Column | Illinois leaves deadline day victorious with returning players

Junior+forward+Coleman+Hawkins+and+senior+guard+Terrence+Shannon+Jr.+cheer+during+the+game+against+Wisconsin+on+Jan.+7.

Sidney Malone

Junior forward Coleman Hawkins and senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr. cheer during the game against Wisconsin on Jan. 7.

By Theo Gary, Staff Writer

Sometimes, and I very much mean sometimes, the sports offseason vomits up some news that feels like winning a game, news that requires celebration and applause. The Illinois NIL machine gurgled, gargled and spat out enough money to make NBA G-League living look less attractive than college life. (Understandable.)

Coleman Hawkins and Terrence Shannon Jr.; lord, you took my frown and turned it upside down, made my pessimism into optimism. Without you, it would have been a fine team, probably average. Another NCAA tournament loss. Another year of both marginal success and marginal failure — stagnation. But, no. You changed that. 

It’s summer now, and the NBA and NHL are wrapping up — the offseason is nearing complete suffocation. In Chicago, the weather is warm and nice. Being outdoors has gone from being a chore to a pleasure. I can read outside under a tree like a hobbit or something. No reason, this time of year, to sit inside in front of the TV vibrating about sports action. Going outside, living life, being happy, etc. I need to do these other things. They are, it seems, important.

So, getting me to care about Illinois Athletics News is not something done easily. I’m not plugged into the message boards. I read maybe one blog about this stupid university’s stupid sports. I care only marginally. I refuse to obsess because obsession becomes compulsion and because to compulsively obsess about Illinois athletics is tantamount to poisoning yourself slowly — little dribs and drabs of sadness spread out over the sports months, and so I’m detoxing right now. But again, I’m writing and caring. I’m excited. A big, sloshing bucket full of happiness to wash away the sad and bad was delivered yesterday, and I intend to enjoy it.

The ESPN article reporting the returns described Hawkins as “one of the most versatile big men in college basketball who led Illinois in rebounding, assists and blocks.” That statement is true. He did all those things, but he’s more than those things. 

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    I don’t know. There’s an aura, a set of ideas he brings to a basketball team that few others do – big, long arms, a 6-foot-10 frame, braces. His shot is pretty, his talent unquestionable. He just plays weird. It’s my job to describe that but I can’t. It’s just strange. If you watch him play, you’ll get it. Maybe that’s just what happens when big men shoot the ball. Again, I don’t know.

    Shannon, though, I do know. He is perfect, a scoring machine, a man made to just get buckets. His game is so slick and beautiful. In a world of college basketball oddballs with big, goofy centers and little minuscule three-point snipers, he stands out. He looks like a fully formed basketball player out there, like Jaylen Brown or something. When it’s all working, the game is flawless, the basketball is exquisite. When it isn’t, it looks terrible and it is a disaster. 

    And that’s basically how you can sum up last year’s team. A group of which nobody needs reminding. I’m telling you, though, get ready now, we will be seeing a good deal of the same next season. When the weather turns and indoor sports start and Terrence Shannon Jr. has 20 in the first half and Coleman Hawkins is two-thirds to a triple-double remember: This is fleeting, so you need to enjoy it now, in the moment. Care now.

     

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