Marcus Griffin played two years at Illinois after transferring from junior college, graduating in 2001. He had a major health scare recently but is regaining his strength.
"I am doing well in my recovery from open heart surgery. I'm not able to play basketball yet, but I hope to begin doing that in the near future."
Griffin was expected to add athleticism and a scoring punch for the Illini at center, but a severe knee injury ended those dreams.
"It was my first practice at the Assembly Hall, and I can remember it as if it happened yesterday. I can remember the play, I'm trying to deny Damir Krupalija the ball, and I blow out my knee. I lost a lot of my explosion, a lot of my footwork. I never got that back, even during my senior year."
His high school success was great enough to help counter his college disappointment. He was part of a tremendous Peoria Manual team that won four straight Illinois State championships. Sergio McClain and Frank Williams joined him at Illinois, but they also had a good supporting cast.
"Yeah, that's something I don't think will ever be done again. We had some great coaches and great assistant coaches. But what people don't understand is, we had a great team. We didn't just have three guys who went to the U of I. We had a guy that went to DePaul. We had an all-around great team, and we worked hard. It takes a lot of sacrifice to do that.
"The thing about our team, it was hard to focus on one player. I could have an off night, but I had Sergio playing. If Frank had an off night, he had me and Serg. Any given night, you would have to stop three All-Americans on one team. Not many teams in high school have the firepower to stop those type of players."
Griffin bristled at the thought Chicago Simeon might match Manual's record for consecutive championships. The Wolverines are hoping for their third straight title this March.
"Two is not four. Simeon has a great team, and to get to two championships is a blessing. I've been hearing great things about Jabari Parker, and he's a monster. He can pick any school he wants to go to. But I don't think they're going to get four. Anything can happen. We earned those four straight championships, and we don't want to share that title."
Wasn't Griffin the main reason McClain picked the Illini?
"How did you know that? Serg was very high on Indiana. A lot of people don't know that. But we both agreed to play together. And then Frank agreed to come to the school as well.
"But if Serg was gonna go to Indiana, I wasn't. Illinois was my heart. I wanted to go somewhere close enough that my mom could get to the games but far enough that I could be independent and learn how to grow up as a man. The U of I was the only place that I ever thought of."
Griffin has aspirations of taking his communication skills to a national level. Other former Illini players Eddie Johnson, Stephen Bardo. Kendall Gill and Jerry Hester have enjoyed success as television and radio commentators. He hopes to follow their lead.
"I work for Starr Transport in Morton, Illinois. I really want to get into journalism though, that's what I want to do. I want to get in some way, shape, fashion or form. I think that would be an easy fit for me because I'm so outgoing. I could have a talk show with Shaquille O'Neal. The Griffin-Shaq show.
"I'm willing to do whatever it takes. Whatever homework I have to do, I'm willing to put in the work. Anybody that knows me, knows I'm a hard worker and will do whatever it takes to get the job done. I've been talking to Jerry Hester and a lot of other Illinois alums like Stephen Bardo that do something like that.
"I do know a couple people that are in the business, so I'll play it by ear and see what happens. They can push me in the right direction. I can start off small and eventually get to ESPN or something bigger.
"I'm a very good communicator. I just have to slow down sometimes. When I get excited, I just go all over the place. When I see something good, I should just slow down and everything will be fine."
While he waits for Destiny to provide a helping hand, Griffin will continue to support the Illini. He has seen positive changes in the Assembly Hall since he graduated.
"The color is a lot better, especially when you see it on TV. I'm kind of jealous that I didn't get to play with this giant scoreboard at center court. I think that's nice. I like what the Orange Krush is doing; they're getting bigger. Keep up the good work Illini Nation!
Griffin is a true Illini fan; loyal until his dying day. He believes fans should be more like him rather than becoming angry every time circumstances don't favor them.
"I'm glad fans want to think their school is at the upper echelons like North Carolina and Duke. I think they're spoiled. We have given them so much for so long, and now they don't want mediocre anymore. They just don't want to keep losing. They want to win at the utmost.
"The fans need to just stay with the team. Always believe in the Orange and the Blue. I don't care what's going on with anything else, our heart will always support them every game. I don't care who they're playing against, I will never pick against them."