The Fighting (And Winning) Illini!

Today’s column from ChicagoSide

It’s been more than 280 days since we’ve seen a snowfall in Chicago, perhaps because a torrential bad-luck weather system has been parked above Illini Nation the entire time.

The Illinois football team went 2-10 this year, and last year’s basketball tam was an abysmal 17-15. After so much darkness, Fighting Illini fans have been in serious need of sunshine. Enter new basketball coach John Groce, he of the gleaming scalp and the glistening record, who has brightened the spirits of many an Illini supporter thus far in 2012.

So much so, in fact, that this morning, just 12 hours after Illinois beat Norfolk State to move to 11-0, and four days after toppling previously unbeaten Gonzaga to move to No. 10 in the national rankings—Illini supporters far and wide were poking their heads out of hiding like so many Punxsutawney Phils. Their forecast: brighter days ahead.

Out in Portland, Trail Blazers rookie and former Illini Meyers Leonard tweeted a photo of himself wearing orange-and-blue basketball shorts and sneakers. Down in Alabama, a friend of mine posted on Facebook that he is able to, again, wear his Illinois T-shirts to the gym with pride. And out in Naperville, another pal said the start to this hoops season has been, “Like a good book. You can’t wait to read the next chapter.”

Yes, after a frustration-filled football season, Illinois fans have indeed turned a page this month. And Groce—who is just two wins shy of matching Fletcher Lane’s 12-0 record from 1907-08 for the best start by a first-year coach in school history—has taken notice.

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