Chisholm Brings Enthusiasm To Illini

Most years, the Fighting Illini basketball team employs one or more walkons to fill out its roster and provide scout squad cannon fodder for the top group. They do it for the love of the game and the chance to be a part of a special experience. When they also have a unique name like Bubba Chisholm, fans attach to them immediately.

Illinois coach Bruce Weber wasn't responsive to Bubba Chisholm when he first asked to walk on to the Illini basketball team last summer.

"I had called him about 4 or 5 times, and he finally returned my call," Chisholm explains. "He said, 'I can't guarantee you anything. You can't do alot of the stuff, just watch and participate when they let you in.' So I did that. I tried to do as many summer workouts as I could come to. They kicked me out a couple times. And then I tried to do all the stuff beforehand.

"They made me do walkon tryouts and the whole thing, and they still didn't tell me after three weeks of practice. And then they finally let me go. When I saw my name above the locker, that's when things got really exciting."

It is never easy for a walkon. He isn't treated the same as a scholarship player, he can't share the training table, and he rarely sees game action. But that doesn't deter an ambitious youth with basketball in his blood. In Bubba's case, a detour to junior college for the chance to continue his basketball career was worth it.

"I went to Lincoln Land Junior College in Springfield. I wasn't ready to stop playing basketball. I didn't know if I wanted to play four years or not at a Division 1 school, but I wanted to keep playing. So when junior college came up, I got a scholarship, I got all my general requirements out of the way, I got to live away from home and got to play.

"I'm really glad I did it. I got into Illinois' LAS program out of high school, but I wanted to go to business school. I got into the business school after two years of junior college, and I decided I really wanted to walk on. Just go for it, and it worked out."

Bubba got his name as a youngster, and basketball had an influence even then.

"Bubba actually came about when I was a little kid. My mom gave me the name. It's not a very good story. When I was real little, my first words were 'bub, bub, bub, bub.' I had a little basketball I would sleep with, and I would just 'bub, bub bub' when I carried it around. The name kind of stuck."

His teammates didn't even realize his name was actually Andrew until he made the team. Even when he has tried to go by his given name, he has been rebuffed.

"I tried to drop the name Bubba when I went to middle school, but one of my good buddies immediately said my name was Bubba, so everyone started calling me Bubba."

The 5'-11", 180 pound Chisholm is a Champaign Central graduate who played alongside Indiana freshman Verdell Jones III his senior year on a talented team. They were both point guards, but their contrasting styles complimented each other.

"We would actually switch it up. We were tied with 5-6 assists a game. I was more push it down the court, Verdell was more spread everybody out and pick people apart with passes. Our coach used us in different ways."

Bubba brings energy, enthusiasm and all-out hustle to Illini practices.

"That's my job. Coach talked to me beforehand and said to treat every day of practice like a game for me, to give all I could possibly give to this game today. I ran cross country and track in high school, so I don't mind the running. It's fun to stay in shape and be a part of Illinois. It's incredible to walk into the locker room and see my name above my locker and see Illinois clothes. It's not hard to get excited."

Bumping into bigger, stronger athletes has its drawbacks as well. The shiner he wore for a week was a badge of honor for him.

"(Mike) Tisdale and I went in for a rebound, and he clocked me. It stayed for a good week or so. It looked worse than it actually was. So I got to tell people Tisdale gave me a black eye."

Coach Weber was disappointed his team didn't put Hawai'i away in a recent game because it prevented him from inserting Chisholm into the lineup as a reward for his hard work in practice. But Bubba took it philosophically.

"It's fun you get to cheer for the team. And I think it's great when we win by alot. Even if I get into the game at the end and I don't play well, that's not that important as far as the big picture.

"I just want to be part of something great. I want to go to the NCAA Tournament, I want to win big games, and I want to look back when it's all said and done and say I was a part of that too."

Indeed, Bubba Chisholm is ideally suited to be a walkon at Illinois. He understands and accepts his role, and he takes pride in helping his teammates improve.

"My job is to make sure no one takes days off. If I take a day off, I'm gonna get embarrassed out here. Some of the other guys can coast sometimes and it won't show that much. My job is to make sure they don't coast."


Illini Inquirer Top Stories