It is natural for old-timers to wonder: How would I measure up with today's athletes? Could they hit my curveball? If I was a 220-pound guard-tackle, how would I stack up? Would their superior athleticism be too much to overcome?
Dave Downey believes his rebounding and scoring skills would still be effective. Ted Beach is less certain, exaggerating: "If there were 14 players on the Illini squad, I'd be No. 14."
Downey and Beach were among the 60 former stars inducted into the Illinois Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium. Beach is the lone Champaign prep product, playing for three Maroon teams that reached the IHSA title game, winning in 1946. Those teams posted records of 34-2, 38-1 and 34-4.
"We were blessed to have a great coach in Harry Combes," Beach said. "He was innovative in developing the fullcourt press. In that way, he was ahead of his time.
"And we had some terrific players. Jesse Clements, who was a senior when I was a sophomore, was a standout all-around athlete, and his best sport was basketball. He could slash to the basket, rebound and play defense. He was a first-five All-Stater. Also making All-State (with Beach) during that period were Jim Cottrell and Rod Fletcher. We had three wonderful years. We never lost a home game."
It was a golden era for Maroon basketball with other standout players like Dick Paterson, Dick Kelly, Earl Harrison, Fred Major, John McDermott and Dick Petry. Playing in 12 IHSA Sweet 16 games, Beach set the record with 16-plus points per game.
"But you can't compare players 60 years ago with today," Beach said. "Nobody in our group could dunk. Now point guards can dunk. I could still hold my own shooting from 18 to 20 feet, but I used a one-handed push shot, not a jumper."
At Illinois, Beach played on two Big Ten championship and Final Four teams in 1949 and 1951, serving as point-producing sixth man (10.9 per game) in 1951. Don Sunderlage was Big Ten MVP that year.
"Sunderlage was quick and very talented, but how would he compare with Dee Brown and Deron Williams? That was a long time ago," said Beach, who has been busy at UI games for 47 years as timekeeper and, most recently, host of officials.
The last time I mentioned the Iowa-Illinois football game in 1952, old friend-rival Rocky Ryan asked me — in no uncertain terms — to leave it alone. He didn't want to hear any more about it. The postgame confrontation was a matter of some embarrassment because it caused the schools to break football relations for 15 years.
Ryan, who passed away Thursday, caught eight passes that day as Tommy O'Connell threw for a then-Big Ten- record 306 yards. By halftime the score had reached 27-0, the home fans weren't happy and the game was mired by penalties. Illini linemen Pete Palmer and Paul Luhrsen were ejected along with an Iowa player, and Hawkeyes coach Forest Evashevski was growing increasingly irritated on the sideline.
It became even more chaotic as the game ended, taunting Iowa fans throwing apple cores, fruits and cans at departing UI players. And it was the misfortune of an Iowa sophomore (Richard Wolfe) to grab Ryan's shoulder pad as the Illini trudged to the locker room. Ryan's response was automatic, his punch breaking Wolfe's jaw.
When school officials met, it was deemed appropriate to let the rivals cool off, and they didn't play again until 1967, when Jim Valek's team posted a 12th straight win against the Hawkeyes, 21-19.
Illinois last played Iowa in 2008 and won't meet the Hawkeyes again until 2015.
Sam Maniscalco had the immobilizing boot removed from his foot Friday and is expected to play perhaps 12 minutes in Monday's exhibition game with Quincy. He was at practice Friday but spent most of the time shooting on one end while the other 13 players scrimmaged.
It will be Bruce Weber's decision how hard to push the senior point guard. The Bradley transfer is critical to the team, and it won't make sense to overextend him in practice. It's more important to have him for the games.
Weber has faced similar situations in the past, most importantly in withholding James Augustine (back trouble) from some drills in order to have him ready when it counted, and also at times with Dee Brown and Chester Frazier.
The good news is that freshman Tracy Abrams is progressing, both with his dribble and his playmaking awareness. There are signs that, while he arrived with doubts about his point guard skills, he may develop Maniscalco-like leadership ability over time.
The other positive development has been the performance of Meyers Leonard as a back-to-the-basket post scorer. We won't know until Leonard smacks up against some veteran, major-college centers, but he appears to be in an upbeat phase.
— In Saturday's 24-16 loss at Iowa, the replay expert declined to overturn what appeared to be a Michigan TD pass in the final moments. But to Iowa's credit, the home team had control throughout and showed Illinois how it is done. Michigan has lost 12 of its last 16 Big Ten road games.
— There are no Big Ten members on the 10-person NCAA Infractions Committee that will determine Ohio State's eligibility for postseason play. At least eight have extensive legal backgrounds, and three are connected with conference offices (SEC, Mid-Eastern, Conference USA). They hail from Tampa, Notre Dame, Oregon, Missouri, you name it.
— Top coaches go where the players are, and that's why Les Miles declined Michigan to coach LSU, and why former Michigan State coach Nick Saban wound up at Alabama. The UI's Paul Petrino points out "it's all about speed, speed, speed." Some of these SEC games sport more NFL-level defensive tackles than the entire Big Ten.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.