During my high school season this year, our varsity basketball team was going through some tough times. We were winning games, but only against the "lower-level" teams. Whenever we went up against a good team, it seemed as if we would stay with them, and then we would fall apart and lose the game.
Well, one Saturday, we were again going up against a team that we knew was good. We started off good--which was unusual for us--and took an early 5-point lead.
It didn't last long.
Soon, it started to look like the BYU-Florida game, where a total of 71 3-pointers where hoisted up. Except, the team we were playing made about half of them. It got ugly. Quick.
We went into the locker room and things were kicked, thrown, and punched. We had high expectations going into the season, and we just weren't meeting those. It was frustrating, because we knew everyone wanted better.
Then, we had Christmas Break, worked on things, and we came back ready to play a game. On the board before the game was the saying, "We are Warriors united, never divided." That was true, as we never gave up and always fought our hearts out no matter what.
We got past our struggles, won 20+ games, and got a regional championship--the first in 28 years. Through the good and bad, we stuck together and gave it our all, which was all that mattered. And I give thanks to our seniors, who were our leaders.
Now, looking at the Illinois season, it brings back many memories of my own season, with much to thank the seniors for a great season. We had such high expectations coming into the season, and they weren't exactly met. Everything looked like it would be good until we fell to UIC, and then we realized we may have to adjust out thinking.
But, they were Illini united, never divided.
McCamey had a roller-coaster season. He came into the season hyped up, but just wasn't himself. He looked like an All-American at times. He looked like his freshman self at others. We never which McCamey we were going to get. But, I have to thank McCamey for all the memories he gave us over the years, from the Indiana game when he was a freshman to the very last game of this season. Demetri, thank you.
Davis. Oh, Mike Davis. To be honest, I was never really a big fan of Davis. But he proved me wrong this year. He gave it his all every game, and was my favorite senior this year. If not for him, we are don't even come close to hanging around with Kansas. Mike D., thank you.
Mike Tisdale, you 7'1", skinny fighter you. Most people with his body frame would get owned in the Big Ten. Let's be honest: Tisdale doesn't have the ideal body type you want and never will. But he always stuck in there and gave all the effort he could, whether he was battling a 6'8" UNLV player or the dominate Morris twins. And having a 7'1" guy that can hit threes is always fun to see. Mike T., thank you.
Last but not least, is the most underrated player on the Illinois squad this season: Bill Cole. Old Billy was a character. He was a decent 3-point shooter. He was one of our best senior leaders. He was our hustle players. Although he may not have gotten the playing time of the others, he was a very crucial part of Illinois' success. Bill, thank you.
We may have underachieved, we may have struggled, and we all may be pissed off. But these seniors have given us some memories that we will never forget, such as the miraculous comeback against Clemson last year, the Michigan State upset, or just the need to get our blood pressures raised on Selection Sunday.
The seniors have been there for us, even when we haven't returned the favor. They saw some of the nasty things that were said about them, but as Mike Davis said after their defeat to Kansas, they always have and always will love us.
Things don't always go as smooth as planned, and the seniors understood that. They were there through the good, the bad, and the ugly.
And they were the nicest group of guys you would meet as well. Life is more than just basketball, and these players understood that.
I may have wanted a better season, but I will never regret having these seniors represent Illinois.
So, Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale, Demetri McCamey, and Bill Cole, thank you. Thank you for what you were and what you have become. I wish you the best of luck.