Sean Harrington: Indiana's still the one

Sean Harrington: Indiana's still the one

Each week through the basketball season, former Illini and current BTN analyst Sean Harrington will break down the Big Ten — and take us down Memory Lane.

No. 1 Indiana (9-0)
— The Hoosiers have looked unbeatable and don’t expect that to change Saturday against Butler.

No. 2 Michigan (10-0)
— The Wolverines have the best guards in the conference and maybe even the best in the country.  

No. 3 Ohio State (7-1)
— The Buckeyes continue to roll through their two-week stretch of cupcake games.  

No. 4 Illinois (11-0)
— The Illini played like a Top 10 team at Gonzaga. Who would have thought that would be an easier game than Norfolk State in Champaign?

No. 5 Minnesota (11-1)
— The Gophers just got a 14-point and 18- rebound effort from Trevor Mbakwe (above) coming off the bench.
No. 6 Michigan State (8-2)
— The Spartans continue to grind out games. Watch for Tom Izzo to get them peaking at the right time again.  
No. 7 Wisconsin (7-4)
— The Badgers have never finished lower than fourth in the Big Ten under Bo Ryan.  This could be the season they do.  

No. 8 Iowa (8-2)
— The Hawkeyes have three more tuneups before they get a shot at the Hoosiers at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in the Big Ten opener.

No. 9 Purdue (4-5)
— The weakness of the motion offense without three potent scorers showed after scoring only 44 points in a loss at Eastern Michigan.  This week of practice won’t be fun.

No. 10 Northwestern (7-3)
— The Wildcats continued their roller-coaster nonconference season with a third straight home loss to Butler.  

No. 11 Nebraska (6-2)
— The Cornhuskers showed they are not ready for a big-time opponent with a 22- point home loss to Creighton.  

No. 12 Penn State (5-4)
— The Nittany Lions need to enjoy the victories now because there will not be many in the Big Ten this season.  

Brandon Paul, Illinois
After scoring 35 points in a win at Gonzaga on 10-of-16 shooting from the floor, Brandon Paul caught the eye of the national media. A few more performances like this and he will be in consideration for Big Ten Player of the Year honors.  

It is a snowy Wednesday night and the library is packed with students scrambling to get in that last study session during finals week.

I am not going to lie; this advertising final is the last thing on my mind. Most students on campus are itching to take this last final, jump in their cars and head home on Interstate 57 for some Christmas cooking and a relaxing month off. But all I can think about is how to stop Gilbert Arenas, Richard Jefferson, Jason Gardner and the Arizona Wildcats in our rematch at the United Center.

The United Center is a frenzied sellout for this showdown between the No. 5 Illini and the No. 7 Wildcats. It is an absolute slugfest between two heavyweights.

Four Arizona players finish with four fouls each, while Robert Archibald, Brian Cook and Marcus Griffin all foul out for us. All five Illini starters score in double figures, and yours truly connects on three three-pointers. We defeat Arizona 81-73.

Two images from the game will stay with me forever. First, Cory Bradford sets the NCAA record by hitting a three-pointer for the 74th straight game in his career, and second is Lute Olson pointing at Lucas Johnson and screaming at him, “You’re crazy!”

For us, break is spent in Champaign. While our undergrad peers are relieved of responsibilities for a month, our work is just beginning. The Big Ten season beckons, and we grind through two or three practices a day plus film sessions.

Without NCAA limits on practice times, our days are filled with nothing but ball. There is not much to do in a college town when the students are at home, so the team heads to Aunt Sonya’s for our daily team gathering and some pancakes. After dinner, I head to the Savoy 16 with roommates Bradford and Cook. We are in an empty movie theater with four other people to watch “Men of Honor.” Cory is a movie junkie. There are not many movies he has not seen.    

