Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.

Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.
The rebuild of the Illinois football program continues as they drop a tough 34-31 loss in overtime to Purdue.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

All is quiet........for now

With summer upon us, the University of Illinois campus is quiet right now, with the students that are around taking their summer classes. So, with the lull in activity, I thought it would be a good idea to ask a few questions, with hopefully some favorable answers. First question: Will the Illini be any better this year in football? The answer to this is, I certainly hope so! This is Ron Zook's third season as coach, and has been evidenced by the last two recruiting classes, the man can flat-out recruit. This season's class is particularly good, with players such as Arrelious Benn and Martez Wilson spurning more successful programs for a chance to further advance the Illinois program, one that has been mired in the mud for a few years now. Most of the players have been on campus all summer long, which gives them a chance to bond with one another and get in shape for training camp, which is a little over a month away. The fans seem to think that the Illini will be better as well, given the status of ticket sales over at Memorial Stadium, a.k.a., the "construction zone". The "construction prices", as the DIA has labeled them, are going better than expected, and as of earier this week, the extensions in the horseshoe have sold out, leaving seats on the east and west sides still available. Coach Zook has been promoting the program all summer long, and judging by the attendance at each event, is making an impact in marketing the football program. So, what do you think? Will the Illini be better in '07? What will their record be? I'm interested in knowing what everyone's views are.
Question #2: Will the incoming freshman for Bruce Weber make an immediate impact, or are they still a year away? It is clear that this is one of Weber's best recruiting classes since he has been at Illinois, but with the "big name recruit" still absent, can he continue the success with what he has? Last weekend at the IBCA All-Star Game at the Shirk Center in Bloomington, four of the five recruits played as high schoolers one final time, with big man Bill Cole garnering MVP honors. Mike Tisdale, Demetri McCamey, and "His Airness's heir", Jeff Jordan, are also preparing for life at the next level. The fifth signee, Quinton Watkins, is also taking classes this summer on campus, and the guys are all beginning to get to know one another. The status of Jamar Smith is still up in the air, but for returnees Shaun Pruitt, Chester Frazier, Calvin Brock and Trent Meacham, among others, the balance will be interesting. Here's hoping that sophmores Brian Carlwell and Richard Semrau have healed from their injuries, and with Semrau probably receiving a medical redshirt, the future once again begins to brighten for the Fighting Illini. Oh sure, we didn't get Gordon, but we got the next best thing, Jordan, the kid who was in "Space Jam", and also probably knows a little about the game from his susperstar father. So, will the Illini be better, or not?
Question #3: Will volleyball once again make it into the forefront of discussion? Don Hardin's Illini spikers have endured a couple of tough seasons, but with a great recruiting class coming in, things are looking up for this sport, gone largely unnoticed over the past several years. Sure, it's not nearly as popular or star-studded as the other sports on campus, but they do have a following, and with a little success, may get some of the bandwagoners back. The simplest way for this to occur is to bring the kids out to a game, or better yet, when the DIA has their picture day this year for football, the womens' soccer and volleyball teams are also out there to meet and greet fans. Who knows? With a little exposure, this, too could become popular once again.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Laying Down The Law at Illinois

New University of Illinois women's basketball coach Jolette Law is already starting to make headlines in Champaign-Urbana, where this past week she began to fill out her assistant coach positions. Karen Middleton, Tamika Louis, and Patrick Klein were announced on Thursday as recent hires. Middleton comes from Stanford University, where she served as a Lady Cardinal assistant for 10 years. Louis brings with her some collegiate head coaching experience, having coached at Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan for 3 years from 2002-2005. Louis, in addition to coaching, has worked for the past 8 years at General Motors. Klein, who was an assistant at Ohio State under Jim Foster, also owns his own consulting business, PB & J Associates. This venture develops leadership workshops for high school student organizations. Law hopes to hire about 3 more coaches to fill out her staff and at the present time, does not intend on retaining any of Theresa Grentz's staff. So what does this all mean, you ask? I'm not really sure what to make of this right now, but in due time, we should begin to get some answers. Personally, I would retain at least one of the old regime, just to keep some continuity in the program. That hire would likely be Marcia Frese, who served as Grentz's Associate Head Coach. Frese also is a good recruiter and her sister, Brenda, recently won a national title at Maryland. Given Laws' comments at her introductory press conference, she has visions of moving the Illinois women's program to that next level. But, haven't we heard that statement before? I would welcome your comments to this topic.

Junior tennis player Kevin Anderson and senior track and field superstar Yvonne Mensah have been named the Dike Eddleman Award winners for 2006-07, as the best athletes in men's and women's sports. Anderson was an integral part of the Illini tennis team advancing to the title game this year, and in addition to helping the team achieve success, made quite an impression in the singles and doubles draws as well. Anderson reached the semifinals in singles, and teaming up with Ryan Rowe in doubles, reached the finals before losing. Anderson was the Illini's #1 ranked player, and has been consistently in the top 10 nationally all season. Mensah, who also was a catalyst in her team's run through the Big Ten outdoor championships, won 4 titles (100 meters, 200 meters, triple jump, 4 X 100 meter relay) and was on the 4 X 400 meter relay team that finished as runner-up in conference play. Mensah also excelled indoors as well, winning the long and triple jump events. You should definitely see her make a run for Beijing in 2008.

