Welcome to “Good Morning, Illini Nation,” your daily dose of college basketball news from Illini beat writer and AP Top 25 voter Scott Richey. He’ll offer up insights every morning until practice tips off.
The 2019-20 season will be Jerry Hester’s third away from his lengthy sideline stint as a broadcaster. The former Illinois forward spent 10 seasons on the call as an analyst for his alma mater on the Illini Sports Network. Two full seasons removed, Hester said he misses the games but certainly not the travel.
“The travel got hectic,” Hester said. “Being in that for 10 years not realizing how much time I really was away. It’s only four months, but it seems a whole lot longer.”
Hester’s kids were getting older when he decided to step away from his radio career. More time with the family, he said, has been “unbelievable.”
“It’s great to be home, and I get a little more time to work on my business,” Hester said. “I launched a business (Hester Insurance Group, LLC) at the same time I retired.”
That doesn’t mean Hester stopped following Illinois basketball. In fact, there wasn’t much of a change at times in his first season away from radio in the way he watched the Illini play.
“My wife, the first year, she would tell me, ‘You’re talking to the TV,’ ” Hester said.
Hester didn’t believe his wife. Turns out she was right. And proved it to him during Illinois’ game against Florida State on Nov. 25, 2016 during the NIT Season Tip-Off in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“She actually taped me,” Hester said. “I was standing up, and I was talking to the TV as if (radio partner Brian Barnhart) was next to me.”
Hester said he’ll still turn on the radio call instead of listening to the TV announcers. He said the two former Illini that have filled his role — Deon Thomas and Doug Altenberger — have done a “phenomenal job.”
“You had Jim Turpin and Loren Tate in that role for the longest time,” Hester said. “Stephen Bardo really started the Illini player connection. I replaced him. Now you’ve got two great guys in Deon and Doug that have taken the torch and made it even better.”