Shaun of the Brooklyn Nets and Sarah of the UI women's basketball team had a chance to chat Sunday.
CHAMPAIGN — Throughout her basketball career, Sarah Livingston could always count on a certain NBA player to be in her corner.
On Sunday, that player was among the fans cheering on the Illini freshman at State Farm Center.
With the NBA on break for its annual All-Star Game, Shaun Livingston of the Brooklyn Nets took the opportunity to travel to Champaign and watch his younger sister play.
“It was great,” the ninth-year NBA veteran said after the Big Ten game against Michigan. “First game watching my sister (this season), I was just excited to be here just to support her.”
Sarah Livingston has come to expect such visits by her big brother around this time of year. Shaun did the same thing when she was racking up points, rebounds and all-state honors for Morton High School.
“Usually for All-Star break he always comes and watches me,” said the 6-foot-2 forward, who made her fourth consecutive start and played 23 minutes Sunday.
Because of their age difference — Shaun is 28 and Sarah turned 19 on Saturday — they didn’t spend a whole lot of time together on the basketball court while growing up. Still, Shaun hopes he has been able to have an impact on his little sister’s basketball development with his example and his words.
“Hopefully, (I) just inspire her to be the best that she can be,” the 2004 News-Gazette All-State Player of the Year from Peoria Central said. “That’s what it’s about. I always tell her that.
“She has her own path. It’s not to walk in my shoes. It’s to walk in her own shoes and to be the best she can be.”
Sarah said the two talk by phone usually once a week and also keep in touch on other days via texting. Don’t assume, however, that the topic is basketball.
“It’s usually not,” she said. “We talk just about life. Brother-sister stuff. Lots of inside jokes.”
Unlike Sarah, Shaun never played college basketball, instead turning pro out of high school after being selected with the fourth overall pick of the 2004 NBA draft.
Shaun indicated that he never played at SFC, formerly known as the Assembly Hall. The SFC hosted the IHSA state tournament for more than three decades until 1996, when it was moved to Peoria.
When Livingston played on Peoria Central teams that won state titles in 2003 and ’04, he never had to leave his hometown.
Did he ever regret not playing at the state tournament’s longtime venue in Champaign?
“Not really, because it was Peoria,” the Nets guard said. “I mean, that’s where I’m from. I never thought about it, to be honest with you.”
Turnstiles busy. The Illini’s annual Play4Kay breast cancer awareness game — also known as the Pink Game — attracted the second-largest home crowd of the season Sunday. Illinois drew 3,018 fans, trailing only the 3,306 that attended the Jan. 12 game against Nebraska.
However, unlike Sunday, the game against the Cornhuskers offered free admission as part of a “Pack the House” promotion.
“I’m really encouraged by the crowd,” UI coach Matt Bollant said. “Really appreciate the community coming out and the support. The Pink Zone Game, we’re really appreciative of that and appreciate the community backing us.”