Chicago hope? Illini hope to end city slump

CHICAGO — The last time Paris Parham coached a basketball game at the United Center, there were about 50 people in the building.

“And it was still an unbelievable experience,” the first-year Illinois assistant coach said.

The former head coach at Chicago Public League programs Phillips and Morgan Park, Parham led teams as a part of the Bulls/Sox Training Academy in an event called Summer Jam. Teams could earn a spot in the championship game played at the United Center by winning their pools.
Parham’s teams made it to the title game three straight years.

“I’ve never lost a game at the United Center,” the Chicago native said.

He’s hoping the trend continues today as he sits on the bench for Illinois’ annual game in the House Michael Jordan Built. The 12th-ranked Illini will play Auburn (1:15 BTN) in the final tuneup before Big Ten play begins.

“It’s an unbelievable opportunity,” Parham said. “Being from Chicago, it’s one of those places you dream of playing in, coaching in.”

Illinois (12-1) has seven players on its roster from the Chicagoland area. The visit to the United Center provides an opportunity for friends and family to make a short trip to catch a game.

“Half our team is from Chicago plus a couple of guys, myself, from the suburbs, so we’ll have a lot of people out there watching us,” said Brandon Paul, a product of north suburban Gurnee.

But recent history hasn’t been kind to the Illini. Paul and his senior teammates have lost three straight in the building: in overtime to Gonzaga in 2010, to Illinois-Chicago in ’10 and to UNLV last year.

After the UIC loss, Illinois fans directed an array of profanity-laced comments toward the Illinois players.

“I try to not pay too much attention to what anyone says, but it’s tough. It’s tough to let our fans down,” said Paul, an All-America candidate who is averaging six points in his last two games at the United Center. “You want to play well up there. You want to play well anywhere you’re playing.

You’ve got a lot of people watching you.”

It is the first of two trips to the UC for the UI as the Big Ten tournament returns to Chicago in March.

“The most important thing is knowing the seniors haven’t won in their career there,” Chicagoan Nnanna Egwu said. “We just want to go out and play the way we play. Nothing special, just go out there and do what we do.”

That was the message last week as Illinois entered its annual St. Louis game against Missouri riding a three-game losing skid. That’ll be the message today, too.

“It’s always big to go back home and playing, no matter what sport you’re playing,” Parham said. “But, they need to understand that it’s just a game and they need to treat it like any other game and come out to prepare like they always do.”

It hasn’t always been bad for the Illini in Chicago.

Since they started playing games at the United Center in 1994, Illinois is 32-11 all time in the building, including an 18-game win streak from 2001 to ’07.

First-year UI coach John Groce loves the idea of playing in the city annually. The largest Illinois alumni base is in Chicago, and recruiting in the city is a top priority. But Groce wouldn’t mind tweaking the scheduling some.

“In a perfect world, some years, I wish we could get a game there — and you could say ‘Coach, you’re being selfish’ — I’d like to not have to return it so that gives us more leeway and options here in Champaign,” Groce said. “The reality of that is it hasn’t been overly realistic to get that done.”

What they’re hoping to get done today is simple: win and look good in the process.

“It’s a big deal for us to display our talent in front of the fans that we have up there,” Parham said. “We have so many fans up there, and they don’t get to come down here and see us too often.”

A win would go a long way in generating some momentum for this current group of Illini and for the program going forward in terms of having success and rebuilding a positive perception in Chicago.

“It’s extremely important. It’ll not only help us going into Big Ten play, but it’ll help with the younger guys with some momentum going into next year that will play there,” Paul said. “Our sophomores and the guys coming in, it’ll be great to get one of these for them.”

Previous Illinois games at the United Center:
DATE    OPPONENT    RESULT    ATTENDANCE
Dec. 4, 1994    Duke      L, 70-65    20,500
Dec. 23, 1995    California    W, 83-69    15,046
Dec. 21, 1996    UCLA    W, 79-63    15,331
Dec. 13, 1997    Clemson    W, 71-61    9,282
March 6, 1998    Wisconsin    W, 66-61    21,711
March 7, 1998    Purdue    L, 68-47    21,711
Dec. 5, 1998    Bradley    W, 53-48    11,084
March 4, 1999    Minnesota    W, 74-67    18,641
March 5, 1999    Indiana    W, 83-66    20.297
March 6, 1999    Ohio State    W, 79-77    20,695
March 7, 1999    Michigan State    L, 67-50    19,581
Nov. 30, 1999    Duke    L, 72-69    20.143
Dec. 18, 1999    Kansas    W, 84-70    16,714
March 10, 2000    Indiana    W, 72-69    21,141
March 11, 2000    Penn State    W, 94-84    22,011
March 12, 2000    Michigan State    L, 61-76    19,663
Dec. 16, 2000    Arizona    W, 81-73    21,885
March 9, 2001    Purdue    W, 83-66    22,679
March 10, 2001    Indiana    L, 58-56    23,418
Dec. 8, 2001    Arkansas    W, 94-91    18,671
March 15, 2002    San Diego State    W, 93-64    20,850
March 17, 2002    Creighton    W, 72-60    21,525
Dec. 14, 2002    Temple    W, 70-54    13,361
Feb. 22, 2003    Northwestern    W, 73-61    15,429
March 14, 2003    Northwestern    W, 94-65    18,895
March 15, 2003    Indiana    W, 73-72    20,248
March 16, 2003    Ohio State    W, 72-59    17,007
Dec. 6, 2003    Arkansas    W, 84-61    15,398
Dec. 29, 2003    UIC    W, 75-60    15,415
Dec. 11, 2004    Oregon    W, 83-66    21,214
March 11, 2005    Northwestern    W, 68-51    22,413
March 12, 2005    Minnesota    W, 64-56    23,697
March 13, 2005    Wisconsin    W, 54-43    22,157
Dec. 3, 2005    Xavier    W, 65-62    19,833
Dec. 9, 2006    UIC    W, 71-66    16,424
March 8, 2007    Penn State    W, 66-60    16,219
March 9, 2007    Indiana    W, 58-54 (OT)    22,081
March 10, 2007    Wisconsin    L, 53-41    20,471
Dec. 8, 2007    Arizona    L, 78-72 (OT)    19,573
Dec. 6, 2008    Georgia    W, 76-42    12,139
Jan. 2, 2010    Gonzaga    L, 85-83 (OT)    20,917
Dec. 18, 2010    UIC    L, 57-54    13,117
Dec. 17, 2011    UNLV    L, 64-48    15,144

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