CHAMPAIGN — Illinois’ seniors have the week to let it sink in, but Saturday’s game against Nebraska will be the last time in their roller-coaster careers they’ll play at the Assembly Hall.
“It kind of hit me already,” D.J. Richardson said. “It’s crazy. When we had two games left there just recently before we played Penn State, thinking that we only had two games left there was kind of weird. Now, only having one, I’m just going to enjoy it and have as much fun as I can.”
Richardson and fellow seniors Brandon Paul, Tyler Griffey and fifth-year transfer Sam McLaurin have been enjoying themselves of late, winning five straight before Sunday’s loss at then-No. 7 Michigan.
Richardson, Paul and Griffey have experienced highs: winning an NCAA tournament game, beating the top-ranked team in the country. They’ve also endured a 17-15 season that saw the coach who recruited them (Bruce Weber) get fired.
Saturday is shaping up to be a memorable one for the group, which will play in front of a sold-out crowd during the 50th anniversary of the Assembly Hall.
“They’ve really battled and been very resilient through tough times; I think that’s always the mark of a person’s character. They’re good people and I’m fortunate to have had a chance to have been around them and work with them,” first-year Illinois coach John Groce said. “It’s (gone) by fast. I’ve enjoyed coaching this team and the seniors are a big part of that. Those guys mean a lot to us. They mean a lot to this university and to this program. They’ve been through a lot over the course of their careers and I’m really proud of the way they’ve been very determined, very open-minded with a new coaching staff; they’ve been very coachable.”
Going out in style
The Illinois basketball program will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Assembly Hall and bid farewell to four seniors. Trouble is, Illinois has struggled recently on Senior Day, losing three of four. A closer look:
March 1, 2009: No. 9 Michigan State 74, No. 20 Illinois 66 — Once booed by the home fans, Chester Frazier received a standing ovation as he, Trent Meacham and Calvin Brock said goodbye.
March 7, 2010: No. 15 Wisconsin 72, Illinois 57 — Illinois’ third straight loss helped seal its NIT fate, meaning Dominique Keller and Bubba Chisholm would play on the home floor again.
March 5, 2011: Illinois 72, Indiana 48 — Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale and Bill Cole celebrated after the blowout win as their teammates cheered them on from the bench.
March 1, 2012: No. 13 Michigan 72, Illinois 61 — Roughly 2,000 fans were in their seats as fifth-year transfer Sam Maniscalco was honored during a pregame ceremony.