Former Illini keep bonds strong

COLLEGE

The bonds developed between players on any team are strong. Many maintain friendships long after they’ve graduated. That’s why, for the former Illinois basketball players who attended the tailgate, there was little catching up to do.

“The good thing about it is, there’s no drop off,” Illinois men’s basketball assistant coach Jerrance Howard said. “We could go six months to a year without seeing each other, but when we get with each other, there’s still that brotherly love and no drop off. We all stay in contact with each other, you know with e-mails, text messages and phone calls.”

Quite a few former athletes including Luther Head and James Augustine had last-minute conflicts come up, and were unable to attend the charity event.

“These guys are just coming from different situations, so they’re not able to come and spend this time with me, but throughout the summer we always hang out, we always meet up. If all of them could make it, I know they’d be here,” Brown said.

While most Illini fans only see the relationships of players on the court, Brown has kept up with his former teammates.

“I always talk to Deron (Williams) on the phone, every once in a while Luther (Head). I played with Roger (Powell Jr.) and Brian (Randle) this year in Israel. Warren (Carter), I played with last year, so you run into these guys all the time. Of course we keep in contact, we love each other, we’ve been through so much,” Brown said.

Rich McBride’s continued friendship with Brown is what led him to attend Brown’s charity event.

“I see Dee pretty often. It’s pretty cool though just to see him in general because he’s such a cool guy, but it’s a nice event,” McBride said.

NBA

While McBride is good friends with Brown, the tailgate showed that another type of camaraderie exists between professionals. Several NBA players donated items for a silent auction at the tailgate.

Various items were up for bidding, including shoes signed by members of the Utah Jazz, a signed Dwayne Wade jersey, shoes signed by Andre Iguodala and more. According to Brown’s mom, Cathy, all she needed to do to acquire the items was ask.

“Of course, they’re like all brothers, so whatever you trying to do, they do for you,” Cathy said. “Andre, I called his mom last week, and Andre’s publicist came to my house and brought me the shoes. So it’s a big family, just like the U of I. We’re all trying to all help each other.”

FANS

Without Illini fans, the tailgate could not have happened. Those that came out for the event were some of the biggest fans around, and a few never even attended school at Illinois.

Even the event’s host, Teresa Sturdy, fell into that category. Although she went to Iowa, Sturdy became an Illini fan after marrying her husband, who attended Illinois as an undergraduate.

Now, a garage and entire wing of the Sturdy’s home in Rochester, Ill., is devoted to the Fighting Illini. In the Illini rooms, everything is somehow Illini related, including office chairs, sofas, a pool table and more.

Brown was honored by the support from the Sturdys, and cites it as yet another reason why he loves the University of Illinois.

“It’s amazing to me, when I first saw this home. Illini fans are the truest, realist fans in the world,” he said.

Like Sturdy, Brad Biar of Springfield didn’t attend Illinois, but is now a huge Illini fan. He enjoyed the charity event because it brought Illini fans close to the players they once watched.

“Dee sat down with us for probably 15 or 20 minutes talking about some Final Four and some NBA, and I got it all on video so it’s better than I expected,” Biar said. “I think it’s great that they allow us to come out here and walk through the place and see everything and hang out with the players. With it being the first annual I hope it continues, because we’ll be back every year.”

According to Sturdy, the charity event was set up as a tailgate so fans could see firsthand the compassion that Brown and other Illini have for their school, teammates and fans.

“I think it was totally a success, because the people that came … got to see (Brown) one-on-one and see what I see in him, that he’s such a nice guy,” she said.