The BB&T Classic from A to Z
WASHINGTON, D.C. – It doesn't have the tradition of the Preseason NIT, the prestige of the Great Eight or the locale of the Maui Invitational.
But this weekend's two-day BB&T Classic in our nation's capital should be a tough tournament test for Lon Kruger's 16th-ranked Illini, who join No. 24 Maryland, George Washington and Seton Hall in the four-team field.
An A-to-Z look at the event and the teams in it:
A is for ACC preseason Player of the Year Terence Morris. Illinois will have its hands full with the 6-foot-9 junior, who's considered the Terps' best forward since the late, great Len Bias. "He'll be Scottie Pippen-like in the NBA," Wake Forest's Dave Odom said. "Except that he's taller."
B is for BB&T, which is short for Branch Banking and Trust Co., the event's main sponsor for a second straight year. Before that, the event was called the Franklin National Bank Classic.
C is for Marcus Camby, who holds the Classic single-game scoring record. The former UMass star had 30 in a 1995 win against Florida, then coached by Lon Kruger.
D is for Duke, which the Illini could get a double dose of this week. On Tuesday, they lost 72-69 to Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils. On Sunday, they may run into one of Krzyzewski's former players, Seton Hall coach Tommy Amaker. Among those on Amaker's staff: 1992 News-Gazette Player of the Year Chris Collins, another ex-Dookie.
E is for easy street, which Seton Hall, the Classic's only unbeaten team, has had up to now. The Pirates have beaten Quinnipiac, Drexel and St. Peter's on their way to a 3-0 start.
F is for fantastic freshman SirValiant Brown of George Washington. He wasn't a McDonald's All-American like Seton Hall's Shaheen Holloway, Illinois' Brian Cook or Maryland's Danny Miller, but few have ever gotten off to faster starts than the 6-1 Brown, the top scorer in the Atlantic 10. He's had back-to-back-to-back 30-plus point games, pushing his season average to 26.8.
G is for good cause, which the BB&T Classic is all about. Proceeds from the event go to the Children's Charities Foundation, which has distributed $2.2 million to more than 40 charities since 1994.
H is for happy birthday, Saturday's wish for Illini Cory Bradford, who turns the big 2-1, and Brian Cook, who'll be 19.
I is for Illinois, the only team in the field that didn't play in the postseason in 1998-99. GW and Maryland made the NCAAs, Seton Hall the NIT.
J is for job offers, which Amaker reportedly has gotten a bunch of lately. The 34-year-old's been mentioned for positions at Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota and Notre Dame the last few years.
K is for GW junior Mike King, whose five steals helped the Colonials steal one from Illinois last year at the Assembly Hall.
L is for former Kansas All-American Raef LaFrentz, who holds the Classic single-game rebounding record, with 16 against Maryland in 1997.
M is for milestones. George Washington's Tom Penders won his 500th game last week, and Maryland's Gary Williams joined the 400 club a week earlier. Kruger would hit 300 with a sweep this weekend.
N is for No. 1, which is where Seton Hall finished in the fall recruiting race. The Pirates landed three of the country's top 30 players, including Philadelphia flier Eddie Griffin, whom some recruiting gurus think is the best high school player out there.
O is for outta here, which Steve Francis was after just one year at Maryland. Last year's Classic MVP was one of three Maryland players picked in the 1999 NBA Draft, along with second-rounders Obinna Ekezie and Laron Profit.
P is for Puerto Rico, the last place Illinois won an in-season tournament away from home (the 1994 San Juan Shootout).
Q is for Quentin Richardson, who led DePaul to last year's BB&T final, where it lost to Maryland.
R is for revenge, which the Illini will be seeking Saturday. Their Big Ten championship season of 1997-98 ended with a loss to Gary Williams' Terps in the NCAA tournament.
S is for the Sweet 16, which Maryland has been a part of each of the last four years.
T is for tourists, which the Illini will be today. Before an afternoon practice at the MCI Center, they'll tour either the U.S. Senate or the House of Representatives, check out Ford's Theater and do lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe.
U is for the United Nations, which ought to sponsor the BB&T Classic. On hand will be players from Belarus, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Haiti, Lithuania, The Netherlands, Scotland, Spain, Yugloslavia and New Jersey.
V is for Richard J. Vitale, Seton Hall Class of '62. Other famous ex-Pirates: Craig Biggio, Mo Vaughn and ESPN's Bill Raftery, Seton Hall's fourth all-time winningest head coach (154-141 from 1970-81).
W is for CNN White House correspondent Wolf Blitzer, a GW season ticket holder.
X is for Xmas shopping, which players can do right there at the arena. The two-year-old, 20,674-seat, state-of-the-art MCI Center includes The Discovery Channel Store and Modell's Sporting Goods, as well as the 25,000-square foot National Sports Gallery and Museum.
Y is for youth, not just the operative word at Illinois but Maryland, too. The Terps start one junior (Morris), three sophomores (Lonnie Baxter, Juan Dixon, Danny Miller) and one freshman (point guard Steve Blake, left).
Z is for zero, the number of games Illinois has played in Washington, D.C., through the years.