Braggin' Rights: In their words

We turned to an array of former Illini — from those who played in the NBA to those who walked on in college — for their thoughts on the Braggin’ Rights and John Groce’s 12-0 team. Needless to say, it's a proud and happy bunch.

Marcus Liberty
What would you tell Coach Groce about the Braggin’ Rights?

It’s a game that feels like you’re in the NCAA tourney!

Your take on 12-0?
I think Coach and his staff are doing a great job with this year’s team. I don’t know too many coaches who can take over a program and start off with an undefeated record. And we all know it could’ve easily been the other way around. That is an accomplishment within itself.

Trent Meacham
What would you tell Coach Groce about the Braggin’ Rights?

I’m a believer in you treating every game, every practice, every day with the same mind-set. I would tell him and the team to embrace the Braggin’ Rights game though! Two good teams with two passionate fan bases. I don’t know if there’s another game in all of college basketball with a similar atmosphere. It’s a great venue and there’s going to be incredible energy in the building Saturday night. I’m sure Coach will tell the guys to have fun and hold nothing back! I’m looking forward to tuning in!

Your take on 12-0?
More than anything, it’s great to see the guys having fun and playing free. They are playing with confidence and playing to their strengths — you can’t ask for anything more than that! They’ve found ways to win close games too, which is huge. They’re gonna take some bumps this season, so it will be interesting to see how they respond. I love the attitude that Coach Groce has instilled throughout the team. It looks like the guys have bought in and are playing together. All the “four year” guys are all consistently producing, which is what you need from your veterans. Plus, Brandon has the ability to go off against anyone. I love Joe’s energy off the bench too.

Jack Ingram
What would you tell Coach Groce about the Braggin’ Rights?

Don’t underestimate how important beating Missouri is to Illini Nation.

Your take on 12-0?
As an alumni and Fighting Illini fan, I have been extremely proud of how the team has come together and played for one another this year. It seems to me that Coach Groce’s energy and leadership has translated to the players with the amount of passion and confidence that everyone is playing with.

Bubba Chisholm
What would you tell Coach Groce about the Braggin’ Rights?

You can’t have a great rivalry without great fans. There is never a dull moment in the Braggin’ Rights game, even the competition with the cheerleaders gets the fans pumped up!

Your take on 12-0?
The biggest thing I take away from this team is the togetherness that they have. It starts with Coach Groce; his demeanor on the sideline is fun to watch. He is able to bring a high level of intensity to the game while at the same time he stays very positive with his players, coaches and the referees. It has been great to watch this team, especially the guys that I played with (DJ, Brandon, Tyler and Joe), thrive this year. I think the seniors show up big for the Braggin’ Rights game and reclaim the trophy. Our state. Our school. Our Braggin’ Rights trophy. Illinois!

Chris Gandy
What would you tell Coach Groce about the Braggin’ Rights?

The best thing about the Braggin’ Rights game is the atmosphere. It’s 20,000 people rocking the stadium. You walk in and it is electrifying. You can smell the popcorn, hear the band and the fans yell your school’s fight song! It’s what big-time college basketball is all about.

Your take on 12-0?
They are a really good team. But they are a team. At times last year they played as individuals and Coach Groce has got them believing in each other’s skill and ability. As coach always said ”trust your teammates. We are stronger as a unit than one individual!” T.E.A.M. — Together-Each can-Accomplish-More. The seniors have led by example and really stepped up their games, the way seniors are supposed to.

Damir Krupalija
What would you tell Coach Groce about the Braggin’ Rights?

The only advice would be to enjoy it, get the team relaxed and tell them to have fun. That game is always one of the most fun games on our calendar and everyone should enjoy it. The way the team came out this season should give everyone reassurance that when we play our game and everyone is relaxed usually good things follow.

Your take on 12-0?
It seems that they know exactly what they are after and how they want to go about getting there. It has worked great up to this point. Really looking forward to the rest of the season to see if they can continue to improve and really become a treat in very tough Big Ten and gives us something to cheer about come March and April.

Brian Cook
What would you tell Coach Groce about the Braggin’ Rights?

I would have to say with the crowd that it is like an NCAA tournament game ... Half orange and blue, half black and gold ... rowdy fans because of the beverages being served so it’s gonna be loud. But nothing like fighting for your school. It’s a great game for school pride. And a big confidence booster for the team almost halfway through the season.

Your take on 12-0?
I would tell the guys to stay humble, believe in each other, don’t care about who scores and worry about winning one possession at a time. Caught the Illini game against USC — I had bragging rights in my household for once as my wife went to USC. Really proud of them and shows how good of a coach John Groce is. Not easy coming into a new program and turning things around. Good job, Coach. Good job, Illini.

Brian Randle
What would you tell Coach Groce about the Braggin’ Rights?

