All Access: Game Day at State Farm Center

All Access: Game Day at State Farm Center

News-Gazette photographer Stephen Haas was given special access to go behind the scenes at State Farm Center before, during and after the Illini's men's basketball game against Minnesota on Jan. 16. His timing was impeccable as the Illini routed the Gophers 95-68 to snap a five-game losing streak, triggering a postgame celebration that included coaches, players and athletic director Josh Whitman.

"It was great to finally get that monkey off your back and get a first conference win," freshman Ayo Dosunmu said.

Game Day at the iconic arena, however, involves a whole lot more than just basketball. Haas started early and stayed late to show the many moving parts, from the basement kitchen to the catwalk 85 feet above Lou Henson Court. Here is his story:

12:53 p.m. — Bryce Hamilton, director of concessions for Spectra Foods, prepares the registers and digital menu boards at the West End Grlll at State Farm Center. His prep work took place more than seven hours before tipoff.

12:59 p.m. — Executive Chef Tim Hoch works in the State Farm Center’s premium kitchen — in the bowels of the arena — which will feed some of the 11,503 fans in attendance. There were a variety of dishes available to be served throughout the arena, including the many suites.

1:03 p.m . — Sous Chef Robert Rodrigues works in premium kitchen.

1:05 p.m. — Stacks of bottled beverages — the Coca-Cola Co. is the official beverage sponsor of Illinois athletics — await distribution in a service corridor in the bowels of the arena.

1:10 p.m. — Athletic facilities attendant John Humer dusts a glass shelf in one of the suites.

1:31 p.m. — Big Ten Network utility workers Jason Chaney, left, and William “Kojak” Alexander, both from Champaign, wheel camera equipment to the court ahead of the 8 p.m. broadcast. That night, Brandon Gaudin and Jon Crispin called the game for BTN.

1:36 p.m. — Alexander, left, and Max White, of Urbana, unroll cables while setting up broadcast equipment for the BTN production.

1:39 p.m. — Alexander rolls a cable while working to set up the equipment used to broadcast the game.

1:47 p.m. — A bin of metal brackets — as well as some clever signage (below) — is seen in a storage area.

1:57 p.m. — Illinois assistant coach Chin Coleman walks down the stairway from the guard shack outside of the arena. Coaches and players arrived six hours before tip to conduct a walkthrough that involves stretching, light drills and shooting.

2 p.m. — Dirk Van Cleave, the State Farm Center’s electrician, sets up the DV Sport Instant Replay at the scorer’s table.

2:07 p.m. — VanCleave shows some of the power and data wiring that runs to the scorer’s table.

2:13 p.m. — Freshman guard Tevian Jones warms up on the court with assistant coach Jamall Walker ahead of the team’s shootaround. Both the home and visiting teams work out before returning for that night’s game.

2:19 p.m. — Athletic facilities attendant Steven Warmbier changes a sticky pad, used to remove dust and dirt from the bottom of the players’ shoes, on the corner of the court.

2:28 p.m. — In an otherwise empty arena, Illinois players warm up on the court ahead of the team’s shootaround.

2:29 p.m. — Camera operators Doug Fink, left, of Champaign, and John Eisenhour, of Charleston, set up HD broadcast camera equipment to be used for that night’s broadcast.

2:39 p.m. — Team managers and players warm up ahead of the team’s shootaround on Lou Henson Court. During the shootaround, the managers will assist coaches in running the drills.

2:40 p.m. — Freshman center Samba Kane stretches ahead of the team’s shootaround. Starters and less-used players like Kane all go through the same routine during game-day shootarounds.

2:41 p.m. — Must be the front row: Junior walkon guard Samson Oladimeji prepares for the team’s shootaround. The players wear practice jerseys during the workout.

2:42 p.m. — Freshman forward Zach Griffith, a walkon from nearby Fisher, stretches ahead of the team’s shootaround. Griffith was a manager in the 2017-18 season before receiving an invite to join the team last summer.

