Yes, it's been a while since I graced these pages, but the coming of spring and nicer weather have taken me outside and away from the keyboard of my laptop. In case you haven't been paying attention during the past month, Bill Self did indeed get the national championship that had been eluding him all these years. All I can say to that is, good for him. Now, let's move on with another topic, which involves both the men's and women's basketball teams at Illinois. It has been a rough go of it for both Bruce Weber and Jolette Law, as they have seen players leave their squads this month. On the men's side, junior Rodney Alexander will not return next season for the Illini, and Steve Holdren is getting his degree and is not planning on returning as well. With the losses of Shaun Pruitt and Brian Randle to graduation, that leaves four vacancies on the roster for next season. Incoming freshman Stan Simpson and junior college transfer Dominique Keller will cut that number in half, but it leaves a void, especially down in the low post where Mike Tisdale will anchor next season. Jamar Smith returns from his suspension/redshirt season, and transfer Alex Legion will become eligible in December, giving the Illini a much better outside shooting tandem. Word has it that Brian Carlwell is still weighing his options about rejoining the team, but that remains to be seen if that will indeed happen.
On the women's side, the departure of Lori Bjork has left a gaping hole for Coach Law to fill. Bjork, who never saw eye to eye with Law since her arrival, plans to transfer, and it looks as if she may head east to Ball State, where former Illini assistant Marcia Frese went to coach. Also, freshman Chelsea Buher is leaving the team, most likely unhappy with the way playing time went for her as well. Add Danyel Crutcher to the list earlier in the season, and Law is playing with three less players. According to Law, getting the negative out of the program is tantamount to moving in the right direction. Upon Crutcher leaving, the Illini went on the Big Ten Tournament run and just missed the NCAA Tournament. Here's hoping that she is on track.
Last Saturday was the annual Spring game for the football team, coming off of their Rose Bowl appearance. In front of 12,ooo fans at a still-under-construction Memorial Stadium, the Illini faithful were treated to several spectacular plays. One in particular, a punt run back by Jerrod Fayson, electrified the crowd in attendance. Unfortunately for Fayson , he must sit out this coming season due to transfer rules. Fayson transferred from Florida last semester, and gave Illini fans a glimpse of what he can do. It appears that Juice Williams will be the starting quarterback when Camp Rantoul commences in August, but don't count out Eddie McGee just yet. Receiver Aurellious Benn was held out of contact, due to off-season shoulder surgery, and the Illini welcomed back Chris James, also recovering from an injury sustained last season. The future continues to look bright for Ron Zook and the football program, and with a challenging schedule for 2008, another bowl trip is certainly a possibility.
The Fighting Illini baseball team has endured what many northern schools go through each and every season, games either cancelled or postponed due to cold or wet weather. Just the pitfalls of living in the midwest, I guess. To date, the Illini have had 6 contests wiped out, and lately have gotten the most out of the nice spring weather that has graced Central Illinois. On Wednesday, the Illini played host to Western Illinois and defeated the Leathernecks 10-2 on a nice pitching outing by Nick Chmielewski. The Illini return to action this weekend to Illinois Field to face Penn State in a four-game series starting on Friday evening. Hopefully the rains will hold off so the Illini can get all or most of these games in. The Illini are 23-14 on the season.