Bubba Chisholm, born Andrew, is one of the most positive people one could meet. He is always smiling, and his enthusiasm is contagious. Despite modest basketball skills, his hustle and determination have been a blessing for the team in practice. And he has become a fan favorite.
Illinois coach Bruce Weber, who initially was reluctant to include Chisholm on the team, admits the young man grew on him.
"Bubba's great. He comes every day with a great attitude. I say he's a spiritual leader in a lot of ways. He's fun, the kids like him. Bubba is a legend in his own time.
"This year he can actually compete in practice. When Alex (Legion) left and Joe (Bertrand) was hurt, we didn't have guards for practice every day. A year ago, I couldn't get him out quick enough. He'd make a mistake and I'd get him out. He just wanted to be part of it.
"But now he does fine. He understands it, he's strong enough and athletic enough, and he's good for the players in keeping them realistic. I think the guys listen to him. He doesn't go overboard. He knows his place and his role.
"But he's an intelligent young man, he's gonna have a degree in business. He's got opportunities already for jobs. In this day and age, that's pretty special. I think people realize what he is as a person. It's great that we're able to put him on scholarship. It's well deserved. He's been really important for team chemistry."
Chisholm gives Demetri McCamey and the other guards fits in practice. He has good speed and quickness, and his motor never stops. He gives them good looks that prepare them for upcoming games.
He remains humble and appreciative despite his notoriety.
"Every day I just try to work as hard as I can. Everything I do, I try to do as an act of worship. I go hard, try to do as much as I can, diving for loose balls, clapping for people, just trying to talk to guys. Really just try to make everyone realize we're blessed, and what we do is an honor and privilege to be a college basketball player.
"In junior college I had a roommate who got injured. I had another one who messed up his back. Just seeing how many good basketball players there are, and how few make it to this level, it makes me appreciate the game more. Being a local kid and knowing the background of Illinois history makes me appreciate the Illinois basketball program even more. Just what it means to be a part of it."
Chisholm and his parents are life-long Illini. But even the parents weren't convinced he would actually become a walkon at Illinois.
"They were very supportive, but I'm not sure how realistic they thought it would actually be. My mom was in the Marching Illini, my dad was real involved in Block "I" and stuff. We've always been huge Illinois fans. When I told them I'd be a walkon, they said, 'Good luck.' But then they said, 'Are you really serious?' It was kind of a surreal experience."
As a "captain of the bench," Chisholm is a role model, cheerleader, teacher, consoler and mentor for his teammates.
"I definitely try to talk to different guys. Joseph Bertrand is redshirting, so he definitely knows what it's like. He's on the bench with me right now. So I can talk especially to those guys, Stan Simpson, just to try to encourage them to know what they're going through will help them in the long run."
Fellow students always gravitate to the walkon. He is not so different than themselves, so they love to see him receive game action. For the last two seasons, Chisholm has been their hero.
"I still can't believe it. I kind of feel like I'm a member of the Orange Krush myself. I feel I represent the student population pretty well. Being in the Business School, I feel like they understand I work hard in the classroom and on the court. I love that they cheer for me. Coach sometimes looks down at the end of the bench when they're cheering my name. I love it."
Chisholm may not have an opportunity to shoot the ball in his last home game, but he will always remember his first basket for the home crowd. After all, he needed to prove he belonged on the team.
"Before I actually hit a shot I threw up an air ball. So that was a humbling experience. When I first made it, I was definitely thrilled. I've actually played basketball before, so it was good to get it off my chest."