Wright idea gone crazy

By BobLa Gesse

Over the weekend, Illinois basketball fans decided the basketball season had already begun.

The fans lined up in the elements waiting for a basketball event. The fans had organized cheers. The fans made banners.

The only thing is, basketball season doesn’t start for two and a half months. And the fans turned the Ubben practice facility into Assembly Hall.

For a high school basketball player.

Illinois basketball fans try to do their part to help Illinois basketball land any recruit they can. This is one of the strangest phenomena ever. Someone co-eds and elderly locals have never met – who may spurn Illinois for a hated rival – is treated like a basketball version of the Beatles. Say something negative about either and someone next to you will berate you for it.

The high schooler that got the rock-star treatment Saturday is named Julian Wright – but this is not the first time it has happened. Any time a recruit has been on campus in the last year the fans have migrated to Ubben.

Wright is a top 10 basketball player in the country from the Chicago suburbs. Shaun Livingston was the star Illinois tried to recruit last year. This year it is Wright. He has narrowed his list of college choices down to Illinois, Arizona and DePaul. He has recruiting experts and coaches drooling over his every move.

And now I guess he has fans doing it as well.

Over 50 people were lined up to watch the scrimmage half an hour before the doors of Ubben even opened. Once the fans stormed through the doors they still had to wait more than an hour before they even caught a glimpse of Wright.

Why would fans do this?

Because you “got to support the team” as David Puddy once put it in a “Seinfeld” episode when he was asked why he painted his face before an NHL playoff game.

“I’m a big fan of the basketball team,” said Tommy Mitchell, a junior in FAA. “I just want to do whatever I can to help out. I’m obviously not a good basketball player, and this is what I can do to help the team.”

If the Orange Krush took Puddy’s course in fan rowdiness they wouldn’t even need to study. Illini Pride spent hours making banners to hang all over the court. One was a jigsaw puzzle with Wright being the one piece that connected to everyone else. The headline read: Building a dynasty one piece at a time.

Students stood on the floor and watched. Locals were all across the balcony. No matter where they stood though, the fans screamed like teenage girls at a boy band concert. If Wright had stretched in public, the fans would have given him a standing ovation for bending over and touching his toes.

And the fans weren’t done yet. They turned the ‘ILL’-‘INI’ chant into ‘JUL’-‘IAN.’ They even chanted for Wright’s mom, Gina.

Doing everything to sell Illinois to a recruit on a visit is something the coaching staff and players are expected to do. I’m still not sure if fans doing the same thing means they are dedicated or they need help for an unhealthy obsession.

Once the scrimmage ended, almost every single student in attendance went up to Wright and shook his hand. Some were dedicated fans. They said “I hope you come to Illinois” or told Julian to “have fun while in Champaign.”

Others, though, were trying too hard to impress Wright. They made cute puns when talking to him. One girl told Julian to make the “Wright” decision. Groups of fans got together to get their picture taken with Wright. How fast will it take for those kids to tear that snapshot up if Wright goes to Arizona?

Then there is the group that shows up because people told them too. One 40-something man stood behind me and asked the guy next to him who it was that everyone was watching. The other guy said he didn’t know. They both talked about how they had to come and get a glimpse of the kid they wouldn’t even know if he stood next to them.

With fans cheering and not even knowing why, it is no wonder Assembly Hall is so tough to play in.

Bobby La Gesse is a senior in communications. He can be reached at [email protected]