The schedule is kind to us this year, and we are allowed to go home for two days at Christmas. After being home, I drive back to Champaign with Arch, Lucas and Damir Krupalija in my 1994 silver Galant. It is a blistering 16 degrees with a wind chill that makes it feel like it is below zero. We are about 75 miles from Champaign when the back passenger tire blows out. Not wanting to face the elements, Arch quickly states that he doesn’t know how to fix a flat. Damir and I follow his lead, saying we have never done it either. Lucas explodes, “You are a bunch of idiots. I guess I am the only man in this car that can fix a flat.”

While Lucas spends the next 10 minutes in the cold, we stay in the warm car thanking Arch for the clever setup. Lucas spends the next 75 miles putting on every piece of clothing in his bag trying to warm up for practice while we all have a nice laugh.

The life of a college basketball player during the holidays is a lot different than the average student. Balancing finals around practice and games is not easy. Living on an empty campus and missing time with family at Christmas is lonely. It is true that student-athletes get scholarships and enjoy four years in the limelight, but it comes at a price. I wouldn’t trade my four years for anything, but it is important to remember while we are all enjoying watching our favorite team during the holidays the players are putting in the time and work in the gym to make us proud.

Sean Harrington will call the Northwestern-Texas State game on BTN at 6 p.m. Monday. He also will be in the BTN studio on Thursday to break down the Michigan-Eastern Michigan game.  

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goillini13 wrote on December 14, 2012 at 8:12 am


Great flashback story.  I remember that year like it was yesterday.  I was at that game at the UC against AZ and what a fun atmosphere it was.  The week prior, I had driven down to Champaign with my grandpa and saw us come back against Setan Hall, down 20 + in the 2nd half, and Bradford tieing the consecutive 3-point mark in OT!  The 13 in my username will always be for Cory Bradford, my favorite Illini by a longshot!  Student athletes definitly should be getting compesated more when you think what the coaches and university are making off of your hard work and efforts on/off the court.

Go Illini!!



Vrimja wrote on December 14, 2012 at 10:12 am

Dear Sean, in Feb 2007 we three bball fans were on the way to the Indiana game for Eric Gordon's debut! Our buddy Ray, retired Army vet, is a Hoosier fan. In Kankakee the car made a funny noise and we coasted into Gas World with a broken tie rod. Having survived death on i 57 we called Enterprise (they picked us up!) and we drove 75 mph to the Hall and got there in time to see Chester almost knock Eric on his ass during the intros! What a game...loudest crowd ever  and memorable moments....Mc Camey's 31 points, Gordon's banked in 3 and Shawn's freethrow prowess! You wrote a wonderful article...glad you are still on campus! See you Sunday. We drive 140 one way4 miles to sit in C15 row the Illini!

jjohnson wrote on December 14, 2012 at 11:12 am

Thanks both of you for the memories! The United Center game was great; my wife and I took my parents (my dad was a '41 ME), who could not go on their own and loved the experiences, and I drove down to that tremendously exciting Seton Hall game. College sports cannot be beat because they are so much more than entertainment!

IlliniMike05 wrote on December 14, 2012 at 12:12 pm

No, it's just entertainment. I'm as diehard of an Illini fan as anyone. But it's just entertainment.

Thinking it's more than that is the kind of creepy, cult-like devotion that creates the environments that allows things like Jerry Sandusky to happen.

Illini '73 wrote on December 16, 2012 at 8:12 am

I remember staying the the FAR which was almost deserted.  Eating at the training table in Memorial Stadium with the other sports that were still in town and watching the swimmers eat a dozen eggs for breakfast.  The practices and film sessions all day.  A lot different that the average student.  I wouldn't trade the experience for anything.

Bear8287 wrote on December 16, 2012 at 2:12 pm

>No. 1 Indiana (9-0)
— The Hoosiers have looked unbeatable and don’t expect that to change Saturday against Butler.

Butler: 88

Indiana: 86

I guess expectations change over time...

Gee, didn't Butler lose to some team in Maui?