COLUMN: Brock sparks Illini

By Lucas Deal

Earlier this year, on Dec. 6, Calvin Brock lost his job. It wasn’t a real job, Brock doesn’t have a real job; it was his starting job.

Brock had opened the 2006-2007 Illinois basketball season as the Illini’s number three guard. A 6-foot-5-inch shooter with forward-like athleticism; Brock’s early season success made him one of Illinois’ top offensive performers. But on Dec. 6, Illinois’ best shooter and true scorer Jamar Smith returned to the lineup from an ankle sprain and his arrival forced Brock to the bench.

Since that fateful night against IUPUI, Brock has played sparingly – a few minutes here, a few minutes there – but has yet to receive the playing time he was given before Smith’s return.

That is, until Thursday night.

Let me set the scene.

Early in the second half, Illinois was struggling mightily against Idaho State. The Illini had led by 13 on two occasions in the first half, but a serious scoring drought left them down 46-40 to the Bengals with 12 minutes to go.

The Assembly Hall crowd, as Illini head coach Bruce Weber would call it later, was dead. The team was lost. They needed some sort of spark. Offensively or defensively, they needed help.

Weber had to do something, so he took a gamble and went to Brock.

Immediately after entering, Brock made his presence felt. He grabbed a defensive rebound and turned it into 15-foot jumper to cut the deficit to four, and then used another strong offensive move to get to the line, ignite the crowd and cut the score to three.

Brock’s burst also ignited the rest of his Illini teammates, who used the quick shot of momentum to spur a 24-7 run and put the game out of reach.

“Calvin came in and brought us the energy we needed,” said Illini point guard Chester Frazier, who scored 10 of his 13 points after Brock entered the game. “He made some big plays for us.”

Smith agreed. “Calvin stepped up. He got some big rebounds that led to points.”

Even Weber, who was reluctant to go back to Brock after the guard’s sloppy first half, was impressed.

“Right when Calvin went in, our intensity level picked up,” he said. “He gave us a great spark.”

And even though Brock’s modest final line of seven points and six rebounds wouldn’t excite many people, anyone who was at the Assembly Hall on Thursday night could see his impact.

That’s because in Illinois’ 71-60 win over Idaho State, Brock made the biggest impact. When he came into the game in the second half, everybody in the building seemed to wake up and cheer.

I think that’s one of Brock’s best qualities. His energy and smiling face always seem to bring out the best in his teammates and, on Thursday night, the crowd. When the Illini were down six, there wasn’t a lot of smiling going on in the Illinois huddle, but when Brock starting flying around the court grabbing rebounds while flashing those pearly whites, people got excited.

A game that was setting up to be a major upset became suddenly winnable, and the Illini took advantage. The crowd got loud, the defense got tight, the shots starting falling and when the final horn sounded everything was good again.

And with that, the Illini and their fans head into Christmas break with a 12-2 record. I think that’s something everyone should be smiling about.