Champaign Central product Bubba Chisholm is a fan favorite. The Orange Krush chant his name at the end of blowout wins, hoping to see him get some action. Like illustrious walkons before him, he sometimes thrills the students with a basket before time expires.
But his contributions to the Illinois basketball team go far beyond mop-up work. He is the unquestioned hustle leader in practice, pushing his teammates to perform their best. He is like the Energizer Bunny, always running.
As a guard, Chisholm gives Demetri McCamey a battle at every practice. McCamey appreciates the competition and the leadership the senior provides.
"He brings energy to practice. He might not practice all the time, but when he's in there he's gonna give you his all. Diving on the floor, screening, fouling you, bumping you, just being a good leader out there.
"He talks to the upperclassmen the same as the young group. He puts everybody on the same page and makes sure practice goes well."
During wind sprints after long practices, Bruce Weber challenges McCamey to outrace Chisholm and his other teammates. Who wins?
"It all depends. Some days he wins, some days I win. But Bubba's on the sideline more than me. So I'm gonna be dead, and he's already fast enough. He's speeding at the end, and you're trying to catch up with him. The competition is great, and I just try to compete with him every day."
Chisholm ran cross country in high school and is in great shape. He won the mile competition preseason last year, but a precocious freshman caught him at the tape this year.
"I didn't win conditioning. I was close in the mile, but D.J. (Richardson) got me. He sat and kicked on me. He beat me by a second. I was the rabbit that led the pack. He knew what he was doing."
Three of the four freshmen are guards. When a reporter asked Chisholm this summer if the new meat would make it tougher for him to secure playing time, he understood the joke and responded with a big smile. But when Joseph Bertrand hurt his knee, his fortunes changed.
"When Bertrand went down, I had to step in and do as much in the workouts as anyone. We had 13, and then when Bertrand goes down we have 12 and I'm in every group of four.
"I had some rough days in the beginning getting back in shape. But I liked being a part of it. If I had to pick between a hard day and not doing much, I'd rather be a part of the really hard days just to feel more a part of the team and feel like I'm contributing. I enjoyed it."
Since then, Jeff Jordan rejoined the team. And Bertrand is recovering from knee surgery and may begin practicing again soon. So Chisholm's hope of getting significant minutes has fallen to the backburner. But that hasn't discouraged him in practice.
"I'm still hoping to jump in and compete to push the rest of the guys."
Chisholm hustles every moment he gets to practice. He pesters the guards all over the court. He gives them good looks to help them prepare for the rigors of big games. It can be difficult to tolerate when you are not accustomed to it, but he says the freshmen haven't gotten mad at him yet.
"No, they haven't gotten too mad. Even with Demetri once in awhile, they're running for 10 minutes and then I'll come in and I'm fresh. They're tired and then they say, 'Oh good, I've got this guy guarding me.' Of course, at the end of a three hour practice, everyone's tired so it doesn't matter. So that's my time to shine."
"I'm excited about how they finish around the rim. Brandon, D.J. and Joseph, I don't think we've had guys that can be hit by a center and still finish, shooting tough layups and helping with the rebounding.
"They should be able to do it if everyone buys into the right mindset. Also, I'm amazed at how humble they are. We're trying to stay humble and grow as a team."
Obviously, with the freshmen playing so well early, Chisholm's goals have changed.
"Hopefully, they can help me out with playing time by being good and winning games by a lot of points. That's what I'm rooting for now."
Chisholm is also encouraged by the maturation of the juniors.
"I think they understand what it's all about. Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis, the Mike and Mike Show, I hope they have a good year and grow up as far as attitudes of having good games one day and not so good games another day. Make the extremes level out."
For Chisholm, two years playing with the Fighting Illini is a dream come true. He has impressed everyone, and there is no doubt he will be successful whatever he chooses to do with his life.
"My degree's in finance. I'm still looking insofar as a job. Hopefully something secure comes up by the time I need it. Right now, I'm just trying to enjoy school and basketball and not think too much ahead. I think I'll be okay as far as finding a job."