CHAMPAIGN — Brad Underwood shared an anecdote to open his portion of Wednesday afternoon’s press event held outside State Farm Center.
Jayne DeLuce followed with one of her own when she stepped up to the various microphones.
The topic: the IHSA boys’ basketball state tournament returning to Champaign, as voted upon Monday by the IHSA Board of Directors, after spending the last 25 years in Peoria.
Underwood’s history lesson came from 1993, when the current Illinois men’s basketball coach was an assistant coach nearly 150 miles away at Western Illinois.
“(I remember) coming over here for the first time and not being able to get a ticket,” Underwood said, “and trying to scalp a ticket out here in the parking lots.”
DeLuce’s memory was a bit more recent but also displayed the state tournament’s past effect on Champaign.
“Ten years ago, my first week on the job,” DeLuce began, referring to her roles as Visit Champaign County’s president and CEO, “someone said — multiple people said — ‘When are you bringing back IHSA boys’ basketball?’
“Well, it took 10 years. It took a lot longer since a lot of people wanted it back when we lost it 25 years ago.”
But it has come to pass that the University of Illinois will welcome 16 boys’ basketball teams, in Class 1A through 4A, to State Farm Center for at least the 2021, 2022 and 2023 state tournaments — barring any unforeseen rescheduling resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
IHSA executive director Craig Anderson on Wednesday said he doesn’t expect a rapid relocation after that 2023 tournament, either.
“We wouldn’t bring it here to say that we’re only going to stay here for three years,” Anderson said, “and (then) we’re looking to move it someplace else. We’re looking for a long time.
“While future boards of directors will make that determination, I see this being a long-term commitment.”
Anderson fielded multiple questions about the tournament’s future format, in going from a two-weekend setup to a three-day alignment during a single week beginning in 2021.
DeLuce addressed that matter as well — with an entirely positive outlook.
“We’re thrilled that it is all on one weekend, because we’ve kind of just said, ‘We’re all in,’” DeLuce said. “One weekend. Let’s do it. It’s going to be a ton of basketball.”
That also will include, DeLuce said, the IHSA boys’ wheelchair basketball state final on Saturday with the other four classes’ title games.
IHSA officials spent Monday’s post-announcement conference call frequently complimenting State Farm Center as a host venue.
Interestingly, those officials attended a very unique Illini men’s basketball game during the 2019-2020 campaign to get a better feel for the venue’s hoops experience.
“It happened to be the basketball game where we actually had the emergency and clear your seats and all that,” said DeLuce, referencing the Jan. 30 game with Minnesota during which a false fire alarm forced a temporary evacuation. “That made it a little more interesting.
“But they got to see the fandom. They got to see where the band could sit and where the officials could sit and where the student-athletes are. And I think that was a turning point, to be able to really get a sense of what this building has to offer.”
The Illini’s eventual win over the Gophers was followed by a meeting in the Traditions Club between those IHSA officials and a community group DeLuce described as 150 strong.
“(They) said, ‘We want you here,’” DeLuce said. “There was people that are community leaders, that are restaurant owners, retail owners. There are people from every walk of life that are so excited that (the IHSA tournament) is here.”
IHSA associate executive director Kurt Gibson, who oversees boys’ basketball, confirmed DeLuce’s recollection of that interaction.
“It was tough for us to push the decision back from April because we had such a good feeling about not only the bid but the visit,” said Gibson, the “push” caused by the ongoing pandemic. “You could just really sense the community spirit here. So we’re glad to have the decision behind us.”
Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said “informal feedback” he’s received since Monday’s announcement indicates that excitement DeLuce alluded to.
“(IHSA officials) knew we were going to roll out the orange carpet and make sure everyone had a fantastic experience here,” Whitman said. “It’s just something that I truly believe is a win-win for everybody.”