Illinois Risks Ranking On Illinois Day

Illinois has little time to lick the wounds of their loss at Michigan State as they face the talented Ohio State Buckeyes Tuesday night in the Assembly Hall. Occurring on the same day Illinois senator Barack Obama is inaugurated as America's first black president, the Illini will be celebrating Illinois Day while trying to defeat the Buckeyes.

Every fan entering the Assembly Hall Tuesday evening is encouraged to wear Orange. Each will be provided with an American Flag to wave for a national television audience. Chris Hanna discusses Illinois Day.

"In effect, the Illinois men's basketball team is creating what we believe to be the largest inauguration party outside of Washington, D.C. in honor of an Illinois senator being sworn in as the 44th President of the United States," said Assistant Director of Athletics Chris Hanna.

"We believe the visual of our fans wearing their orange to celebrate our men¹s basketball program appearing on national television and waving the flags to honor the incoming President will be powerful and memorable.

"This is a story that crosses beyond sports into news and if any program deserves that exposure, then it¹s Bruce Weber¹s outstanding men¹s basketball team. This is a great day for the state of Illinois."

Illinois coach Bruce Weber is pleased with Illinois Day.

"It is a huge week for our country with Inauguration Day. We have tied in Illinois Day at the game with American flags. It should be a tremendous sight, a great memory for everybody at the start of the game on national TV."

However, winning the games against the Buckeyes Tuesday and Saturday versus Wisconsin is also important for the Illini according to Weber.

"It's also a huge week for us. We can't let one loss lead to two losses. It (game at Michigan State) was a disappointing, emotional game, playing a top 10 team at their place. We have to learn from it. But you're playing teams that are right up with you in the standings. We have to be ready to play and see if we can maintain our high level of play at home."

Ohio State coach Thad Matta continues to lose players to the NBA and then reload with outstanding replacement recruits. And even with the additional loss of star David Lighty to surgery, the Buckeyes have compiled an impressive 13-3 record and are improving rapidly as they fly into Champaign.

Evan Turner, Demetri McCamey's high school teammate at St. Joseph (Westchester), leads the Buckeyes. The forward is averaging 15.9 points and 7 rebounds a game while being second in assists.

McCamey provides a glowing report on his friend.

"He's a monster. He's 6'-6" or 6'-7" and could play guard here for us. He'll be real tough to guard."

William Buford, a 6'-5", 190 freshman guard averages 10.6 points a game. Sharpshooting sophomore Jon Diebler ((6'-6", 205) is at 10.8 points a game and is third on the team in assists.

Junior college transfer Jeremie Simmons (6'-2", 170) leads the team in assists while scoring at a 7.3 clip. He is backed by junior P. J. Hill (6'-1", 165). Big men for Ohio State include sophomore Dallas Lauderdale (6'-8", 255) and B.J. Mullens (7'-0", 275). The freshman Mullens is considered a cinch future NBA player and is improving rapidly.

Weber is impressed with the Buckeyes.

"Mullens is a very good talent. He has great athleticism, explosion for somebody his size and age. In the Big 10, he's shooting 71% from the field. When he gets the ball close to the basket, he's very good. He doesn't have as many minutes, but Thad's trying to bring him along, trying to get him to learn how hard you have to play, how you have to play every minute.

"Lauderdale has actually played well. He's the leading shot blocker in the league. He's been able to rotate those guys. Buford was Player Of The Week this week. We watched him quite a bit in high school. We all thought he was very talented and had a chance with his length and shooting ability and athleticm to be a pro down the road.

"Diebler's picked up his shooting. And then Evan has been their steady force the whole year. He's been their go-to guy. He doesn't get real emotional, he just plays steady. So Thad's done a nice job."

Former Chicago prep Simmons has stabilized the backcourt from his point guard spot.

"He's been a key for them. He allows them to get into their stuff. They're not as point guard oriented as they've been the last 3-4 years with Butler and Conley, but he's been solid. He has 20 assists and 6 turnovers. And then P.J. Hill comes in and he's 10 assists and 6 turnovers.

"That will be a key for us, what we can do with those guys, if we can disrupt them a little bit. Once they get it to Evan or Mullens on the baseline down low, they're tough to stop. And then you have a great spot-up shooter in Diebler if you help out. Our defense has to do a good job. Hopefully, our home crowd is part of it, disrupting their flow."

Ohio State's defense is also solid.

"Their zone gives everybody fits, and now especially with a couple shot blockers it makes them even tougher to go against. They had a good week last week. They've won three in a row, so they've got to be playing with a lot of confidence."

The Buckeys have beaten Illinois their last five encounters. Senior guard Trent Meacham needs no reminders.

"I've never beaten them in my career. They're tough. They play a lot of zone, they have some big guys inside that are good. They're missing Lighty now, but Evan Turner's had a great year. Diebler's really been shooting the ball well lately. We're excited, and we'll be ready for them."

Several Illini players expressed their pleasure the USA is inaugurating its first black president. If Calvin Brock wasn't playing basketball, he might have been in Washington D. C. for the festivities.

"My 17 year old sister, through some academic group with her school, got invited to watch the presidential inauguration. So my sister, my mom, and my stepfather who's a police officer in Chicago are all going. If I had the chance, I would have gone too. But we have a game. I'm not disappointed, but it would have been a good thing to go to. First African American president."

Illinois fans hope January 29, 2009, will be as good a day for their basketball team as it is for Barack Obama.


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