2:43 p.m. — Illinois coach Brad Underwood, casually dressed, watches players warm up. For the game, he’ll show up in much more formal attire.

2:45 p.m. — Assistant coach Jamall Walker leads ball-handling drills with senior guard Aaron Jordan, junior guard Tyler Underwood, freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu and freshman guard Alan Griffin.

2:46 p.m. — Sophomore guard Da’Monte Williams works on a ball handling drill on the same court where his father, Frank Williams, developed into a Big Ten star.

2:49 p.m. — Under the watchful eye of assistant coach Jamall Walker, Ayo Dusunmo and the Illini work on their ball handling during the shootaround. Walker, in his seventh season with the Illini, works primarily with the backcourt.

2:57 p.m. — Robert Stephens, of Indianapolis, labels the audio inputs of a breakout box, used for the various microphones used in a game broadcast for BTN.

2:59 p.m. — Illini players go through drills during the team’s shootaround, which typically is closed to fans and media with the exception of the TV announcers calling the game.

3:02 p.m. — Athletic facilities attendant Brian Spainhour uses a leaf blower to clean between the rows of section 109.

3:09 p.m. — Athletic facilities attendants Correy Wygant, left, and Erick Grindley move boxes of promotional bobbleheads to different areas on the second level of the arena. That night’s bobblehead giveaway: Flyin’ Illini great Marcus Liberty.

3:38 p.m. — Greg Wright, owner of the Possum Trot Supper Club restaurant in Oakwood, prepares trays of food for the player’s pregame meal in the team dining room underneath the arena.

3:44 p.m. — Test patterns are seen on the TVs in the empty Club 53 lounge area. The suite area is named after Illini great Dave Downey, whose 53 points against Indiana in 1963 remain a single-game record at the school. There is video of that game played in Club 53.

3:46 p.m. — Staff members walk through the orange-and-blue tunnel in State Farm Center. It connects Lou Henson Court and the teams' locker rooms.

4:09 p.m. — University of Illinois Police Department K9 Bane, a 1-year-old German shepherd, checks a service area with Officer Darren Lewis during a pregame bomb sweep.

4:12 p.m. — UI Police K9 Zuri, a 5-year-old Belgian Malinois, one of the department’s bomb-sniffing dogs, alerts Officer Troy Chew to the presence of something under a table during a pregame bomb sweep. To help keep the dogs motivated, after an area is checked an officer will go back and hide a small amount of explosives and then bring a dog back through to check again. When the dog finds the planted object, they get a reward.

4:15 p.m. — On a courtside table: A talkback box, a device that controls the microphone of a sports announcer.

4:37 p.m. — Team managers remain on the court to shoot a few baskets after the Illini’s shootaround. Sometimes, select players also stick around to work on shooting.

4:42 p.m. — “It at least looks shiny once,” said athletic facilities attendant Jeremy Watts while cleaning one of the glass backboards after both teams finished their pregame shoot arounds. “And then they come out here to play and that’s about it ... wait until next time.”

4:48 p.m. — A view of the court through the projection room window — as well as instructions that obviously have been ignored.

4:50 p.m. — Stagehand Ed Van Getson walks out on the catwalk — 120 feet from the projection booth to the outer ring that hangs 85 feet above the court — to check for burned out light bulbs three hours before tipoff.

4:57 p.m. — A view from above: following pregame shootarounds involving both teams, athletic facilities attendant Jeremy Watts moves a ladder to clean the backboard on the north end of Lou Henson Court about 3 1/2 hours before tipoff.

5 p.m. — One of the LED light fixtures that illuminates the inside of the arena bowl.

5:06 p.m.: Athletic facilities attendants Jeremy Watts, left, and Steven Warmbier clean the wood floor of Lou Henson Court.

5:10 p.m. — A facilities vehicle works to keep the sidewalks and walkways clear before parking lots and doors open for that night’s game.

5:17 p.m. — Stagehand Ed Van Getson and Tracy Hemrich, department head of rigging, check one of the lights that hangs above the court.

