Sports column: 100 years, one moment

Daily Illini File Photo

Daily Illini File Photo

By Mike Szwaja

One hundred years of Illini basketball. When you sit back and think to yourself what the world was like 100 years ago, it’s hard to imagine they were playing college basketball back then. I obviously wasn’t there, but I’m sure college basketball wasn’t the cash crop, money-driven entity it is today.

Regardless, I feel lucky to be on this campus to celebrate the Illini basketball centennial. I’m looking forward to the throwback uniforms the guys will sport for one game this season. Am I the only one who thinks they should be replicas of the very first uniforms? How cool would that be?

I’m sure anyone who has ever set foot in Assembly Hall for a basketball game has their favorite Illini basketball moment, and your truly will never forget his.

It was March, 1989. I was a six-year-old who was just learning that sports could be the ultimate form of entertainment. Kenny Battle was flying up and down the court, dunking over opponents and proving to me that Michael Jordan wasn’t the only guy out there who could fly on a basketball court.

Battle was the first college player that I adored. He was exciting, and so was that 1989 team. That team got me hooked on college basketball.

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I remember my father taking me to JC Penny the day after the Illini clinched a spot in the Final Four. He bought me an orange mini-basketball with the Chief on it. He wasn’t one to just buy me something like that. It usually took a few tugs on his pant leg and some pestering, but not that time.

All through March, I would pretend on my mini hoop in the living room – much to the chagrin of my mother – that I was Kenny Battle. The family dog served as my defender, but I never made it look as easy as Battle.

Admittedly, I lost interest in the mediocre early-mid-90’s Illini teams. Neither of my parents went to Illinois, so they didn’t much care either. I wasn’t bred as an Illini fan from the womb.

But that interest peaked again when I decided to come to Illinois. I remember sitting in a hotel room in Phoenix in 2001 watching Illinois play Arizona during my spring break as a high school senior. The fact that I was in Arizona was completely coincidental, but that was one heck of a game – perhaps the most physical basketball game I’ve ever seen, pro or college. And when the Illini lost, it only fueled my excitement heading into my tenure as an Illinois student.

Now, three years later, I’m gearing up for my last basketball season as a student. My memory bank is full of great moments.

The thrashing our boys gave Iowa my freshman year. Frank Williams’ layup my freshman year. Corey Bradford setting the consecutive games with a three pointer record.

92-65 over North Carolina. Enough said.

Brian Cook’s second half from a dream against Michigan. Scoring second row tickets to the Illini’s Big Ten Tournament Championship victory against Ohio State.

Being in the stands to witness Luther Head’s Big Ten Championship-winning put-back at Purdue last season. Watching the Illini pound Cincinnati in a hole-in-the-wall bar in Los Angeles during spring break last year. I’ll never forget any of it.

The perfect way to finish? Let’s see. How about Deron Williams cutting down the final rung in the net in St. Louis?

Mike Szwaja is a senior in communications. He can be reached at [email protected].

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