As we draw ever so closer to Thanksgiving Day, I want to deviate from the norm of talking about Illini sports, and change course a little bit and write about things that I am thankful for. First and foremost, I am thankful for my wonderful family. I have been blessed with another son, Caleb Addison, who is a perfect complement to big sister Elena and big brother Austin. My wife of 15 1/2 years, Susan, is also near and dear to my heart, and if it weren't for her, I don't really know if I would be writing this today. It's sort of a long story, and one that I do not want to get into at the moment. Once you start covering sports, you covet any family time that you come across. This beat doesn't send me on the road all that often, but I am quite certain that if we weren't busy having this final piece to the Cotter family, I would more than likely be typing this from the island of Maui in Hawaii.
I am thankful for Coach Ron Zook, and the spark of rebirth that he has given to the Illinois football program. When Zook was hired in 2005 to replace Ron Turner, the cupboard was pretty much desolate, and it has taken Zook only three years to rebuild the program and put them in position for a New Year's Day bowl game. His record at Florida was not terrible (23-14 in 3 years), and when he was fired, it was a mystery to me because he had led them to two straight bowl appearances. We were genuinely blessed when Illinois Athletic Director Ron Guenther chose Zook to lead the resurgence of the Illinois football program, and even though his one downfall was his ability to coach, we are seeing that this, too, may have been grossly overstated. The man is a recruiting dynamo, bringing in talent such as Vontae Davis, Aurellious Benn, Isaiah "Juice" Williams, among others. The list of potential recruits continue to mount, and next year, the team should be even better next season. I am especially happy for the group of seniors, who have endured a very tough 4 years as Illini players. Guys like J Leman, Kevin Mitchell, Justin Harrison, and DuJuan Warren, among others, deserve this success, based on their past. Nothing makes me happier than to see smiling faces on these guys, who, despite their struggles, kept a positive attitude through the entire ordeal, knowing that they would turn it around.
I am also thankful for Bruce Weber, who may not be the best recruiter around, but the man can truly coach. Given a plethora of talent when Bill $elf bolted for Kansas and his cushy office on Naismith Drive, Weber played off that success with a final four run, albeit losing out on some major recruits along the way. But, this year has seen a change to that pattern, as Weber has received verbal commitments from four top notch recruits over the next couple of years. However, these verbal commitments are soft ones, and can change at a moment's notice (see Gordon, Eric). Whereas it seems that Weber always gets the most out of any player that he gets, this latest coup of players will hopefully keep Illinois as one of the top teams in the country for many years to come, and we will be talking about national championships, instead of just Big Ten Championships.
I am thankful for Jolette Law, new women's basketball coach at Illinois. When Theresa Grentz resigned earlier in the year, it was probably a move that was way past due. However, when the little coach named Law was announced as the successor to Grentz, she decreed that she would recruit the Chicago area, as well as nationwide, to get the best level of talent that she could. Her attitude is contagious, and she is off to a 3-1 start with the current team. She is the type of person that can get the job done, and I think that she will back up that talk with action.
I am thankful for the Big Ten Network, and the way that the channel has covered the conference thus far. With the first football season now completed, the network delivered blanket coverage of all 11 schools, both on campus and on the field. With the lineup of basketball games that have already been on so far, and those that will follow in the months ahead, here's hoping that the cable companies wake up and offer the channel on their packages. The fans deserve it.
Finally, I am thankful for you, the readers of this blog each and every week. I know sometimes that I ramble on about certain things, but your comments have been great, and I appreciate hearing from you, good or bad. If there is anything that you wish to have covered that is not currently offered, I would like to know that as well. I want you to know that I enjoy doing it each time I knock a new one out.
I hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving and a chance to spend it with family and friends. I know I will.