5:23 p.m. — The court is quiet 2 1/2 hours before tipoff.

5:27 p.m. — Some of the electronics that power the audio/visual equipment is seen in a work room.

5:31 p.m. — Jack Hicks, usher supervisor, uses chalk to write numbers on the bottom of courtside seats.

5:34 p.m. — The courtside scoreboard reflects on the empty court. It's one of several scoreboards throughout the arena that keep fans updated throughout the game.

5:45 p.m. — Stella Youse, 13, an eighth-grader at Edison Middle School in Champaign, does a practice run of her harp and vocal performance of the national anthem during a pre-game sound check. Youse has performed the anthem on her harp at a number of Illini athletic events.

5:48 p.m. — Doug Gherna, State Farm Center house audio director, and Tracy Hemrich, head of rigging, discuss microphone placement for the harp during the sound check for a performance of the national anthem by Youse.

6 p.m. — WCIA reporter Craig Choate does a live tease from the court for the station’s 6 p.m. broadcast. Three local TV stations typically staff Illini home games.

6:02 p.m. — Athletic trainer Paul Schmidt tapes a player’s ankles in the team’s training room near the locker room inside the arena. Schmidt says he uses 30 rolls of tape on a game day, twice wrapping the ankles of every Illini (shootaround, game).

6:26 p.m. — Members of Minnesota's staff — from left, Assistant Director of Player Personnel Ike Hermer, Assistant to the Head Coach Josh Adel, and Assistant Director of Operations Billy O'Meara — walk up the stairs from the loading dock to the visitor’s locker room as the team bus arrives at State Farm Center. It was a short drive for the Gophers, who sayed at the iHotel and Conference Center the night before. It's a Big Ten rule that teams arrive the day before the game.

6:26 p.m. — Minnesota players, including Jordan Murphy, left, and Eric Curry, middle, get off the bus in State Farm Center’s loading dock and head to the visitor’s locker room.



6:32 p.m. — Darrien Rose, a senior community health major from Danville, places newspapers on the seats in the Orange Krush section ahead of a game. The students wave copies of the Daily Illini when starters are introduced.

6:39 p.m. — Freshman forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili demonstrates his method of using the foil lid to eat an applesauce cup to News-Gazette Media’s Loren Tate during pregame warmups. Tate, on the beat for 53 years, considers Bezhanishvili one of the bigger personalities in Illini history.

6:44 p.m. — University of Illinois cheerleaders practice on the court before a game.

6:58 p.m. — Screens fill the wall of the BTN’s TV production truck set up in the loading dock.

7:06 p.m. — Event worker Reid Anderson scans a fan’s ticket in the west entrance. Spectators are allowed to enter the arena one hour before tipoff.

7:20 p.m. — Fred King, a member of the State Farm Center parking staff, greets a vehicle at the northeast lot entrance on Fourth Street. King arrives at least three hours before every home game he works — rain or shine (or, in this case, frigid conditions).

7:40 p.m. — Freshman guards Tevian Jones, left, and Ayo Dosunmu are welcomed by fans as they walk from the locker room to the court.

7:42 p.m. — Illinois teammates, including 7-foot reserve center Adonis De La Rosa, huddle together in the orange glow of the tunnel before taking the court.

7:56 p.m. — Big Ten officials Paul Szelc, left, and Terry Wyler get ready before the game in the officials changing room.

7:59 p.m. — Big Ten official Terry Oglesby stretches in the officials’ changing room before taking the court.

8:01 p.m. — Szelc, Wyler and Oglesby watch the end of the Iowa vs. Penn State game on the TV in the officials changing room before taking the court to call the Illini-Gophers game.

8:02 p.m. — Wyler, Szelc and Oglesby head for the court. When there is a controversial call, the officials sometimes will be asked to discuss the play with a pool reporter after the game in or around their dressing room.

8:06 p.m. — Van Getson controls the arena lighting with a touchscreen in the projection room.

