An Illini Carol
In a nod to Charles Dickens
and because I'm in the Christmas spirit
, Illini Wonk will take a look at the Illini of Seasons Past, Present and Future.Illini of Seasons Past
--the 100th of Illinois basketball--the Fighting Illini won their first 29 games of the season and made it to their first National Championship game. Though they came up short
in that game, they tied a single-season NCAA record with 37 wins. The 2005 NBA Draft saw two players taken in the first round, with Deron Williams going third
as the highest drafted player in Illinois basketball history. For more on last season, try one of these books
Perhaps even more important than the outcome of the 2004-05 season is the fact that Illinois now has three regular contributors in the NBA. Most top high school recruits are dreaming of a future in the pros and would prefer to attend college programs that improve their chances of getting there. Thanks to some recent alumni, Illinois can now be looked at as one of those programs.Illini of the Present
With the win
over winless Coppin State, the Fighting Illini are now in possession of the best record in college hoops at 11-0. They are ranked in the top ten of every major poll (no one can possibly take seriously the CBS Sportsline poll
that has North Carolina ranked at 13 ahead of Illinois at 14) and with losses by Texas and Louisville, the Illini look poised to move up again.
Most sports writers have labeled this start a "surprise," but at least one thinks this season's Illini are better than last year
. Others think, despite the perfect record
, there is much room for improvement. Illini Wonk has chronicled the growing chorus of media praise here
Whatever your interpretation of their season thus far, Mark Tupper summed up the current state of Illinois basketball on his blog
when he wrote: These are amazing times in the history of Illini basketball. WeÂre spoiled, kids. We get to see a victory almost every time out
. His post made Illini Wonk pause and realize that in the year I've been blogging (the anniversary of the first post
is Tuesday, thanks for asking), I've only had to cover a loss twice. The Illini are 49-2 over the last two seasons.Illini of Seasons Yet to Come
I don't think it's hyperbole to say that the future of Illinois basketball has never looked brighter. Despite the pending loss of two fantastic seniors, the Illini have some young firepower that will be around for a while and some recruits that are sure to give the program a boost.
The foremost on that list was on display last night at the Circle City Classic
where Illinois-bound Eric Gordon put on a show
against the #2 team in Illinois. The 32 points from the North Central Junior apparently led Loren Tate to say that Gordon might be the best recruit ever to play for the Illini
. According to Illinois Prep Bulls-eye
, Gordon is a starter from day one the moment he arrives at Illinois and is hands down the Illini's best recruit in 20 years
He might be the best, but he's not alone. Joining Gordon in Illinois' 2007 recruiting class is the latest Peoria product--Bill Cole--who committed
to the Illini last week. Illinois Prep Bulls-eye
ranks Cole among the top three players in Illinois in his class and called the commitment huge
for Bruce Weber and Illinois.
Next year, the Illini have 6-11 Brian Carlwell
of Proviso East in Chicago. While Carlwell was bested by Greg Oden last night, he is putting up big numbers on the season. They also have 6-9 Richard Semrau
from Cleveland, Ohio. Mike Parris of the blogged that Semrau is a Donyell Marshall-type player who is comfortable playing on the wing and shooting from the perimeter.
Oh yeah, and when these top recruits come to Champaign over the next couple of years they'll be playing for Bruce Weber, one of the best coaches in the game. The future is bright, indeed. Merry Christmas Illini nation.