MACHESNEY PARK – Aminata Yanni, rated as the state's top junior on the 1999 News-Gazette All-State girls' basketball team, orally committed to Illinois, her mother said this morning.
Henrietta Yanni said her daughter, a 6-foot-1 forward from Harlem High, picked Illinois over DePaul, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
Illinois football players were up to good deeds Saturday in Champaign, volunteering their time to officiate Gus Macker basketball games. It's the second year in a row the Illini have chipped in as Gus Busters, keeping score, calling fouls and breaking up fights.
It's good PR for a program in need of some. The last year has been a tough one as far as headlines go. If it wasn't this year's top recruit struggling with grades, it was last year's recruits struggling with the rules.
Late one night during her basketball camp last month, Theresa Grentz walked into a gym to find her current players and incoming recruits playing Ashley Berggren and other alumni.
And running them ragged.
Grentz, who in four years has built a program from scratch, flashed a smile as wide as any detention basin. When she first arrived on campus, pickup games between past and present Illini resembled lunch hour at the YMCA. Today they're organized and interesting.
Don't worry about slender Brian Cook playing soft as a freshman at Illinois. Not after the summer he's sweating through.
Gus Macker one day, hanging drywall the next. Hard fouls and long hours.
He'd embrace retirement with a bit more gusto if his last season of professional basketball had turned out better. But Eddie Johnson's probable farewell tour was a monumental dud.
The team he joined to win an NBA title (Houston) turned out to be the league's top flop. And the alleged injury that kept him out of all but three games (lower back strain) was no more disabling than a hangnail.
If his center was fouling too much or his point guard was dribbling too much, then Lon Kruger would be irritated.
But if it's a travel snag, no worries for the Illinois basketball coach.
These days, advice is a lot easier to find than a good pickup game for Darius Miles.
The East St. Louis basketball star, the best upcoming high school senior in Illinois and perhaps the country, is getting it from everywhere.
Dan O'Neill's a nervous type today.
Not about walking onto Illinois Field for Senior Day ceremonies with a rowful of family on hand. Or fighting to keep his team in the Big Ten playoff race and his college baseball career afloat. Or even trying to keep his average above .300.
That stuff doesn't merit a bead of sweat.
CHAMPAIGN – At Florida and Illinois, Steve Henson often worked out with Lon Kruger's teams to stay in shape for professional basketball.
He's back again, only this time he'll get paid for his sweat.
If Cristy Chapman decided to seek support for her Dike Eddleman Athlete of the Year candidacy, the Illinois volleyball player wouldn't have far to look. Seems everyone she bumps into becomes a big fan.
Like the fourth-graders at Thomas Paine Elementary in Urbana, whom for twice a week the last two years she read books to, answered questions for and always smiled no matter how many times they asked her how she got so tall.