Memories flood back

CHAMPAIGN – The last time Mark Shapland saw Kendall Gill, the NBA star was tooling through downtown Chicago in a convertible.

Shapland waved like crazy from his bank office. His former Illinois teammate waved back then kept on rolling. Earlier this month, he ran into Stephen Bardo at a local gym.

For the Monticello native and UI walk on, encounters with other members of the 1988-89 Illinois Final Four team have been scarce.

But he got to introduce newborn son Danny to most of the memory makers during a Flyin' Illini Reunion Game reception Friday night at the Bielfeldt Building.

"It brings back memories you forget," Shapland said. "Everybody has a different story they remember. You never remember everything. Each guy remembers a little piece, and each guy remembers it a little different."

Friday night was a time for reminiscing and retelling those stories. For the first time as a group, the Flyin' Illini have been reunited.

Nick Anderson, who finished his 11th year in the NBA, has not been on campus since 1991. Anderson got his first look at the Bielfeldt Building – "When did this get here?" he asked – and the Ubben Basketball Complex.

"First thing I said was, 'Hey, I guess we did really good,' " Anderson said. "We paved the way for them.' It's great to come back and see a whole bunch of familiar faces, a lot of people that really helped my career get a jumpstart in basketball and education."

Anderson completed his first season with the Sacramento Kings and was a popular choice for autograph seekers at the reception. Kenny Battle was another crowd favorite.

"People were talking about the memories, and they tell me I look good," Battle said. "I tell them, 'Good looks are hard to work for, but I work hard at it.' "

Battle said it will be emotional walking through the tunnel onto the Assembly Hall court again. The last time they did it, they were returning from Seattle and were greeted by a packed house.

Flying in Thursday from Ann Arbor, Mich., P.J. Bowman half expected to see fans waiting on the tarmac.

"Just landing at Willard Airport, it flashed back all these memories," Bowman said. "I can't imagine how it's going to feel. It's been a long since I've played any competitive basketball, with people watching anyway.

"For me, it's going to be weird playing with professional basketball players. Although they were my teammates, I look up to those guys now."

Bowman has lived in Michigan's hometown for the past two years, just completed his residency and is moving to Los Angeles to join the psychiatric faculty at UCLA. Like the rest, he still gets questions about the '89 team.

Since graduating the UI in 1989, Shapland attended graduate school at Northwestern and works in commercial real estate. Few people recognize a walk-on – Shapland said they've got a problem if they do – but it's still a conversation piece in Chicago.

"They say they remember the team, and they start rattling off names," Shapland said. "It's easy to forget how popular and exciting it was. I was already part of the community and then part of the team. It was particularly exciting for me."

There was plenty of excitement as the ex-Illini partied Friday night, and there could be even more today.

Bardo, known for his defense in Champaign-Urbana, said he'll show off his offensive moves. Battle used to thrill the crowd with high-flying, acrobatic dunks. But he wasn't making any promises.

"I have it in me," Battle said. "Now whether they come out of me, that remains to be seen."

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