By MARCUS JACKSON
CHAMPAIGN — Kevin Berardini could come back for one more season as a part of the Illinois basketball program. But the redshirt junior decided recently this college basketball season would be his last.
The walk-on, who spent his freshman season at Loyola Marymount, will be honored with the rest of the Illinois seniors — Tyler Griffey, Sam McLaurin, Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson — on Saturday prior to the Senior Day game against Nebraska at the Assembly Hall.
“I just decided this was a good group of guys for me to go out with,” Berardini said. “We’ve been through so much together, and we’ve formed such a special bond that it felt right to end it with these guys.”
A favorite of the Orange Krush, the Lake Forest native has appeared in 25 career games, scoring 11 points with five rebounds and three assists in 32 minutes. The only field goal he’s ever attempted, a baseline jumper against Toledo in 2010, was good.
“It’s tough for Kevin. I played with him in AAU, and he really didn’t play as much in AAU,” Richardson said. “Kevin keeps a good attitude, and it’s hard to play basketball for a lot of years and not play as much when you put in all the work and practice like everybody else on the team.”
Berardini’s contributions inside the locker room outweigh anything statistics can measure.
“Kevin’s a great guy; he’s one of my closest friends,” Paul said. “He’s definitely been an asset to us. A lot of people don’t see behind the scenes. He pushes guys in practice; he can get on your nerves in practice and gets you to compete at a high level. Next year’s team is going to miss him. He’s a great guy, and he’s going to go on to do great things in his career.”
Berardini will graduate with a degree in political science this spring. Law school is a possibility, and he’s expressed interest in becoming a lobbyist.
“I’ve been thinking about it all week, and it’s been an emotional week just thinking about it,” he said. “Through adversity and good times, the one thing I’m proud of is we haven’t broken, and we’ve grown together so much. Its going to be really special to recognize that when we leave here, we can recognize those times. Being able to come out here and make these guys better every day to play a role that’s not always seen by everybody but being appreciated and respected by the people in the program, I love it.”
After playing seven games in 22 days, the Illini players took Wednesday off completely. Under orders from John Groce and the coaching staff, the players were told to avoid all basketball-related activities.
The team watched film Monday after Sunday’s loss at Michigan and practiced Tuesday at the Assembly Hall. They’ll get back to work Thursday in preparation for Saturday’s home finale against Nebraska.
“Because we’ve been around so much, they just need a complete refresher,” assistant coach Jamall Walker said. “Stay away from the facility, stay away from basketball, just take a day to rejuvenate a little bit.”
It’s something that Groce did at Ohio when Walker and assistant coach Dustin Ford were on staff there.
“It’s just a feel that you have to have about your team,” Walker said. “It just depends on where you are in your season and how your guys are feeling.”