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With Tournament Upon Us, Can Illini Seniors Improve Legacy?

Posted By Jason Patt On Mar 16 2011 @ 10:12 pm In Illinois | No Comments

“We’re back to business.  Back to trying to get a banner up there.  I have no legacy here.  Demetri McCamey has no legacy here.  We want to hang a banner,  so people can remember us by it.  That team won a banner.  They won a Big Ten championship.  That’s what I want to leave.”

This was Illinois senior forward Mike Davis back in October. Coming off a disappointing season, he and the rest of the current Illini senior class were looking to make a statement in the upcoming campaign.  The group of him, McCamey, Mike Tisdale and Bill Cole had not won anything of note during their tenure at Illinois.  In three seasons, they had reached one NCAA Tournament, where they were upset in the first round by 12th seeded Western Kentucky.

This year was supposed to be different for Illinois.  It was supposed to be the year they returned to prominence.  To go along with the four returning seniors, the Illini mixed in a plethora of young talent.  Many prognosticators had the Illini competing for a Big Ten title.  ESPN analyst Doug Gottlieb even predicted a National Championship Game appearance.  While this was a bit far fetched, the hype was officially back for Illinois basketball.  Me and a lot of other Illini fans completely bought into it.

Flash forward to today, and it appears that we were all hoodwinked.  What was supposed to be a season of celebration has turned into one of frustration.  The year has been marred by close losses where lack of execution down the stretch has doomed the Illini.  This was highlighted in their Big Ten Tournament collapse against Michigan.

There is plenty of blame to go around, but much of it has fallen on the shoulders of the senior class.  But the criticism isn’t just coming from the average fan.  Former Illini greats Kendall Gill and Stephen Bardo have had pretty harsh words for the seniors.  They essentially said the team wouldn’t improve until they graduated. That is a major indictment against these players, and one that I somewhat agree with.  This group is just missing something, and it has kept them from being as successful as expected.

The man taking the most heat is McCamey.  That’s because he’s the one with the most talent.  Right when he set foot on the Illinois campus, he was compared (unfairly) to Deron Williams.  They shared a similar build and style, so many were hoping McCamey could follow in Williams’ footsteps.

While there have been times that McCamey has been phenomenal, there have been far too many others where he hasn’t.  This inconsistent play, along with lackadaisical defense and apparent clashes with coach Bruce Weber have made for a disappointing career.  He seems to lack the intangibles that Williams possessed at Illinois, such as leadership and the will to win.

The other Illini seniors have taken their lumps as well, especially Davis and Tisdale.  Both have been been criticized for lack of toughness, and it’s well warranted.  They are finesse big men that don’t really like to mix it up down low. They get pushed around too often and aren’t always aggressive enough on the glass.  These deficiencies cancel out the fact that they are very skilled offensively.

It may sound like I’m being overly harsh on these guys, but I’m just calling it like I see it.  I certainly don’t root for them to fail, because I love Illinois basketball.  They’re also all good kids.  None of them have gotten into trouble, and they have represented Illinois with integrity.  But in the world of high level college athletics, you have to win to be remembered in a positive light.

These Illini seniors have one last chance to redeem themselves in the NCAA Tournament.   Getting a win over UNLV would be a good start.  But if these guys really want to make a splash and leave a legacy, they go out and beat Kansas. Conquering Bill Self and ending the Jayhawks season early (again) would completely change the way this senior class is viewed.  Can they do it?  Stay tuned.

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