Tuesday night marks the final home game in the careers of fifth-year seniors Joseph Bertrand and Jon Ekey.
Each has experienced his own ups and downs throughout the last five years in college basketball.
Bertrand battled back from injury as a true freshman, a coaching change two years ago and prolonged stretches of losing each of the last three seasons.
Ekey dealt with a coaching change at Illinois State, played out of position last season with the Redbirds, and — along with Bertrand — saw his role on this season’s Illinois team shift from starter to reserve three weeks ago.
Bertrand and Ekey, who already have received bachelor’s degrees, have handled the good and the bad times with maturity, and they enter Tuesday night’s tilt against No. 12 Michigan — their last at State Farm Center — riding high and hopeful to make a few more memories in the closing weeks of their collegiate basketball careers.
“These guys have led by example of what we want to be about and who we want to be as a program on and off the court,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “It is a special day that we’re honoring Joe and Jon, not just for their playing careers, but for the type of student-athlete, person, teammate that these guys are. I’m so proud of them (and) feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to coach these guys.”
Here’s a look back from both:
The best moment of my Illinois career was ... the Indiana win last year. Winning that Missouri game this year, that was a big one doing that for the first time. There’s been a lot of big ones. Winning in the (NCAA) tournament last year.
When John Groce gets mad at me ... he tells you about it. He’s not one to sugarcoat things; he keeps it straight with you. That’s what makes him a really good coach. Some coaches might try to sugarcoat situations, and that’s not the best for the team, and he lets you know so you can get it corrected.
Next March, I am going to be ... getting ready to celebrate my birthday again (March 23), watching the college games and hopefully playing basketball somewhere.
News-Gazette headline I’d like to read about myself ... “Joseph’s a beast!” Make sure you put that in bold with a bunch of exclamation points.
Other than basketball, I’m good at... getting along with people. I can make people laugh.
My favorite Groceism is ... there’s so many of them. He said a word today: “Sticktoitiveness.” He just makes up words. He’s a funny coach, and sometimes I don’t even know he’s funny. He just puts words in ways where people can relate to them, and he knows how to get the best out of each player.
The best moment of my Illinois career was ... that Mizzou game was awesome. This run right now we’re making has been memorable. Winning at Minnesota and Michigan State has been good. I only get one trip to those places, so it’s good to be with these guys and get the wins there and something I’ll be able to look back on.
When John Groce gets mad at me ... he is normally yelling at me to shoot the ball. It’s a good problem to have, I guess. When he gets on me it’s because I’ve passed up a shot or given it to someone else, and he wants me to be a little bit more selfish.
Next March, I am going to be ... hopefully playing somewhere. I’d like to go overseas or see what I can get. That would be great to be able to continue playing.
N-G headline I’d like to read about myself ... that I just had a great game either scoring or something good to help us win.
Other than basketball, I’m good at ... I used to dance a little more in my younger days. Coach (Paris Parham) likes to say I used to dance pretty well. I was decent. My roommate was a good dancer, so I just picked up things from him. Dancing is up there. People don’t like to believe me. I’m great at video games. I do that a lot in my downtime. I’m really good at “Call of Duty.”
My favorite Groceism is ... the best ones are the ones you can’t repeat. Those are funny. The words he makes up are always good. I don’t know if I could pick just one. The one about peeing on the electric fence; someone just sent a picture in a group message of someone peeing on an electric fence.