Bill Cole came to Illinois from Peoria Richwoods High School as a tall, slender player without a defined position. He was too thin to play center, and teammate Mike Davis proved a better power forward. Cole needed time to find a niche, but perseverance and hard work paid off in the long run.
"The first two years were tough, but I kept a positive attitude, kept working hard. Something I'll always remember is gaining the trust of my coaches and teammates. I think they still trust me for that because they know it wasn't handed to me. They know I'm always gonna work my butt off when I get in there."
There are few 6'-9" players capable of playing a wing position, but that was Cole's challenge. It was especially tough for him to move his feet laterally to defend speedy perimeter players. But what he lacked in quickness, he made up for by studying opponent tendencies and giving up his body to make plays.
"It took me longer than I thought it would. It took two years just to get comfortable playing the three spot from where I was at in high school. It's a big transition to college because of all the quick players. That takes time. Once I finally got it down, I thought I did pretty well."
Cole has accumulated enough memories to last a lifetime.
"There's a lot. Game-wise, I thought the game last year at Clemson where we were down 22 points at halftime. That was special. The Michigan State GameDay will always stick out. Playing in the Tournament my sophomore year was a cool experience. I'm hoping we'll make some more here the next couple weeks."
He also shared his favorite memory of his head coach Bruce Weber.
"I like the one where he got so mad at practice one day, he took the Gatorade cooler and threw it and told us to get out. I was a freshman, so when Coach tells you get out you're like, 'What? Practice isn't over yet.'
"And then you knew it when he started picking the individual gear and the cups and started throwing those too. Everybody tries to get out. By the time you're about out of the gym he's like, 'Get back in here.' So you don't really know what you're doing. That's probably one of my favorite Bruce Weber moments."
Cole hopes to continue his basketball career after leaving the UI.
"I'd like to play overseas somewhere. I've always wanted to go over there. Basketball has stopped me from going there, but now hopefully it will give me the opportunity to go over there and see other countries.
"Trent (Meacham) and Brian Randle have had good success over there, and they make a lot of money. I'd like to do that while my body can still play basketball."
Once basketball is finally out of his system, Cole has an impressive major that will allow him success in the business world.
"Agriculture Consumer Economics, and my concentration is International Trading Policy. I'd like to play for the next couple years overseas somewhere and come back and look for a job. Maybe take over my dad's business."
Of course, his Illini career is still in progress. He still has specific goals for this season.
"Obviously, I want to get into the (NCAA) Tournament. Last year, Selection Sunday was just a sick feeling. That's probably my biggest goal right now."
"There is no finish to the season yet. We've gotten better the last two weeks, there's no doubt about that. I think we're starting to get up to a peak here. Hopefully, if we can get it clicking on all cylinders, we'll be tough to handle. I don't think it will be finished for a long time.
"Demetri is back, Tisdale's hitting his shots, Mike D. is being the leader we all thought he could be. I'm just doing my thing out there, playing defense and playing hard. I think it's starting to click. The young guys are starting to help us out. So I think it's all starting to come together. I'm pretty excited now at the end of the season."
Some Illini fans gave up a long time ago and started expressing displeasure on Internet fan forums, talk radio and directly to the players on campus. Cole refuses to let them distract him from his goals.
"We hear it, but you're gonna get that in any group regardless. Whether you're winning every game or losing every game, you're gonna have a couple people on you. We know we have real fans out there; we know they're supporting us. You hear stuff, but you've just got to block it out and play your game.
"I feel like we're starting to play really good basketball. The first half at Purdue minus the last five minutes showed how far we've come the last couple weeks. We're starting to get it all together. I don't want anyone to give up on this team yet because all we have to do is get a couple wins. If we get in the Tournament, I think we can make some noise. There's no doubt about it."
Weber is happy for his senior and grateful for all his contributions.
"I think Bill is a great story. He was patient. I'm sure somewhere in there he thought about transferring. He's taken a lot of heat from fans. But he stuck with it, he found a niche. He's ended up having a positive career. Is it an NBA-type career, no. But it's a good college basketball career.
"He's a great kid, he's got the respect of his teammates, he plays hard. I called an out-of-bounds play for him to shoot the shot at the end of the Purdue game. Let him make one, let him feel good so maybe he can make a difference in a game.
"I'm just hoping somewhere here that he can do that because he's done everything else. His work ethic, his patience, leadership and persistence, a lot of positive things. He's made a lot of progress."
Cole did finally hit another of his patented three point shots in the Indiana game, and he added a drive and free throw in his final home game. Even if he hadn't ended his recent slump, he would see the bright side of his career and the potential that lies ahead.
"I have no regrets. I'm happy I could come to represent my city and my state, play here and play my butt off every day.
"I feel like there's a lot more to be written here. We've got a good opportunity ahead of us. We're starting to piece it together here. If we get it all together at the same time, we could be dangerous."