Flyin’ Illini back, in more ways than one

By BobLa Gesse

This whole Centennial Celebration thingy is about the past.

And it is kind of a shame.

Three-hundred ten former Illini will be returning to their alma mater.

They will have a chance to watch the most entertaining team in college basketball.

But most of the weekend will be spent reliving the past.

And the same will probably be going on during the game.

The quick, athletic, No. 1 ranked Illinois Fighting Illini will be facing Minnesota on the Assembly Hall court Saturday.

In the stands another game will be going on. The Flyin’ Illini vs. the Smilin’ Illini.

People won’t be able to help themselves.

Stories will fly off alumni’s tongues all weekend about “The Shot,” Michigan and the double overtime win at Georgia Tech.

When there is a lull in the conversation, someone will pop the question.

Is the best team in Illinois history better than the No. 1 team in the country?

No.

They’re almost the same team.

ESPN Classic sporadically shows the Final Four game against Michigan.

Watch it.

I didn’t realize the ’80s version of Dee Brown, Deron Williams and Luther Head in short shorts were running down the floor in that game until I watched the game for the zillionth time in December.

Both teams rely on athleticism the rest of the country can’t match.

The Flyin’ Illini leapt out of the gym.

The current squad has quickness.

Kenny Battle was Mr. 360 for his dunking ability.

Dee Brown is the one-man fast break.

Both teams relied heavily on their guards.

The Flyin’ Illini had more wing players than Rico Suave had pickup lines.

The Smilin’ Illini have more ball handlers than The OC has plot twists.

Both squads dismantle their opponents with their defense – and then used their superior athleticism to run the break.

The Flyin’ Illini ran a full court press.

Battle was the point man. He guarded the inbound man and trapped the unfortunate recipient to first catch the ball.

Illinois would swarm the passing lanes, swipe the ball and were then off to the races.

Bruce Weber has his post players trap any interior pass.

Illinois will swarm the passing lanes, swipe the ball and are then off to the races.

Didn’t expect a team from the end of the four corner’s era to run the court, did you?

But everything wasn’t an alley oop back in the Loo Doo days.

Big, quick, athletic post players like James Augustine didn’t exist in the old days of Alex P. Keaton and Rubik’s cube.

The Flyin’ Illini would not have had an answer for that type of player.

Big men like Lowell Hamilton were to lumber near the basket and rebound.

Dribbling and running the floor was left to the Stephen Bardo’s of the time.

Yes, despite their soaring ability, the Flyin’ Illini did play old time basketball.

Half court offenses revolved around the paint. Everyone took hook shots and mid-range jumpers.

The three-pointers were a lot like Newcastle Brown Ale on a college campus. Bring it out for special occasions only. It’s too costly for every day use.

The Smilin’ Illini would think they were in a time warp.

Which is what Assembly Hall may turn into.

Let the rest of the season prove which team is better.

By April, we will have an answer.

Bobby La Gesse is a senior in communications.

He can be reached at [email protected]