Illinois Year in Review: Part II

Illinois Year in Review: Part II

Best Moments
1. National champions don’t happen every year, but with Jesse Delgado winning one in wrestling and Jordan Valdez doing the same in men’s gymnastics, Illini could brag about those two accomplishments.
2. It was a chance for those to step back in time when nearly every player and coach that was part of the 1988-89 Illinois men’s basketball team returned for a 25-year reunion event at State Farm Center before Illinois put the finishing touches on a 75-55 win against Penn State on Jan. 4.  
3. Illinois unveils new uniforms in mid-April. Thanks to a collaboration with Nike, many UI athletic teams will sport an updated look starting this school year.
4. An opportunity for the Illinois men’s golf team to get even better (if that’s possible), the university announced in mid-June plans to build an outdoor golf practice facility, with a dedication set for this fall. Coach Mike Small and former Illini Steve Stricker designed the setup.    
5. Vanier Joseph dazzled all spring in the 110-meter hurdles, but never more than when he clocked in at 13.41 seconds during the Illinois Twilight Meet in mid-April at the UI to give him the fastest time in the country in the event at that point of the season.
6. Chicago Simeon is known for producing standout boys’ basketball players. Yet it was rare for one to commit before his junior season had even started. But Illinois landed four-star recruit D.J. Williams on Nov. 5 to give John Groce his third Simeon product since he took the Illini job.  
7. Fans nearly filling one set of bleachers and crowding around the berm at Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin High School to watch an Illinois spring practice at night in April. Most were on hand to see local product Wes Lunt take snaps at quarterback, and he didn’t disappoint.
8. Tracy Abrams sank two free throws with 4.6 seconds left, and Illinois held on to beat Missouri 65-64 on Dec. 21. The victory gave Illinois its first win in the Braggin’ Rights rivalry against the Tigers since 2008.
9. Miles Osei played his last game at Illinois donning Ryan Lankford’s No. 12 jersey against Northwestern. Osei honored his good friend with the gesture because Lankford was out with a dislocated shoulder. He came through with a career-high 93 receiving yards and the only touchdown catch of his career.
10. Red Grange historian and Illinois supporter Charlie Finn, with help from the Champaign Park District and the Virginia Theatre, put on play honoring Grange right before football season started in August.

Worst Moments
1. Leron Black signing his letter of intent with Illinois on Nov. 15 was overshadowed by two other men’s basketball recruiting moves. First, Louisville Ballard point guard Quentin Snider decommitted from the Illini and chose his hometown Cardinals before Cliff Alexander set off mass hysteria on social media and online when he chose Kansas ahead of Illinois with his infamous hat fake.  
2. Darius Paul’s arrest gave John Groce his first case of handling a situation like this at Illinois, and he responded swiftly, suspending Paul — who sat out last season after he transferred from Western Michigan — for the upcoming season before Paul pleaded guilty to underage drinking and before it was learned Paul had failed two drug tests earlier in the season.
3. Football staffer and former Illini linebacker Matt Sinclair, on the way back from Illinois’ only Big Ten win of the season at Purdue, was arrested for pointing a gun out of a moving vehicle on Interstate 74 near Champaign. Sinclair was Tim Beckman’s assistant director of player personnel and alumni relations for less than a year before he resigned.  
4. Nathan Scheelhaase didn’t just have to concern himself with Penn State’s defense in the days leading up to the Illini’s game Nov. 2 in State College, Pa. His father, Nate Creer, was arrested Oct. 26 in the Memorial Stadium stands in a game against Michigan State for resisting a peace officer after a fight broke out. Creer was subsequently banned from any home Illini games the rest of the season.
5. Stephen Bardo’s glibness. First, it was his book recounting his playing career at Illinois, which called out Ken Norman, among others. Then the current BTN broadcaster talked about how Champaign-Urbana was racist in the aftermath of Darius Paul’s arrest. Bardo made some people around town rather upset with his stance on certain issues this school year.
6. Once the buzzer sounded against Michigan, no events would take place at State Farm Center until November because of renovation work. The construction forced Illinois men’s basketball to play both its NIT games away from Champaign.
7. The lack of talent Illinois had on its football roster was exposed at various points during the season, and again in early May when no Illini was drafted into the NFL for the first time since 2006.
8. Caught by ESPN cameras, Tim Beckman and Bill Cubit engaged in a shouting match along sidelines at Memorial Stadium during Illini’s loss to Ohio State on Nov. 16.
9. The NCAA baseball tournament announcement day came and went without Illinois seeing it name on bracket.
10. Take your pick when it relates to women’s basketball. Losses of 84-60 to Arizona State, 87-51 to North Carolina, 93-69 to Georgia Tech, and ... in all, Illini lost 11 games by 18 or more points.