This game is like an NCAA tournament game, and that’s how we always approached it. Everything surrounding the game — the fans, noise level, intensity of play — always reminded me of the tourney and that is how we tried to prepare for it.

Your take on 12-0?
They are doing amazing. I can imagine it’s not an easy thing to transition to a new coaching staff and assimilate to a new system. To the credit of the basketball staff and to the players, everyone from top to bottom seems to have really gelled and figured out how to be successful right away. What I have noticed the most is the leadership of the seniors. They have done a wonderful job in challenging themselves to get better and in doing so, they are able to demand that from the team. No matter what the game looks like, this team stays strong and stays together and they never appear to be shaken or nervous. And as a guy who enjoys defense, I have to note that I love them on the defensive end. Not only do they play hard and tough, but they cover for each other and they don’t point fingers. It’s a real pleasure to watch them play.

Kendall Gill
What would you tell Coach Groce about the Braggin’ Rights?

The game vs. Missouri is like a game in the NCAA tournament. Lots of electricity. When I played we did not like them and they did not like us. It’s a serious grudge match!!!!

Your take on 12-0?
The team is taking on the identity of a coach that wants to bring back the pride of ILLINI basketball. They have done a great job of getting our program back on the map. Now we need to defeat the likes of Indiana and Michigan to let everyone know we are for real!

Calvin Brock
What would you tell Coach Groce about the Braggin’ Rights?

The Braggin’ Rights game is very a intense game and environment and to Coach Groce I would say don’t worry about offense and make sure the guys are ready to play 40 minutes of in-your-face defense. The winner will be the team with the most points on the MATTO charts or who wins the battle on hustle plays.

Your take on 12-0?
I think that the team is very good. They have nice chemistry on offense and are really scrappy on defense. As the season goes on I think they will get better with each practice and game and will make a run come tournament time. But I would like to wish Coach Groce and the guys luck. GO ILLINI

Kiwane Garris
What would you tell Coach Groce about the Braggin’ Rights?

I would say approach this game knowing the only way they can win is through doing the little things, like limit your turnovers, being first to the loose balls, limiting them to one shot, outhustle them and everyone knows making free throws. Because this game is like a Rocky fight, whoever is more physical will win the game.

Your take on 12-0?
I like what I have seen so far. They look like a team. The players look like they know their roles. Which is important when it comes to winning. I see something in them now that I didn’t see last year and that is fight. They fight through the whole game. They have brought back Fighting Illini basketball. It’s going to be great to watch the Big Ten this year because of the other ranked teams they will be going against to continue to prove themselves as one of the elite teams in college basketball. I wish them all the best.

Kevin Turner
What would you tell Coach Groce about the Braggin’ Rights?

The best thing about the rivalry is the environment and atmosphere. Seeing half the arena in orange/blue and the other in black/gold was amazing. It was so exciting to play there in St. Louis!

Your take on 12-0?
Honestly, I’m not surprised that they are winning. They are very experienced and have really good players. And Brandon Paul is a tremendous player! But I have to tip my hat to Coach Groce. He seems like he coaches with so much energy and passion! A true players coach.

Cory Bradford
What would you tell Coach Groce about the Braggin’ Rights?

Bring your earplugs. Be ready for an NCAA tournament atmosphere-type game. This will be another test leading up to conference play.

Your take on 12-0?
I’m very happy for the guys and the coaching staff. They are having so much fun and Coach Groce’s energy reflects on the guys and the 12-0 record shows it. Great thing about it also is that they will continue to get better.

Dominique Keller
What would you tell Coach Groce about the Braggin’ Rights?

Coach Groce is doing a fantastic job. My only advice to him would be to keep doing things his way because he is undefeated and I can see the players are hungry with new mentality. I believe they feed off him and his personality. I talked to DJ and Joe, they all love him and speak very highly of him.

Your take on 12-0?
This team was very underrated with our guards. They are very intense and scrappy. The seniors are really stepping up. Brandon is looking like a Player of the Year candidate. DJ is looking like a first-team Big Ten player. The new players are blending in very well. I love this team and if they continue to get better Elite Eight or Final Four could be in the works. I’ll be watching from Japan. I watch every night after I play. Illini Nation is worldwide!

Frank Williams
What would you tell Coach Groce about the Braggin’ Rights?

It’s like playing for another championship inside the regular season. Both fans are supportive, both schools always want rights over the other. But of course the Illini will prevail. It’s like a boxing match on the court. It’s up to us, Illinois, to prepare for a great fight.

Your take on 12-0?
The team thus far has overcome all doubts coming in with the new changes that happened this season. The Illini family is very proud around the world and we have a talented young group of men with fight in them.

Herb Caldwell
What would you tell Coach Groce about the Braggin’ Rights?

WIN! WIN! WIN! Although I grew up in Jacksonville, I was born and lived my first few years in Alton. We still have a lot of family there, and it is simply unacceptable to take it on the chin from the Tigers. Thankfully, both of my years we won. I transferred in as a junior, which was Coach Henson’s final season, we had an overtime scare before pulling it out.

