With the Christmas season upon us and only two days before the big guy from the North Pole makes his annual pilgrimage around this world of ours, I often wonder what a letter to Santa would look like from the average fan of Illini Nation. Well, thanks to the magic of print and a little bit of imagination, I think it would go something like this:
I have been a very good fan this year, rooting the Illini on in good times and bad, and judging the football season that just ended a few weeks ago, it couldn't possibly get much worse, could it? I paid my dues by buying season tickets, purchasing Illini merchandise for my family, and spending my hard earned money on concessions to keep them happy during these games. So, I do have a few requests as we embark on the year 2010 and hopefully brighter days ahead. I wish for these new coaching hires that have recently been added to all pull together and try to put a winning product on the field. I realize that it is not always the coaches that are the problem, but they do teach the players what to do, and so they usually shoulder their share of the blame. I realize Mr. Guenther, or as Ron Zook likes to call him, Coach Guenther (still haven't figured that one out), has a ton of faith in Zook, or else he would have sent him packing like Mr. Tepper and Mr. Turner before him. I was disappointed to see Reggie Mitchell leave for Kansas, but he evidently saw an opportunity and maybe thinks that a change of scenery is the best option for him. I wish him well.
I would also like to see the recruiting improve, something that Zook has been able to hang his hat on in recent seasons. But, when a program that has been up and down (more down) like our beloved Illini, I cannot really blame players if they don't want to come here and play. It is, after all, a matter of choice. That being said, would a trip to a bowl game be too much to ask for? Usually, we don't have any plans around the holidays except for watching other teams play in games like the Las Vegas Bowl and the Poinsettia Bowl. It would be nice to have the Illini play in a bowl of their own, maybe like the Sun Bowl or one of those in a warm weather climate. Beats spending Christmas and New Years in the cold and dampness of the Midwest.
Now, on to basketball. I really like the job that Bruce Weber is doing with the basketball team, although he does have his critics that think he could do better. Every season we look forward to the start of practice during football season, and anticipate the first exhibition game, which leads to the start of the regular season. The Missouri Braggin' Rights game is always a fun time, and or course, there is the United Center game at the home-away-from home. One thing, Santa about the basketball team that I would like to see change is for the team to develop some heart to finish strong down the stretch. I know basketball doesn't take as long to turn around a program than a football team does, but our 3 losses this year all have came to mediocre teams that have simply wanted it more than we have. You couldn't ask for more talented freshmen than what we have, and what is coming further down the road makes me just giddy with anticipation. Yet, this business of getting to the NCAA Tournament and lasting just 1 or 2 games is getting a bit old. Schools rich in basketball tradition like Duke, North Carolina and Kansas seem to do it every year. Why can't we be like them?
Thank you for taking these wishes to heart, Santa. I will be sure to leave you cookies and plenty of orange and blue kool-aid for when you come. Have fun going around on your big night.