Milestones
1. Senior libero Jennifer Beltran became Illinois’ all-time digs leader Oct. 12 at Indiana en route to career total of 2,220, second most in Big Ten history.
2. Jannelle Flaws established a single-season record for goals when she netted her 19th of the season during a 2-0 home win against Michigan State on Oct. 27.  
3. Playing in his final game wearing an Illinois uniform, Nathan Scheelhaase surpassed Juice Williams to become the career record-holder for total offense Nov. 30 against Northwestern. Scheelhaase left with 10,634 yards (8,568 passing and 2,066 rushing).
4. Hosting its first outdoor meet since 2010, the Illinois men’s track and field team claimed 11 first-place finishes to win the eight-team Illinois Twilight Meet on April 12, and the women’s team placed second.
5. Former Illinois men’s gymnastics coach Yoshi Hayasaki was chosen April 16 as one of six inductees into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame. His class will be enshrined Aug. 22.
6. Illini women’s gymnast Amber See recorded a perfect 10 on the vault, the third UI gymnast to do so, and helped the Illini win the State of Illinois Classic on Feb. 21 at Illinois State.
7. V’Angelo Bentley didn’t waste time in getting the first Illinois kickoff return for a touchdown in six seasons when he took one 100 yards against Southern Illinois in the opener Aug. 30. And then he became the first Illini to return a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown in the same season when he scampered 67 yards for a punt-return touchdown against Ohio State on Nov. 16.
8. Senior sharpshooter Amber Moore became women’s basketball leader in career three-pointers when she made her 215th career three-pointer against Valparaiso on Nov. 12 and broke her own record for single-season treys, finishing with 88.
9. Tony Dallago established school record for career pins (40) when Illini wrestler at 174 pounds earned two falls at the NCAA Championships in mid-March.
10. Baseball coach Dan Hartleb moved past Tom Dedin into fourth place on Illinois’ all-time wins list with 269 career victories as his team rallied to defeat Michigan State 5-4 on May 2.

Top Ex-Illini
1. Mike Hopkins. Former Illini defensive back under John Mackovic delivered UI commencement address at Memorial Stadium. After he spent six months aboard the International Space Station.
2. Tatyana McFadden. All the wheelchair stud athlete and recent UI graduate has done so far in 2014 is win a silver medal at the Sochi Paralympics in February before winning the wheelchair races at London Marathon and Boston Marathon.
3. Aja Evans. Ex-Illini track and field athlete graces ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue, which hit newsstands Friday, after winning a bronze medal in the women’s two-person bobsled at the Sochi Olympics in February.
4. David Diehl. Former offensive lineman with Ron Turner retired after 11-year career with New York Giants that produced two Super Bowl rings. Should thrive in new role as analyst for NFL games on Fox.
5. Deron Williams. Statistically speaking, Brooklyn point guard had lowest scoring average (14.3 points) since rookie season, but he helped get Nets into Eastern Conference semifinals before bowing out to Miami.
6. Kevin Anderson. South African has reached round of 16 in all three Grand Slam events in 2014 and currently is ranked 17th in the world.  
7. Gia Lewis-Smallwood. Aiming for a spot on Summer Olympic team in 2016, and why not. Thrower just won her second straight national discus title.
8. Bill Self. Kansas team had earlier than anticipated exit in NCAA tournament, but former Illini coach had two of the top three NBA draft picks in June.  
9. Corey Liuget. About to enter his fourth season in San Diego, defensive tackle has established himself as permanent starter with Chargers.  
10. Tanner Roark. Right-hander with Nationals has found a home in Washington’s rotation and takes a 7-6 record with a 3.12 ERA into today’s start at Philadelphia.

Top Recruits
1. Chatrice White, women’s basketball. Not every day a McDonald’s All-American casts her lot with the Illini.   
2. Leron Black, men’s basketball. Mr. Basketball in Tennessee could find himself in John Groce’s rotation this winter.
3. Jered Cortez, wrestling. Possible successor to Jesse Delgado at one of the lower weights, Glenbard North standout won four state titles at State Farm Center in prep career.
4. Dylan Meyer, men’s golf. Who says Illinois can’t recruit in Indiana? Evansville native was second-best player in state and sixth best in nation in the class.
5. Tyson Bull, men’s gymnastics. Highly thought of after winning the Australian Junior International Gymnast of the Year four straight years.
6. Allison Palmer, volleyball. Arizona State transfer eligible right away and could find herself in rotation right away.  
7. Abby Elinski, women’s soccer. Ohio’s Gatorade Player of the Year enrolled early at UI with hopes of making instant contribution.  
8. Nick Allegretti, football. Don’t be shocked if redshirt year isn’t applied to talented offensive lineman, who could see time at center or guard.  
9. Carly Thomas, softball. A top 100 recruit, outfielder from California brings power at the plate and speed on the base paths.
10. Aron Hiltzik, men’s tennis. Younger brother of current Illini Jared, Aron’s a five-star recruit, according to tennisrecruiting.net.

