Column | Rejuvenated Illini are starting to reach their potential

By Theo Gary, Staff Writer

They’re back, I think. They could have lost to Ohio State, and they could have lost to Wisconsin, but they didn’t, and the Illini are primed to go on a run. Only one ranked team remains on the schedule; February comes on Wednesday and Illinois plays again on Tuesday. Basketball is fun. Sports are fun. I love winning.

I love this team. I fell in love with them two weeks ago, and I’ve been in the honeymoon phase since. There are no limits to what the Illini can accomplish. Nobody is better; nobody is more talented; nobody is having more fun. The buckets, the blocks — works of art, stunningly complete. A haze of happiness, my goodness. 

Illinois is building back up now, getting to that peak point because they haven’t even begun to play their best basketball. Besides Indiana, who were an aberration and are peaking too early, Illinois has held its last three opponents under 60. 

On offense Wisconsin was disgustingly bad, shooting an awful 33% from the field. For a team that likes to play slow and methodically, that likes to find open shooters in good spots, you’d think they’d do better. For any team, besides, that means a loss. For Wisconsin, that’s an embarrassment. I like your state, but I don’t like your basketball. For the love of God, please evolve. Don’t make me watch this. Give me something fun. Please, I beg, because Wisconsin, you stink.

Ohio State, as usual in every sport, is not worth mentioning. Redshirt sophomore center Dain Dainja recovered from his Trace Jackson-Davis induced headache and shut down Zed Key, another big Big Ten center. I wasn’t able to watch much of this game, don’t ask me why — I don’t remember.

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For me, this week, Illinois basketball has been consumed in little snippets between events or work or school. It’s barely a diversion, and I’m certainly a fan, so there’s kind of a weird mix here. I love to watch them, I enjoy it when they score. I clap and yell like I’m in the stadium and not my well-lit little room. But it becomes almost academic when you have to analyze and think about what’s happening on screen, like annotating a book except everyone is screaming. 

I miss the screaming and the joy that comes from winning. I miss being stupid and prideful. I miss disappointment, maybe that most of all. But it’s coming back now. I can’t put it into words but it is. The more I watch and care. The more attention I pay, the more it begins, little by little, to matter, actually matter; to feel like life and death again.

It’s not that. I know it, we all know it. But it’s coming back. When February turns to March, and the winter wind blows just that little softer, that’s when I’ll know; I’ll know it then — we’re back.  

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