum builder for the Illini since my freshman year.

When Illinois plays well, fans certainly respond. They stand and holler, but when Illinois is in a funk that support just isn’t there. The one game that even compares with the 2004-05 season in fan support is this year’s Indiana game. Regardless of what others say about how fans acted in that game, it once again felt like the Hall was alive.

I remember Illinois’ first loss in 33 games against Penn State in 2006. It was one of those games where I felt the fans had lost it for the Illini. It was a Saturday night game, presumably an easy win against a soft Penn State team, and not only did the Illini coast, but the fans did too.

Even with the game on the line, I didn’t think Illini faithful fully comprehended what they were about to see.

Some people think Assembly Hall is one of the most daunting places to play in the country.

That can certainly be the case, and it has been in the past.

But remember going into the future that fan reaction is what makes the Assembly Hall what it is.

Also, to those fans who will remain in Champaign-Urbana in the years to come, do not fret about the state of the team.

College programs ebb and flow, and this is just a case where things did not line up well for the Illini.

This season has many parallels to the 1998-99 season – young talent coupled with some close losses.

And everyone knows after that season Illinois went on a tear to return to the top of the NCAA.

With the players the Illini have right now, and who is coming in the near future, I’d be very surprised if I didn’t see Illinois back at the top of the Big Ten in two years.

If you look around the nation at other top institutions, you realize that bad seasons happen.

For instance, take a look at Kentucky.

Kentucky has been one of the best programs in the nation for decades, but during that time they have had some terrible seasons as well.

The same goes for other storied programs like North Carolina and UCLA.

So, as sad as I am to have to leave Illinois at this point for the program, I know that good times are once again just around the corner.

Free Throws

I have taken a lot of heat from people who think I should put my money where my mouth is and shoot free throws myself.

The best part is that once I shot, I wouldn’t have to pay myself.

Well, it turns out I picked the wrong week to try to beat the Illini.

They played one game last week against Iowa, and they shot 84.2 percent from the free-throw line. Amazing job, Illini!

I, on the other hand, only shot 5-of-10.

A decent showing for someone who played on an intramural team that lost every game by the slaughter rule.

If you want in on the final week of my contest, shoot me an e-mail.

Just don’t brick it.

Kevin Spitz is a senior in Engineering. He can be reached at [email protected]