Getting in-tune to Illinois basketball’s music taste


Photo Illustration by Kenyon Edmond

Illinois head coach Brad Underwood watches his team from the sideline during the game against Grand Canyon at State Farm Center on Dec. 30, 2017. The Illini won 62-58.

By Will Gerard, Staff writer

Head coach Brad Underwood listens to “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC nearly every day.

Underwood believes it is “one of the best songs ever” behind “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin, and he encourages everyone to watch Ann Wilson’s rendition of the song at the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors.

“‘Thunderstruck’ in a basketball arena just moves people,” Underwood said.

As a result of Underwood’s affinity for the song, his teams at Stephen F. Austin and Oklahoma State integrated it in their pregame warm-up routines.

“Most days, I’m going to listen to country,” Underwood said. “I’ve got no problem listening to Bruno Mars or Jay-Z, depending on what mood I’m in, but I always go back to good old rock ‘n’ roll.”

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Underwood, however, certainly isn’t a fan of mumble rappers.

“I can’t understand what they’re saying half the time,” he said.

His music preferences apparently didn’t get passed down to his son and redshirt sophomore guard Tyler, because Underwood called out him and junior forward Michael Finke – who was at least at one point in time a self-professed “Belieber” – for having “terrible music taste.” Underwood, however, did concede that sophomore forward Kipper Nichols “has some class” in terms of his music selection.

Occasionally, the music played at Ubben Basketball Complex is turned up to full volume for “chaos sessions,” which emphasize “increased concentration” from players in the gym.

“Music is one of the most powerful things in the world because it creates energy in people,” Underwood said.

Aaron Harris, a 32-year-old who goes by the stage name “DJ A-Ron,” is also in his first season at State Farm Center for the athletic department.

Harris, like Underwood, believes that “Thunderstruck” is the ultimate pump-up song.

“It’s, like, a must-play because that song, the beat, everything just gets the crowd going,” Harris said.

During pregame warm-ups, Harris first plays “Bring Em Out” by T.I., followed by songs with a high BPM rate “that get the adrenaline pumping” for fans and players alike before going back to the song “Zombie Nation” by Kernkraft 400, which is synonymous with the Orange Krush.

Harris grew up in Urbana and served as a ball boy for the Illini in the early 2000s.

His favorite memory as a fan of the program is the scene of students rushing Green Street back when the 2004-2005 team appeared in the National Championship.

“I kind of grew up with the team all the way through the Dee Brown Era,” Harris said.

Harris received a limited number of song requests from players at the start of the season estimates that he received about six songs, though he does his best to sprinkle in the newest music, whether it’s the likes of Gucci Mane, Migos or Kendrick Lamar.

“My job is to pump-up the players and play what they want to hear,” Harris said. “They just want to have fun during pregame, bounce and feel that intensity.”

His biggest challenge is effectively reading a home crowd of 16,000, even if there are plenty of familiar faces in the sea of orange.

Harris has spun the turntables for 12 years, and he first started on the wheels of steel after his cousin showed him clips of DJ Kid Capri and DJ Jazzy Jeff on television programs, such as Def Comedy Jam.

He also was his own online radio station, Power102Jamz, which is based in Champaign.

For Harris, despite having once done a show at the The Forum in Inglewood, California, the State Farm Center is his favorite venue because of his close allegiance with the hometown team.

“This is by far the best experience,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling.”

Assistant coach Ron “Chin” Coleman views his music taste as “more hip-hop than R&B,” though he’s “willing to mix it up.”

Some of his favorite artists include Jay-Z, The-Dream, R. Kelly, Trey Songz, Marvin Gaye and Luther Vandross.

Senior guard Mark Alstork’s favorite rapper is Philadelphia’s own Meek Mill.

Three of the eight songs on his game day playlist include the controversially incarcerated artist’s music.

“We have conversations about music,” Coleman said. “I can come on their level and understand their language, but I also try to school them and teach them a little bit about my language, in terms of music.”

On the other hand, freshman forward Greg Eboigbodin prefers African music, and early in the season, he spoke of how his listening habits may annoy his roommate, fellow freshman guard Trent Frazier.

“Trent hates me because I even play music when I’m asleep,” Eboigbodin said. “I listen to American music, but mostly music from Africa.”

Eboigbodin is originally from Nigeria and listens to African artists such as 2Baba, Flavour N’abania and P-Square in addition to a collection of traditional native songs from the Beni tribe.

This is not the only foreign music one may hear in the Illini locker room.

Freshman forward Matic Vesel has played Slovenian music in the locker room as well.

“We make sure to touch upon everyone’s music,” Coleman said. “This is a family, so we cater to everyone.”


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