Thursday evening marked the end of my 40th basketball season of Illini fandom. The first one ended in OT, heartbreak and injustice in Rupp Arena in March '84.
Thursday evening was odd. After every single tournament loss, from the age of 18 all the way to 56 last year, I've felt gutted. It would take me several days to get over the loss, and occasionally I couldn't watch any of the remainder of the tournament. As we left the bar after the loss to the Hogs, however, my Illini brother and I were already talking about enjoying the rest of the tourney games. I got up yesterday morning and felt fine. Actually, no: I felt pretty good. Relieved like many here have expressed. Looking forward to seeing who will return and what the staff puts together for next year.
That says it all about this season, I guess. Don't want to focus on the negative so I'll do the opposite, since there's so much that is positive:
So pleased and happy for RJ that he fought through his slump and emerged at the end confident, swarming on D, and beginning to feel his shot. He's my guy. Ty is electric when he's on the court; am convinced he'll be a legend by the time he leaves if he sticks with us. Sencire is TF Jr. if he keeps at it and bulks up. I'm confident Luke can be our dagger from the perimeter next season. We really missed him this year. I hope Dain stays and works hard in the off-season. He can be a force for us in the post and open up the perimeter. I hope Jayden will become coachable; if not, I appreciate what he brought the team, particularly after Skyy bailed on them. And CoHawk... really hope he returns. He can be our leader. TSJ, too. If he comes back, that will be such a bonus. Without him this season we would likely have been a bottom-tier BT team. We have components of a team that can be special.
And BU... don't want to hear any carping about him. He resuscitated a near-corpse six years ago. I have no concerns about his ability to learn this year's lessons, adapt as he's done in the past, and put a winner on the floor again next season. A much more stable winner with a cohesive team culture. He's a smart, savvy, and insightful.
I'm thankful for yet another season when I looked forward to every game, even after it should have been clear to an old man like me that the ceiling had been reached in January! Also thankful for the community here and Dan's facilitation and stewardship of it. This Board and the people who frequent it make my life better, richer, and enable me to marinate daily in that Illini bond for which I'm so thankful. Nowhere else in life can I find a place that makes me laugh out loud and, in the same page, makes my heart swell with gratitude and a sense of affiliation. And I've only met one of you in person. Wild. Love it. This interwebs thing is spiffing.
Am already looking forward to the opening tip next November and the entertainment that I'm sure the spring/summer portal movements will bring.