CHAMPAIGN — Six months in the past on Tuesday, Illinois followers most likely keep in mind the sensation that they had.
Certainly one of pleasure.
Certainly one of hope.
Certainly one of anticipation.
The chances had been limitless. And stuffed with promise when dinnertime arrived on Sunday, March 14.
Seeing Brad Underwood, Ayo Dosunmu, Kofi Cockburn and the remainder of the Illinois males’s basketball staff minimize down the nets at Lucas Oil Stadium to have fun a Huge Ten event championship was refreshing.
Identical with seeing a No. 1 seed flash subsequent to the Illini’s identify on Choice Sunday.
It’s arguably the spotlight of the yr for Illinois athletics, with the vast majority of 2021 within the books.
Then, the tip got here abruptly every week later with a dispiriting 71-58 loss to Loyola Chicago within the second spherical of the NCAA event.
Restlessness for a fan base that has turn out to be all too accustomed to coping with the pendulum swinging down relatively than up in terms of their favourite sports activities groups.
However now, with the Illini soccer staff mired in its regular fall swoon even earlier than the calendar properly, technically turns to fall, it’s OK to really feel these moments of pleasure once more.
Josh Whitman actually does.
“We’re all enthusiastic about basketball season,” the Illinois athletic director stated Monday night throughout an look on WDWS 1400-AM’s ‘Monday Night time SportsTalk,’ again on the Esquire in downtown Champaign for the primary time since March 9, 2020. “I give Coach Underwood an amazing quantity of credit score. The offseason was not like I believe any of us anticipated. After we had been on the bus getting back from (the NCAA event) in Indianapolis, and you’ll have stated, ‘Listed below are what the following 4 to 5 months are going to carry for this basketball program,’ I might have had some issues.”
No worries now. In fact, having a returning All-American middle in Cockburn resolve to return — after first declaring for the NBA draft, then coming into the switch portal after which deciding to play a 3rd season at Illinois — actually helps the equation.
Earlier than Cockburn’s much-anticipated announcement on July 16 that he would, certainly, run it again with the Illini for one more season, Whitman had a superb feeling. As a result of he discovered from Cockburn himself a couple of week earlier than the announcement the 7-foot, 285-pound massive man would turn out to be the massive man on campus this faculty yr.
And that he’d get to seemingly dole out a number of extra large bear hugs for the large middle.
“I’ll be excited to share a number of extra hugs with that man,” Whitman stated. “Kofi and I’ve a terrific relationship, and I actually have loads of respect for him and care quite a bit about him. I used to be appreciative of the truth that he stored me within the loop as he was going via the method this summer time. I’m actually proud to have him within the orange and blue and looking out ahead to seeing what he can do with our program this yr.”
Many of the consideration across the Illini this week will gear in the direction of Friday’s 8 p.m. soccer kickoff in opposition to Maryland at Memorial Stadium. Former Illinois coach Ron Zook, now Maryland’s particular groups coordinator and out of doors linebackers coach, can be again within the constructing he referred to as dwelling from 2005 to 2011.
So will Mike Locksley, now Maryland’s coach who continues to be considered in excessive regard in C-U for serving because the offensive coordinator on the 2007 staff that went to the Rose Bowl.
However whereas the temperatures haven’t began to dip simply but even with the calendar in mid-September, they’ll quickly. The leaves will flip colours, soccer season will begin to wind down after which the true enjoyable will tip off inside State Farm Heart.
The Oct. 23 exhibition opener in opposition to St. Francis is simply an appetizer to what’s a meaty common season schedule. Soccer will nonetheless be on the minds earlier than Cockburn, Andre Curbelo and the remainder of their teammates don their acquainted dwelling white jerseys eight days earlier than Halloween. Illinois soccer kicks off at Penn State at 11 a.m. that Saturday at Beaver Stadium, the identical venue Bret Bielema received a primary glimpse of what his potential first staff might appear to be virtually 9 months in the past.
Bielema is now enduring a rocky begin to his Illini tenure, a facet Underwood can relate to. In any case, his first two seasons roaming the sidelines produced a 25-39 file earlier than his program began to show.
To show again into the course many long-time Illini followers anticipate this system to be at: a perennial High 25 staff with aspirations of a deep run into March.
Maybe Illinois soccer reverses course from its 1-2 begin, wins a number of Huge Ten video games it isn’t anticipated to and possibly provides followers some hope in November.
However they’ll have already got that hope in lower than two months. As a result of the anticipation of an Illinois basketball season is sort of right here.
“I’m extremely enthusiastic about this staff,” Whitman stated. “With the standard gamers we have now and the standard coaches we have now, we anticipate to have a powerful season. With a view to do this, we’ve received to exit and serve discover on all of faculty basketball that we’re a pressure to be reckoned with.”
Can you’re feeling it? That one phrase is creeping again into the lexicon of Illinois followers.
Matt Daniels is the sports activities editor at The Information-Gazette. He might be reached at 217-373-7422 or at [email protected].
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