Excitement surrounding ESPN GameDay in Champaign

The wait is almost over. Season six of ESPN College GameDay is set to bring the big, red bus to Champaign for the first time on Saturday, when Illinois hosts No. 5 Michigan State.

There are 347 Division-I basketball programs in the country, but Illinois was one of just eight chosen to host a live GameDay broadcast in 2009.

With a live taping at the Assembly Hall in the morning and ESPN’s broadcast of the primetime clash between the Fighting Illini and the Spartans, the national spotlight will be focused on Illinois basketball all day.

But the Illini aren’t intimidated by the added media attention.

“It’s really exciting. They’re going to see us all day, so it’s going to be a big thing for the (team),” junior guard Jeff Jordan said.

“And not just us, but the whole school in general. So we’re looking forward to it.”

The basketball version of GameDay began in 2005, but no Big Ten schools were included until the crew hit Ohio State in 2007. For head coach Bruce Weber, the bus’s delayed arrival to the Assembly Hall means the pressure is on for his squad.

“We waited a little longer than we had hoped. When it first started, the whole Big Ten thought somebody should get it. There was a few years where I don’t think the Big Ten was involved,” Weber said. “Now, it’s become such a major thing that it’s become important to the league and the team that we’re included, and I hope that we can live up to all of the expectations of it.”

While the arrival of GameDay is providing excitement for the 2009-10 season, it just may bring excitement for the future as well. As a player who recently went through the recruiting process himself, freshman forward Tyler Griffey said the added attention for Illinois could be a positive in that department, too.

“I think it makes a huge impact. It’s national spotlight, national TV, Jay Bilas and all those guys broadcasting live from Assembly Hall — it puts us in the spotlight a little bit,” Griffey said. “It’s a big deal and we’re certainly looking forward to it.

“I think in terms of high school kids looking at it, it puts us in their eye a little bit more,” Griffey added.

But GameDay is about more than just national attention for the Illinois basketball.

For every fan at Saturday morning’s live taping, State Farm will donate one dollar to the Orange Krush Foundation to be given to charity through next season’s grant application process.

“Krush is really excited. I’ve gotten hundreds of e-mails about it, even from people who aren’t in Krush, excited people just wanting to come,” Orange Krush vice president Matt Jones said.

“I think it’s a great thing for our campus and like the community, too.”

While Krush is a major part of Saturday’s festivities and members will have perks such as being allowed into the live taping 30 minutes earlier than the general public, the event is for more than just the official student section.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for us to show our program off, to show how good we’re doing, and also to show off what kind of school pride we have,” Jones said.

“It’s a great way for Illini Nation to really stand out Saturday night.

“Regardless of if you’re a basketball fan, you should show up to support your University,” Jones added.

Senior writer Stuart Lieberman contributed to this report.