It's not too early to think about Fighting Illini football, and with the opener in St. Louis just less than 3 months away, Coach Ron Zook will be hosting his 3rd Annual Women's Football Clinic on Saturday, June 23 at Memorial Stadium. Sorry men, you are not allowed to be at this clinic, only the ladies! The event, which takes place from noon until 5, is a chance for the ladies to meet the coaching staff, get up close to the equipment, and even go through drills. Plus, there is a chance that you may get to butt heads with an assistant (literally!!), as past camps have experienced. For more information, please direct your browser to and click on the football page. Registration information will be there waiting for you. By the way, the game time with Missouri in the State Farm Arch Rivalry has been set for 2:30 pm CT and will be televised by ESPN2. Again, I welcome your comments, one and all, about anything and everything Illini!

Friday, June 8, 2007

College Coaches - Now You See Me, Now You Don't.

The recent change of heart by Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan on his decision to remain in Gainesville, rather than take the Orlando Magic head coaching job, has spawned some debate on the loyalty issue in college athletics. Within the last few years, several coaches have flirted with the idea, with some taking the plunge, only to re-surface a couple years later back in the college game. Names like John Calipari, Rick Pitino, and even a former Illini bench boss, Lon Kruger, have taken the plunge to the NBA for the larger paycheck. But, as history proves, they more than likely end back up in the college game sooner rather than later. The last Illini coach BW (Before Weber), Bill Self, has been rumored to be looking at this venture, but after all, his "dream job" was to coach at Kansas and have that office on Naismith Drive. As recently as this past summer, ex-Kentucky head man Tubby Smith was toying with the idea before taking the job at Minnesota. Some coaches have been much smarter with their choices, namely Tom Izzo, who has been more than once been linked to moving on to the next level, but instead has stayed at Michigan State, where he has built a successful program. So what's next you ask? I would be interested in hearing your comments on this subject.

Major League Baseball recently held their first-year player draft, and for the first time in the history of the draft, it was televised. The Fighting Illini had a couple of players drafted, as catcher Lars Davis went to the Colorado Rockies in the third round (102nd overall pick). Davis was the highest selected Illini backstop since Chris Robinson went in the third round in 2002 to the Detroit Tigers. Also selected from the Illini was shortstop Shawn Roof, who was taken by the Detroit Tigers in the 33rd round. Illini signee Casey Crosby was taken by the Tigers (hmmmm, I see a trend here) in the fifth round. Now, Crosby has the option of signing a pro contract, or honoring his letter of intent to attend Illinois and play for the Fighting Illini.

Looks like the 3-i n-1 tradition will continue after all during football season, even though the Chief will dance no more. The University announced on Monday that the Marching Illini will still perform the ritual, which in the past brought Chief Illiniwek out on the field. It will seem much different without the Chief dancing along, but all good things must eventually come to an end and there is little if anything that will change the University's mind on the subject now. I am open to comments that anyone has on this or any other subject Illini related.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Summer: all is quiet on campus

Welcome one and all to my blog here on! As the students have gone home for the summer and the sports seasons have come to a close, it is time to reflect on the season that has been at the University of Illinois and Fighting Illini Nation. The baseball team saw their season come to an abrupt end in the Big Ten Tournament up in Ann Arbor, as the Illini were eliminated after the third game in as many days. The tourney started out great for the Illini, as they defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes 12-3 behind a complete game by sophomore Tanner Roark. The Illini got off on the right foot, scoring a pair of runs in each of the first 2 innings, more than enough for Roark. However, the Illini couldn't sustain the momentum throughout the rest of the tourney, as they fell to Minnesota 10-3 the next day, as the Illini fell behind 5-0 in the first inning, and never could catch the Gophers. Brandon Wikoff and Mike Rohde each had a pair of hits for the Illini, who faced elimination against Penn State in the third day of the tourney. In the game against the Nittany Lions, starting hurler Scott Shaw sparkled for seven innings, before surrendering 5 runs, which proved to be the difference in the 6-2 defeat, thus forcing the Illini out of the tourney. The Illini concluded their season at 31-27, but more importantly, giving the Illini their second 30 win season in three years and the furthest they have advanced in the Big Ten Tourney since 2001. Better things hopefully lie on the horizon for the Illini for 2008. Catcher Lars Davis was named to the Louisville Slugger TPX Collegiate Baseball All-American team as a second team selection, the highest an Illini has finished since 2000. Davis, who hails from Canada, was also the first Illini baseball player to hit .400 in a season since 1996.

Illini basketball player Jamar Smith is in the middle of his two-week jail sentence for events surrounding the accident back in February that critically injured teammate Brian Carlwell. Smith, who was drinking at the time, left the scene of the accident with Carlwell still in the vehicle, and was later found to have been doing other extra-curricular activities the evening of the wreck as well. Many have differing views on what Smith's verdict should be. Should Bruce Weber reinstate Jamar to the team, or should he make him an example and not welcome him back? Certainly events of the past few weeks may point at Smith not wanting to come back, especially since former Illini assistant Rob Judson being named an assistant coach at Illinois State in Normal, which is closer to Smith's hometown of Peoria. What do you think should happen? Please leave your comments for me because I want to know what Illini Nation thinks of this situation.

Ron Zook may be a great football recruiter, but singer he is not. Witness the seventh inning stretch on Saturday at Wrigley Field, where Zook was shown reading from notes during his performance. Given that the Cubbies are not putting a great product on the field right now, then to see celebrities perform equally as bad during "The Stretch", leads me to believe that this tradition has worn out its welcome. Sure, it was fun for the first couple of years after Harry Caray died, but now the same people are doing it year in and year out, and even Ron Santo and Pat Hughes are scheduled for multiple times this season. It seems that whoever does it nowadays is either promoting a movie or CD, or in Zook's case, an athletic program at the state's most prestigious university. Coach Zook, stick to coaching and recruiting and be an ambassador to the University of Illinois in better ways than this. Again, I welcome your comments on this situation, so tell me what you think!