What a difference a week can make. Last week, the Illini were beginning Camp Rantoul with a healthy group of players, which were showing signs of growing on the field. Then the annual Rantoul scrimmage took place and just like that, the injuries began to mount. First Arrelious Benn went down, which sent a hush to the crowd in attendance. Benn, the much heralded freshman receiver that has been impressive early on, left the field in an ambulance, but returned later on with his shoulder in a sling. The early word on Benn is that he will be okay and should only miss two weeks at the most. The news was not so promising for fellow receiver Chris James, who may be out several weeks with a possible knee injury. Other notables getting hurt in the scrimmage were Josh Brent, the huge defensive lineman from Bloomington. It was a much different look at practice on Monday evening without James and Benn, but the other receivers will be asked to step up in their absence until they can get back on the field. One wonders if these star players should take it easy in camp, or even don the red jerseys that the quarterbacks use to shield themselves from being hit in practice. Of course, I'm just kidding, but it is a thought.
While the first game of 2007 is still 2 weeks away, it is also nearing time for the Big Ten Network to officially launch. Still working out negotiations with several cable companies, the commissioner of the Big Ten, Jim Delaney and president of the network, Mark Silverman, plan to make a stop in Champaign on Thursday to speak to the local media about the launch of the network and possible programming issues related to the opening of the sports season. I plan to ask my share of questions about these issues. After having switched from Dish Network to Direct TV over the weekend, my problem with seeing the network when it launches has been solved.
Even though it is football season, basketball continues to draw its share of headlines. The 2007-08 basketball schedule was released on Tuesday, and it promises to be a challenging non-conference schedule that could see the Illini lose several games early. The highlight of the front portion of the schedule is a trip to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational. However, before Maui, the Illini will play Hawaii, a trip that Bruce Weber needs to talk to Michigan State coach Tom Izzo about. It was Izzo's Spartans that made a similar trip a couple years ago and fell flat against the Rainbows before faltering in the Maui Invitational as well. Yes, the Hawaii game is a trap game, and the jet lag from traveling such a great distance can affect a team's play. Other highlights on the schedule include the annual border war game in St. Louis against Missouri and Arizona at the United Center. We all know what happened the last time these two teams met in the Windy City. No news yet on Jamar Smith, but a decision should be forthcoming in a few days.
On the recruiting trail, it looks as if Bruce Weber has lost out on yet another player, this one being Scott Suggs of Washington, Missouri. Suggs, who had narrowed his choices to include the Illini, ultimately chose the Washington Huskies to play his college ball at. One wonders if the name had anything to do with the decision. Weber did get another commitment for the 2007-08 class in Mike Davis from Alexandria, Virginia. This brings the class of 2008 to 7 players, those being Mike Tisdale, Bill Cole, Demetri McCamey, Quinton Watkins, Rodney Alexander, preferred walk-on Jeff Jordan, and Davis. Davis should get everything in order and arrive on campus in time to start classes next week. While it is still too early to throw Weber under the bus for missing out on all of these recruits that choose other places to play, this year will be a tell-tale sign. If the Illini falter out of the gate early, fingers will be pointed. Stay tuned.
Back to the schedule for a minute. Illini fans will be circling February 7, 2008 on their calendars. This is the day that Eric Gordon will make what will likely be his only Champaign Assembly Hall appearance. Gordon, who originally committed to the Illini, but soon changed his mind from family influence and a coaching change at Indiana, will be met with a reception that will make Kelvin Sampson's welcoming last season seem tame.
That's about all for this installment of the Illini Guy blog. I welcome your comments about all things Illini, and if you have any questions regarding the football program, please comment on those as well.