Illini Legends, Lists and Lore: Happy birthday, Josh Whitman!

Illini Legends, Lists and Lore: Happy birthday, Josh Whitman!

Happy 40th birthday today to current University of Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman. The former Illini football player recently answered a series of questions, with more to come next Sunday:

Who most inspired your career in sports?

My dad (Mark) was a coach and a teacher. My earliest memories are playing catch or shooting baskets with my dad. No matter how tired he might have been, he always made time. He instilled in me a love of sports and competition that has defined much of my life.

What was something your mom, Mary Beth, taught you that remains important to you today?

My mom taught me to love reading. Growing up, when I wasn't playing sports, you were likely to find my nose in a book. My mom, who was an elementary school teacher and later a school media specialist and librarian, always made sure I had access to tremendous books. Now, with our daughter almost two and our son just born, the thing I learned most from my mom and dad was how to be a loving, supportive, encouraging parent. They were the best.

Growing up in West Lafayette, Ind., who was your favorite Purdue athlete?

I admired basketball player Steve Scheffler and football player Mike Alstott. Both were big, rugged, tough guys, and I was at a point in my life when I was starting to push myself athletically to compete at a high level.

Those guys were tremendous role models for the work ethic and toughness required to be great.

What was your most memorable game at William Henry Harrison High School?

My senior year at Harrison, we competed in the state's last single-class basketball tournament (as seen in the movie "Hoosiers").

In Indiana, winning the sectional, the state tournament's opening round, was a really big deal. Because it was a single class, the opening round pitted us against all the other local schools. We hadn't won the sectional since the early 1980s, but my senior year we defeated Lafayette Jefferson, our cross-town rival, to take the title. It was one of the most exciting experiences of my life. Our high school and community rallied around that team like nothing I had ever seen. Students camped outside the school to buy tickets as soon as they went on sale. It was pretty incredible.

Who was the best basketball player you competed against in high school?

I played against Kevin Garnett in an AAU tournament. That didn't go so well.

Illini Birthdays:

Today: Emone Davis, track & field (21)

Monday: Celena Mondie-Milner, track & field

Tuesday: Zack Jones, baseball (20)

Wednesday: Emmitt Cohick, baseball (50)

Thursday: Kate Riley, basketball

Friday: Moe Gardner, football (50)

Saturday: Grant Van Scoy, baseball (21)

By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore (Third Edition now available in stores). Get more Illini birthdays, trivia and historical tidbits daily on Twitter@B1GLLL. His website is www.SportsLLL.com.