Illini Madness invades Huff Hall

The 2010 basketball season has yet to begin, but sophomore guard D.J. Richardson is already talking about it with fans.

“Every time I walk around campus, everyone (says), ‘How are you going to be this year? Top 25! Woo woo, go D.J.!’” Richardson said.

Richardson and the rest of the Illini will finally have a chance to give the fans a preview of what to expect this season when Illinois tips off the season at Illini Madness on Friday.

“I’m just very happy,” Richardson said. “I love all the Illini fans and happy to be here another year.”

The Illinois version of the national tradition of Midnight Madness, this year’s Illini Madness returns to Huff Hall for the first time since 2003, when the team featured Dee Brown, Deron Williams and Luther Head.

Illini head coach Bruce Weber said the marketing department decided to move Illini Madness back to Huff Hall to bring the event to the students.

“We just thought this would be a great chance to go back on campus, focus with the students, although anyone is welcome to come on Friday night after the volleyball game,” Weber said. “I know my first year was at Huff. They had to turn people away, and it would be nice to have that kind of situation on Friday night.”

But it won’t just be the basketball team displaying its new look Friday. At 1,300 members, Orange Krush is the biggest it’s been in recent years. And members are already planning new ways to cheer on the Illini.

Orange Krush President Dan Gilpin likes the idea of opening the season in a different atmosphere.

“Huff Hall is so cool for volleyball games because you’re right there next to the court. And I think it will be just awesome to see the basketball team up close and personal like that,” Gilpin said.

“At the Assembly Hall, sometimes that room can feel so cavernous when it’s not full,” Gilpin added. “By having it in Huff Hall, it’s going to feel full, it’s going to feel really packed and it’s going to be exciting.”

While the faces on the team have all changed since the last time one of Weber’s squads debuted at Huff Hall, one of the names will be the same.

Freshman guard Crandall Head made the trip to Huff Hall to watch his brother, Luther Head, open the season there. Now it’s his turn to debut with the Fighting Illini.

“We’re going to go out there and show the fans how we do it,” Head said.

This year’s Illini Madness will feature DJ Steve Porter of YouTube “Press Hop” fame in addition to the traditional shooting and dunk contests, player introductions and scrimmage that marks the season’s first practice.

“I think it will be an intense, electric atmosphere,” sophomore forward Tyler Griffey said. “It should be a good time with all the students there and everything like that. I know it only seats like 4,000 people, but obviously it’ll be packed, it’ll be loud.”

When it comes to the dunk contest, Griffey likes the chances of redshirt freshman guard Joseph Bertrand.

“The dunks I’ve seen that kid do, I don’t even believe it. And I witness it. It’s crazy,” Griffey said.

Huff Hall’s doors will reopen at 10 p.m. after the Illini volleyball squad takes on Purdue. Friday’s festivities are free and open to the public, and the event will be streamed live on www.bigtennetwork.com.

“I’m very happy about getting to Midnight Madness,” Richardson said. “It’s going to be great. Last year wasn’t really as many people as I expected, but Huff Hall is going to probably be overfilled.”