Best Crowds
1. The Illinois volleyball team hosted Iowa on Sept. 27 at State Farm Center, beating the Hawkeyes 3-0 in front of 7,061 fans, the second most in program history.
2. Illinois treated a raucous sellout State Farm Center crowd, the first of the season, to a memorable Big Ten opener as the Illinois men’s basketball team defeated Indiana 83-80 in overtime Dec. 31.
3. Not only did Illinois softball beat No. 20 Nebraska 11-4, but 1,289 spectators also made their way into Eichelberger Field on April 5 to take part in World’s Largest Softball Tailgate promotion.
4. Before the rain hit, but not before the Indiana baseball team stopped hitting, the Illini fell 11-3 to the Hoosiers before 3,185 fans at Illinois Field as part of Bleacher Bum Barbecue festivities.
5. The Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex wasn’t filled to the brim, but it sure felt like that as energetic home crowd helped Illini rally past Memphis 4-3 in NCAA second-round match May 10.
6. The Illinois women’s basketball game wasn’t much to see — a 75-56 loss to Nebraska — but a season-high 3,306 fans at State Farm Center had fun just the same Jan. 12, breaking the world record for most people wearing paper crowns in one place (about 1,800).
7. Playing in second match of the season at State Farm Center, and one with much more at stake, 4,631 spectators attended a 3-0 season-ending loss for Illinois volleyball against Purdue on Dec. 13.
8. In mid-November, Illini delighted a packed house of 3,632 fans — 11th-largest volleyball crowd in Huff Hall history — with 3-0 sweep of No. 18 Purdue.
9. The Illini men’s tennis team defeated Pepperdine 5-0 in front of a jam-packed Atkins Tennis Center and an estimated 750 spectators March 14. The match was part of a College Match Day Experience and was televised on ESPN3.
10. The Illinois women’s soccer team lost 3-2 against Nebraska on Sept. 29 in its first loss of the season at the Illinois Soccer Stadium, but a season-best 1,526 fans turned out for the match.

Worst Crowds
1. The Illinois football seniors were treated to a less than half-full Memorial Stadium two days after Thanksgiving on Nov. 30. The paid attendance was listed at 37,058, but the number could have easily been cut in half as Illini lost 37-34 to Northwestern.
2. The Illinois men’s basketball team was playing almost as bad as the weather Feb. 4. Kudos to the 4,185 fans who braved a winter storm to witness Illinois lose its eighth straight game in a 75-62 loss to Wisconsin.
3. No one likes to watch baseball in freezing weather. Hence why you can’t blame the paltry number of 213 fans in attendance for the Illinois baseball team’s 3-2 win against Xavier on March 23. The temperature was a balmy 32 degrees.
4. Losing at Bradley in the season opener might have dimmed the enthusiasm for the Illinois women’s basketball home opener. Matt Bollant’s team responded with an 87-59 win against Valparaiso on Nov. 12, where a season-low 1,265 fans watched. Illinois had more fans in attendance (1,440) for exhibition opener against Cardinal Stritch.
5. In the second-to-last home game of the season Nov. 16, with Illinois needing a win against No. 3 Ohio State to keep its slim bowl hopes alive, 44,095 showed up to see the Buckeyes win 60-35. Plenty of Scarlet and Grey, however, was in the stands as Illinois didn’t have much of a homefield advantage.  
6. A midweek softball game at Eichelberger Field on April 16 between Illinois and DePaul, which the Blue Demons won 5-3, attracted a season-low 156 fans.
7. Sure, watching soccer once it starts to get colder isn’t a treat. But it was homecoming weekend. And Michigan was in town. Regardless, only 368 spectators turned out to see the Illini lose 2-0 to the Wolverines on Oct. 25.
8. The second-worst attended men’s basketball game came against Nebraska on Feb. 26. Illinois had just ended its eight-game losing streak with a win at Minnesota, but the allure of the Cornhuskers only brought out 13,206 as Illinois won 60-49.
9. Hardly anyone could blame fans for not sticking around as the Illinois football team lost 42-3 to Michigan State on Oct. 26. Barely one-fifth of the announced attendance of 45,895 was in the stands when the fourth quarter started.
10. The 10 a.m. start time likely contributed to the worst crowd Illinois volleyball had all season. In the home opener, Illinois outlasted Arizona State 3-2, but only 1,658 spectators were in attendance.

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