As the holidays come and go, it is a time to get together with family and exchange gifts with one another. Not to be outdone this year, I have a few wishes of my own, from an Illini perspective. So, without further adieu, here are my holiday wants for the Illini:
1) a shooting guard for the Illini basketball team. Bruce Weber probably never envisioned something like this happening to his squad, but with the recent events of the past year in the rear view mirror, it has become apparent that the Illini are sorely missing a perimeter shooter that can hit the mark consistently. Trent Meacham seems to be the most accurate these days, but perhaps the best shooter on the team is not even playing this season. Jamar Smith, who is suspended for the 2007-08 season for his actions in a traffic accident back in February, continues to shoot lights out in practice, but cannot take that marksmanship into game action. Chester Frazier is in a funk this season, and the shots that he does take are not good percentage ones. Help is on the way, though, as Alex Legion, who transferred to Illinois from Kentucky early this week, will become eligible for spring semester of 2009. Yes, that's a year away, but the Illini will also have Smith back by then (if all goes well), and hopefully the woes that have befallen Illinois in the past few games will be a distant memory.
2) a Rose Bowl victory for the Illini football team. I would like to lift a glass of egg nog in honor of Ron Zook, and the transformation that he has given the football program since his arrival in 2005. Sure, the road has been a rough one, but the players on the team persevered and kept the future down the road in their view, and now that time has come. The Fighting Illini are Pasadena bound, and by the time you read this blog entry, should have landed in sunny Southern California and will begin preparing for what amounts to the biggest game in most of these players' lives. Zook is a mastermind from a recruiting standpoint, and he keeps bringing players into the program, now able to pick and choose from a stellar list of prospects. With this team having come so far in just a short time, what else is there to wish for? Maybe a national championship in 2008?
3) some respect for Jolette Law. The new leader of the women's basketball team is beginning to turn heads, but not turnstiles just yet. All Law has done has propelled the women to an 8-3 non-conference record as the team heads into conference play on Thursday night at Northwestern (7:00 pm, Big Ten Network). Sophomore forward Jenna Smith has been anything but average so far this season, garnering her third Big Ten player of the week honor this past week. To get that honor, she had another monster game against Missouri, scoring 19 points and pulling down 16 rebounds for a solid double-double. Smith's play is just one of the reasons why this installment of women's basketball is one to take notice of (they are plain good, folks). See for yourself this coming Sunday, when they take on Wisconsin after the men's game that day. Your ticket for the men's game is good for admission to the women's game, so
that's another good reason to check them out.
4) an NCAA tournament bid for both basketball teams this year. Normally this isn't an issue with the men's team, but for reasons previously discussed, this season nothing is a given. The Big Ten is down this year, and the clear cut favorites are Michigan State and Indiana. After that, it's anyone's guess as to how it will play out. The Illini finally got that marquee win, a 59-58 win over Missouri in the Braggin' Rights Game in St. Louis last Saturday, their eighth straight in the series. However, they have some clunkers on their resume too, namely a loss to Miami of Ohio last week at the Assembly Hall. For the men to get in, they will have to get it done within the conference. As for the women, they are in much better shape, and if they keep their noses clean in Big Ten play, an invite on selection Monday should be forthcoming.
There, that about covers it, doesn't it? Not too much to ask, don't you think? I hope everyone got what they wanted for Christmas, and we'll see you in 2008!