CHICAGO — Stephen Bardo knows he’s good in whatever it is he chooses to put forth effort. It’s a confidence that goes back to his days as a basketball star in Carbondale and later as the point guard for Lou Henson’s Flyin’ Illini.
He carried that over into professional basketball and into a broadcasting career that saw him rise to a featured college basketball analyst at ESPN. But when the new folks heading up the college basketball operation at the Worldwide Leader made it apparent that Bardo might not be in their plans, his confidence took a bit of a blow.
“A lot of times, any time an organization brings in different leadership, they want to bring in their own people, and that’s what kind of happened with me,” Bardo said.
“You get hit a little bit when you have to leave a place like ESPN because for college basketball, there and CBS are two of the best places you can be. When you have to move on and make a change, for me, personally, it hits you a little bit, and it hits your confidence a little bit, and you start questioning yourself somewhat.”
When he started hearing rumblings that he might not be long for Bristol, Conn.-based ESPN, Bardo began looking into opportunities at the BTN. The network, which launched six years ago, snatched the 45-year-old up and announced last week that it signed Bardo to a multiyear deal to serve as a studio and game analyst.
For the Chicago resident, the move makes a lot of logistical sense.
“I’ve talked to some other guys who have worked at ESPN and are doing regional work; they said the change has been wonderful,” Bardo said. “The money didn’t really change at all, yet they were able to spend a lot more time with their families. With studio work and being based out of Chicago and having to only travel primarily to Big Ten schools, there’s a lot of benefits to this move for me. I’m able to see my kids more, don’t have to be to the four corners of the United States. There’s a lot of positives.”
When the move was announced early last week, Bardo received an outpouring of support from private phone calls to emails, text messages and through social media. Jay Bilas, Scott Van Pelt, Jimmy Dykes, Fran Fraschilla and Seth Davis were among the many who spoke highly of Bardo and wished him well at the BTN.
“It was so unexpected. I’m an emotional guy; it really touched me. I was shocked, to be honest,” Bardo said. “Those are people in this industry who are well thought of and to have that kind of support meant a lot to me. I really wasn’t expecting that kind of response.”
It’s been an emotional few weeks for Bardo, who has focused his attention on his new gig and continuing to make a name for himself in the conference he called home for four years as a college basketball star at Illinois.
“I learned through this process that if you love doing something, it doesn’t really matter the outlet. I’m just very blessed to be able to have another outlet at the level of the Big Ten Network,” Bardo said. “I’m ecstatic because I’ve been watching the growth of that network since Day 1, so to be a part of it feels really good. I’m just happy for the opportunity.”
Paul headed to combine
On Thursday, former Illinois guard Brandon Paul was announced as one of 60 players invited to this week’s NBA draft combine in Chicago.
Similar to the NFL’s combine, Paul and the other players invited will be interviewed by NBA executives, measured and put through a series of drills ahead of the June 27 draft.
After that, Paul will work out for select NBA teams in an effort to improve his draft stock. Most mock drafts have him slotted to be selected somewhere in the second round.
“My agent’s been in contact with a few teams, and workouts will start shortly after the combine with group workouts and individual workouts with teams, so I’m looking forward to getting to that,” he said.
Paul has spent the past few weeks in Florida working out four times a day in preparation for the combine and workouts with NBA teams.
“It’s basically get up and grind time, and I’m excited about it,” he said.
Former MVP improves
At last year’s season-ending banquet, Tracy Abrams was voted by his teammates as Illinois’ Most Valuable Player. In a strange twist this season, Abrams was named one of the team’s three most improved players along with Nnanna Egwu and Rayvonte Rice by John Groce and the Illinois coaching staff.
“(Assistant coach) Jamall (Walker) works with him a lot and does a great job with our guards and just his open-mindedness; I thought he learned how to be a lead guard more and more and more as the year went on, and that was pretty cool,” Groce said of Abrams. “He thought the game better, he played at a better pace, statistically he was better and he made other guys better as well as score better late in the year than he did early in the year. I thought he made significant improvement; I thought he matured a lot.”
What’s happening outside Champaign-Urbana:
1 It’s a frame that’s been etched in the minds of Illinois players, coaches and fans since March 24. Miami’s Kenny Kadji knocking a ball out of bounds near the end of his team’s NCAA tournament win against the Illini with the officials incorrectly awarding the ball to the Hurricanes. Brandon Paul mentioned it in his address at the end-of-season banquet last week. So did the event’s emcee, Brian Barnhart. Well, it looks as if the NCAA is going to do something to avoid similar incidents with a proposal that some are calling the “Illinois rule.” In men’s and women’s basketball, the rules committee recommended that in the last two minutes of regulation and overtime, officials can go to the monitor to review a shot-clock violation and to determine who caused the ball to go out of bounds on a deflection involving two or more players. This motion likely will be passed when the Playing Rules Oversight Panel meets June 18. Too bad for the Illini, it’s coming a bit too late.
2 Nebraska is a football state, right? If so, then how do you explain that the Cornhuskers have announced that the home portion of their 2013-14 basketball season is already sold out, six months before the season starts? Tim Miles’ program will play in fancy 15,147-seat Pinnacle Bank Arena this season in downtown Lincoln, and the only tickets remaining are the allotment reserved for visiting teams and about 100 student tickets that are expected to be gobbled up soon. The colorful Miles is turning the culture there, and it won’t be long before he has the Huskers knocking on the door of their first NCAA tournament since 1998. What happens first: the Huskers winning a Rose Bowl or the basketball team winning its first NCAA tournament game?
3 Earlier this month, the NCAA finalized a rules proposal that will move the start of fall practice up two weeks. In the past, practices began on or around Oct. 15. Illinois coach John Groce is in favor of the new rule, which will allow him flexibility in the preseason schedule. “We’re not going to be so rushed to get everything in before the first game, and most importantly, I think it’s a great rule for the student-athlete,” Groce said. “I can’t tell you the number of times we’re like ‘Man, we’ve got so much to put in before the first game ... The NCAA says we have to take one day off per week; I can’t afford to take two days off. Now, you can take two days off in a week if you want ... I think that’s much more healthy for the student-athlete.”
3 questions for ...
... fan favorite Kevin Berardini
What did it mean to win the Lou Henson Courage Award?
It was a great honor to win the award. It has meant so much to me to be able to play for my home state. We have such a passionate and determined fan base, and for three years I have tried to display those qualities in my play and how I represent them. As a walk-on, people don’t always get to see the impact that I have on the program, so it was really cool to see the coaches recognize that impact.
What’s next for you?
I actually just signed Thursday morning to play my fifth year for (former Florida State and DePaul coach) Pat Kennedy at (Division II) Pace University in New York.
Is a Hall of Fame YMCA career in your future?
And I think it’s safe to say that I’ll be burning up rec league nets well into my 60s.