"As a scout squadder in 1989, I was supposed to be Indiana''s Eric Anderson, and I couldn''t miss a shot. Coach (Lou) Henson was yelling at his starters. Gill couldn''t stop me. Bardo couldn''t stop me."
That''s a lasting memory for Wheaton''s Brian O''Connell, one of dozens of former Illini – stars, walk-ons, managers, etc. – already responding to the 100-year celebration of Illini basketball that will be conducted next season.
The letters pouring into coach Bruce Weber are priceless. Here are a few abbreviated snippets.
Larry Cohen of Park Ridge remembers winning the Ralf Woods trophy (.867 on free throws in 1972), going 5 for 5 off the bench against Indiana and "being benched for not shaving my mustache."
Jim Dutcher, not to be confused with the former Minnesota coach: "The first game I started for Illinois, John Kerr and I combined for 42 points. He scored 38. I scored four (at Ohio State in 1954)."
Troy Fischer of Stillman Valley: "I remember Coach Henson putting me in for Kendall Gill and telling me to simply ''do what Kendall''s doing.'' Ha!"
Dragomir Marinkovich of Hales Corners, Wis.: "I led the Big Ten in field goal and free throw percentage (in 1984) with percentages of .667 and 1.000. However, I didn''t get recognition because of a silly rule about the number of attempts (three and two)."
Ken Parker, Joliet veteran who spent D-Day at Normandy: "As a junior in 1942, I rarely suited up for games. As a senior, I was sixth man for the Whiz Kids'' Big Ten champions."
Mike Price of Indianapolis lists his highlights as being "co-captain and team MVP as a senior, the UI Athlete of the Year in 1970 and the first-round pick of the New York Knicks that year."
Jeff Ferguson, Marion walk-on and 10-year Herrin coach: "I shot 100 percent on free throws (made all nine) and made the first goal at both ends of the Assembly Hall at our first practice session there in 1963."
Ron Dunlap, longtime school administrator in Wisconsin: "My time was cut short due to the ''slush fund'' situation, but I helped set a team collegiate scoring record in the Chicago Stadium against Notre Dame (120-92), and beat Adolph Rupp and Kentucky in December of 1966. I played two years in Tel-Aviv, Israel, and still maintain touch with Tal Brody there."
Audie Matthews from Queensland, Australia: "I was Illini MVP twice and hit a game-winning shot against Purdue, and was the No. 1 player in Australia (in the 1980s) and took Brisbane to their first championship."
Steve Lanter recalls "setting the school assist record as a freshman, beating Michigan and Magic Johnson in 1979, and starting the St. Louis Jets AAU club serving over 200 youths."
Eddie Johnson, a 17-year NBA player and now broadcasting on TV, will never forget "the Michigan State game in 1979 (he hit the last shot)."
Marc Davidson, 1993 Illini forward: "I made NAIA All-American two years at Trinity International, played pro ball in France until 2000, coached two years in Detroit and I''m now back in France playing pro ball again."
Mike Washington, Matteson resident: "My highlight was knowing that Nate Williams and I, as the UI''s first junior college players in1974-75 and 1975-76, started the upswing for Illinois."
Jake Staab, Peoria resident: "We beat DePaul and George Mikan in 1944 at the Chicago Stadium."
Jon Ball, walk-on: "I guarded Nick Weatherspoon and Nick Conner in practice. After my freshman year, I focused on civil engineering, but I continue to play basketball at 49 years of age and am vice president for one of the nation''s largest builders."
Nate Mast of Champaign: "My personal highlight was starting against Michigan State. I''m now working in West Palm Beach (Fla.) and looking forward to returning to grad school and getting into coaching."
Cliff Fulton, who earned his first letter in 1943 and his last in 1950: "I was a slow learner but persistent."
Mark Steinberg, 1989 walk-on and a 2002 Sports Business Journal Hall of Famer in representing Tiger Woods, Vince Carter, Annika Sorenstam and other super-stars for IMG in Cleveland: "My highlight was the enjoyment of the team atmosphere on a Final Four team."
Days long ago
Ted Beach, a seven-year player for Harry Combes at Champaign High and the UI: "I played on two NCAA Final Four teams. I''ve served as UI timer for 40 years. This will be my final season."
Edward Perry, doctor of optometry in Mount Vernon: "My highlight was breaking the field goal percent record (.489 in 1959)."
Donn Deputy (1971-74) recalls "losing many games to Purdue when Bruce Weber was assistant coach there."
George Bon Salle was center for Illini teams that "won 16 games in a row, stopped the San Francisco win streak at 60 and became the second-highest-scoring team in UI history" in the mid-''50s. Bon Salle said he was the first American to play professionally in Italy.
Bill Mohlenbrock of Del Mar, Calif.: "I remember trying to guard John Havlicek of Ohio State and being the lone surviving senior (1961) from my freshman basketball class."
Rick Howat, a dead-eye shooter from Downers Grove highlights his captaincy in 1971 and "beating Notre Dame (69-66 in OT) at the Chicago Stadium that year."
My apologies to more than a hundred others for whom there is not room ... the four Judsons and Tony Wysinger and Hiles Stout and several dozen whose lives have been well traced locally. With such a flurry of early responses, the anniversary is already building toward a crescendo.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.