Your take on 12-0?
I’m always too nervous this part of the season, I typically try to wait until the turn of the year and Big Ten play so I can make a fair assessment of the team. But you can’t refute Coach Groce and his staff have the guys buying in to his new system and playing well. They have quality wins, and I like the confidence and maturity in Mr. Abrams. So while I have trepidation, you can’t do much better than a 12-0 start ... am interested to see how we finish.

Lucas Johnson
What would you tell Coach Groce about the Braggin’ Rights?

It really is hard to let a newcomer know what to expect when it comes to the Braggin’ RIghts game. It is truly a one-of-a-kind atmosphere. I’m not sure of another event where you have exactly half of the stadium yelling and cheering for every play.  When the Illini are playing well and making good plays it can feel like you are playing in the friendly confines of the Hall. On the other hand when things are not going our way, St Louis can have the dark and deafening feel of the Breslin Center on a cold February night. My advice would have to be that the game is never over and the momentum can switch in a heartbeat and that this game means EVERYTHING to Illini Nation!

Your take on 12-0?
It is truly hard to say anything bad about this team so far. They play hard, they compete on every play, they have shot it fairly well, and they are fun to watch. They have had a great opening to the season, and now the real season begins. They are gonna have to lean on their senior leadership in the upcoming months as the Big Ten can be a grueling schedule for any team. They need to know that they are making Illini Nation proud.

Ken Norman
What would you tell Coach Groce about the Braggin’ Rights?

The biggest part of the rivalry to me personally was that I had dozens of relatives from the state of Missouri and there was so much trash talk between my family members from Missouri and myself as well as my family members that lived in the Chicago area! Obviously, state- and university-wise there are a number of great reasons that this is such a great game/rivalry! However, my personal reason above will always be the biggest part of rivalry for me!

Your take on 12-0?
I really like the way Coach has them playing! Very unselfish — very loose and free but yet under control. Players really appear to be buying into his system on both ends of the floor. Wish I had some eligibility left! GO ILLINI !!!

Roger Powell Jr.

What would you tell Coach Groce about the Braggin’ Rights?

The advice I would give to Coach Groce concerning the Braggin Rights game would be simple... WIN!!! This game means so much to our fans and it always makes for a better Christmas when you leave with a victory. I would also inform him that this will probably be one of the best college basketball environments he has ever been apart of.

Your take on 12-0?

I am really excited to see that the guys are playing well and winning. I know what the seniors have been through and I am extremely happy for them. I am also really proud to see that my school is a top 10 program in the country again.

Robert Archibald

What would you tell Coach Groce about the Braggin’ Rights?

Don't underestimate the intensity of the rivalry or of the environment itself. Because of the 50-50 split in the crowd, the swings in momentum during the game are really amplified, a 5 point swing can feel like 10 or more. You have to be very mentally strong and make plays down the stretch. Being that it's his first time coaching in the Braggin' Rights game I'd say you don't want to have to lose that game to learn that it's OK to really dislike Mizzou and a lot of fun beating them.

Your take on 12-0?

I have had a lot of fun watching this year's team play. Competing, playing with confidence and responding when things get tough. Coach Groce and his staff have bought in completely and the team has followed suit. They have exceeded preseason expectations and raised the bar for themselves! Great to see the excitement and pride back for our FIGHTING Illini.

Warren Carter

What would you tell Coach Groce about the Braggin’ Rights?

Advice I would give to Coach Groce is prepare for this game as if its the biggest game of the season. Cause it IS! It is the biggest stage the BEST atmosphere in college basketball and it's in the spotlight. This is the game right before Christmas break and typically the last big test before heading into the tough Big Ten Conference. It's gonna be loud. Practice the press break a lot with 10 Guys on defense if you have to. And prepare for a crazy atmosphere. One sentence that stands out to me the most is the one we heard every year, "The way your Christmas meal tastes is determined by if you win or lose the Braggin' Rights game,' Needless to say I was eating GREAT every year.

Your take on 12-0?

Loving that Illinois basketball is back where it needs to be. One of the greatest basketball states and with that being the biggest University it should be one of the Elite and contending for a National Title as well as Big Ten Championships year in and year out. Haven't had a chance to watch the guys myself I can only go by stats and the first thing I notice is the defense and Brandon Paul is doing exactly what he needs to and that's being a Senior leader. The team has already made some noise this year. A big win against Missouri will really have people excited about the guys and seal the deal with a we're back heading into the Big Ten.

Comments

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dogmechanic wrote on December 20, 2012 at 4:12 pm

  Mizzou game to me is the biggest game of the year.  Neutral court ,50-50 fans and plenty excitement going into Christmas.  Big confidence builder. Remember when Kenny Battle help bring us back being 19 down at half.  That team was a Great Team and they worked together