Smilin’ Illini

By Ian Gold

I’m running out of things to do,” an exasperated Weber exclaimed. “There’s no more stools, I’ve broke them all, and I don’t have a cell phone on me.” The fans weren’t the only ones that noticed Illinois wasn’t playing with champion passion.

One of the legacies of the “Fighting” Illini is plainly, they fight. They play hard and have fun, all the while collecting W’s as if they’re going out of style. It took a couple games to get fired up, but in a 63-47 win over Northwestern on Wednesday night, they got it back.

The lasting pictures in my memory from Illini basketball will always be Dee smiling wide and popping his jersey, and Augustine yelling and pumping his fist while falling from a crowd erupting jam. Lately, publications have gotten used to placing pictures of Dee with slumping shoulders and James looking at his feet. Finally, fans and players alike were treated to an injection of FUN.

“It’s just one of my things,” Augustine said, referring to fun on the court. “It’s something I talked to Dee about lately, having fun again. We just need to get out there and play, we have to get out there and have fun.”

I couldn’t and won’t say it any better than that. Dee tried.

“We most definitely had to bring back the energy, bring back the enthusiasm,” Brown said. “We just have to have fun, bring the fun back.” Big smile.

Illinois played a stagnant first half, which had the entire crowd thinking how in the world is a Vedran-less Northwestern staying within 40. On second thought what Illinois got was another basemen team’s best shot; and they handled it much better than Penn State. Northwestern rallied around its missing star and brought intensity.

Illinois countered with fun, I’m not sure when the light switch turned on but once again players were flying around on defense, getting steals and blocking shots. Instead of walking away with the sick feeling that you paid money to watch a team’s half-assed effort, you can go home and count the seconds until SportsCenter.

Dee showed off on the break. Instead of walking it up the court, he ran the 40-yard dash and played Dee Brown basketball. James Augustine took only four shots, but ran the court finishing outrageous alley-oops and he even gave us the vintage steal, run the court, fist pumping finish.

And Brian Randle, where do you start, that rebound put-back will certainly be on the big board introductions for Indiana. When Randle has fun and displays his X-Men abilities he makes every six-foot guy without hops jealous. Strength shoes sales just rose 25 percent.

Apparently Illinois even got back to talking a little trash, one of the squad’s favorite past-times. Supposedly it was actually Northwestern’s trash talk that got the ball rolling for Illinois. The fun and spirited basketball Illinois enjoyed Wednesday night might all be the result of the Wildcats trash talking. Tim Doyle, fan favorite, had the nerve to mention something to Randle about being better off putting his hand through glass next time.

“Needless to say, when I got the dunk I said a few things back,” Randle said.

Finally, Illinois made the game simple and it worked. Instead of letting the X’s and O’s boggle minds, it kept them in sight and let ability and passion take over.

With his 11th minute in the game, Brown broke the record for most minutes in an Illinois career and 99 percent of those have been played with intensity and passion. Weber said that it was a long two weeks, but the long range sniping and dunks gave him a reason to smile again.

Ian Gold is a senior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]