The Illinois basketball team is preparing for its trip to Italy in August. As one of their allotted practice days, the Illini will hold an intrasquad scrimmage beginning at 5:00 pm at the Assembly Hall. It should be in the 20-24 minute range.
This will be the Illini debut for newcomers Sam Maniscalco, Tracy Abrams, Ibrahima Djimde, Nnanna Egwu, Mycheal Henry, Devin Langford and Mike Shaw. They are expected to challenge the six returning players for playing time this fall, so fans have a grand opportunity to see them in action.
That is, if everyone is healthy by then. Langford suffered a deep thigh bruise and missed several practices. Meyers Leonard tweaked his knee. Weber says the early practices have taken their toll.
"Will we survive the practices? It is amazing how, without conditioning and all the preseason stuff, they're not in great shape. We went three days in that period between recruiting, and we had about 9 guys in the training room."
There will be an Alumni Game following the scrimmage. At least sixty former players have indicated plans to attend, with many from the Flying Illini and more recent teams attempting to play in the game. Illini coach Bruce Weber recalls a recent Alumni Game and hopes the enthusiasm for the latest one will come close to that resounding success.
"It is a great event. We had an unbelievable showing the last time, nearly 15,000 people. We don't think that will happen; that was after a football game. But if we get, in early August in summer, 7-8,000 people, that'll be pretty impressive."
The fabled 2004-05 team will be well represented. Deron Williams, who is holding activities for his Point of Hope Foundation in conjunction with the event, is the most highly acclaimed returnee. Teammates Dee Brown, Luther Head, James Augustine, Roger Powell and Jack Ingram will join him. Powell just retired from professional basketball to coach at Valparaiso; the others are still playing either in the NBA or overseas.
Weber is especially appreciative of the support Williams continues to provide for the UI program.
"We're very excited Deron's continued to come back. He's kind of the pied piper of the group when he comes back for his event with Point Of Hope Foundation. Guys are coming back; we've had a great response.
"Our guys like to come back, and then Deron's got his function with the Point Of Hope after. It's a chance to intermingle with the former players and raise some money for some positive causes."
Other top returnees include Kenny Battle, Stephen Bardo, Kendall Gill, Chris Gandy, Kiwane Garris, Jarrod Gee, Jerry Hester, Kevin Turner, Marcus Griffin, Sergio McClain, Robert Archibald, Cory Bradford, Lucas Johnson, Damir Krupalija, Brian Cook, Brian Randle, Calvin Brock, Mike Davis, Demetri McCamey and Mike Tisdale. Former coach Lon Kruger is also expected to attend.
This will be a rare and glorious opportunity for Illini Nation to relive memories and enjoy an afternoon of basketball. Autographs will be available afterward.
If there is one problem, it might be the temperature. The Assembly Hall has no air conditioning, so a hot day may lead to frequent rests by the alumni players. Weber hopes it won't discourage Illini fan from attending, but he also sees a silver lining.
"We just have to hope that it's not 100 degrees in the Assembly Hall. Maybe if it is, we'll get a push for air conditioning and get that thing remodeled."
One never knows when another special event like this will occur, so enjoy it while you can. You can watch both your heroes and a brand new Illini team at the same time. The Assembly Hall should be rocking Saturday.