8:10 p.m. — Wyler, Szelc and Oglesby wait on the court during the team introductions with the lights dimmed. The officials often fist-bump the starters after they're introduced.

8:12 p.m. — Van Getson controls the lights for the pregame team introductions from the control board in the projection room.

8:15 p.m. — After hours of preparation, the Illini and Gophers finally get around to playing basketball.

9:19 p.m. — Mike Granse, a photographer for USA Today Sports Images, uses one of his cameras as a laptop stand while transmitting photos from the first half of the game during halftime.

9:20 p.m. — Illinois cheerleaders perform on the court during halftime.

9:35 p.m. — A BTN crew controls the broadcast of the game from inside a TV production truck parked in the loading dock.

9:45 p.m. — State Farm Center usher Diane Smith peeks at the game from her spot in the tunnel leading to the Illinois locker room.

9:49 p.m. — Heather Mihaly cleans one of the drink machines at Center Court Pizzeria during the second half of the game.

10:01 p.m. — Elizabeth McDaniel, right, and Lizzy O’Brien, center, perform with the Fighting Illini Athletic Band during the second half (above). Jason Lauridsen (below) also joins in.

10:10 p.m. — Michael Sanchez, DJ Mic, of Champaign, controls the music from his stand in the Orange Krush section.

10:13 p.m. — A fan uses an iPhone to photograph the game.

10:17 p.m. — Sound mixer Hayden Jackson and videographer Kevin Shaw, both of Chicago, film fans in the Orange Krush section for an episode of the BTN show “The Journey.” They were there to do a feature on Ayo Dosunmu. New episodes of the show come out on Sunday nights.

10:18 p.m. — Illinois cheerleaders celebrate on the court after the final buzzer.

10:18 p.m. — Illinois and Minnesota players shake hands on the court at the end of a game — a custom followed by every college basketball team.

10:19 p.m. — Public address announcer Tim Sinclair wraps up the Illini’s win as the players leave the court.

10:20 p.m. — Senior guard Aaron Jordan makes his way through a sea of fans after the game on the way to the Illini locker room.

10:20 p.m. — UI athletic director Josh Whitman, a regular at basketball games home and away, hugs junior forward Kipper Nichols after the game.

10:20 p.m. — Whitman had plenty to celebrate on this night, the Illini bagging their first Big Ten win of the season.

10:21 p.m. — Illinois — led by sophomore guard Trent Frazier (1) — celebrates in the team’s ‘ready room’ after the 95-68 win against Minnesota. The room is located off the same hallway as the team's locker room.

10:22 p.m. — Freshman forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili — one of the team's biggest personalities –  celebrates in a lively postgame scene. Bezhanishvili had reason to be happy: 20 points and eight rebounds.

10:23 p.m. — Assistant coach Chin Coleman celebrates with the players.

10:24 p.m. — As he does after every game, UI coach Brad Underwood addresses the players. On this night, the mood was celebratory.

10:32 p.m. — Minnesota coach Richard Pitino discuss his team's performance with a room full of reporters in the Dennis D. and Katharine W. Swanson Media Center in the lower level at State Farm Center. The visiting team typically is brought in first, followed by coaches and players from the home team.

10:39 p.m. — Ayo Dosunmu listens as Giorgi Bezhanishvili answers a question from a reporter in the media room. Players and coaches from both teams typically are brought there after every game.

10:41 p.m. — Illinois coach Brad Underwood does a postgame radio interview with Voice of the Illini Brian Barnhart (left) and Deon Thomas (not pictured) after the game. The Q&A is broadcast over the speakers for fans in the arena to hear.

10:48 p.m. — Spectra's Curtis Rainey collects garbage after the game.

11 p.m. — Some seven hours after first arriving at the arena, Illini Radio Network producer/engineer Ed Bond tears down the radio setup courtside.

11:31 p.m. — Marcus Fuller, college basketball reporter at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, is the last writer on press row as he races to make deadline. Many media members have prime courtside seats directly behind the teams' benches (below).

11:57 p.m. — Last one out turns off the lights.

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