Something to get you going today, courtesy executive editor Jim Rossow.
Scooch over, Flyin' Illini, there's another Final Four team from campus that deserves a pat on the back. The University of Illinois' chess team is headed to the President's Cup — the Final Four for the rook-and-pawn crowd — for the second consecutive year. Quite a feat considering Illinois' recruiting budget (zilch), regional seed (13th) and program history (prior to the current run, the Illini hadn't reached the Final Four since '91).
"Making it last year was a one-in-a-million thing," said Michael Auger, who teamed with Xin Lou, Eric Rosen and Akshay Indusekar to qualify last week in Lubbock, Texas. "Doing it again was absolutely shocking."
Auger spent Saturday — you guessed it — at a chess tournament in Chicago (the Final Four isn't until April in New York City). The Illinois senior and former IHSA champ from Whitney Young was kind enough to take a break and fill us in on the Checkmatin' Illini:
Who's more popular: you or the Flyin' Illini?
"It's fairly rare to run into anyone who knows what we've done. We had a couple people come up to us on campus last year and say, 'Congratulations.' We definitely fly under the radar."
Kenny Battle cut down nets. How'd you celebrate reaching the Final Four?
"We went back to our hotel rooms and took a nap. You work your brain so hard you're exhausted at the end of a tournament. But after the nap, we stayed up to 5 a.m. playing poker with the other teams."
Lou Henson's guys knew how to talk trash. How about you?
"Trash-talking in chess is hard. You sit at a board for like six hours, and you can't say a word. It's a very silent game. The trash talk is more about the looks you give during the game. Like 'I got you.'
Any chance the Big Ten adds a chess tournament?
"It'd be a great addition, but I don't think so. I've never been one to believe chess is a sport."