From the Saturday, March 25, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …
The WISCH LIST
Lou Henson came close. Bruce Weber came even closer.
And if Lon Kruger or Bill Self had stuck around Champaign longer, well, either of them very well may have done it.
It, of course, is winning a national championship at the University of Illinois – something that’s eluded the Fighting Illini basketball program despite an impressive resume that includes 40 NCAA Tournament wins (22nd all time) and five Final Four appearances (tied with five other schools for 9th).
In fact, of the 21 schools ahead of Illinois on the all-time list, only Oklahoma (with 41 wins) hasn’t cut down the nets for a national championship. So, when Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said last week about Illini hoops, “We have a basketball program that we all expect to compete for Big Ten and national championships year in and year out,” he wasn’t just blowing smoke.
He was just speaking the truth.
I’ve long argued that there’s no excuse for the flagship school of the fifth most populous state in the nation (that’s Illinois) to be an annual also-ran instead of a perennial power – especially when it comes to our state’s trademark sport.
So, it’s great to see Illinois with an AD who not only believes that about basketball, but also isn’t afraid to say it. And I believe that authentic passion greatly helped Whitman snare a basketball coach who also aims sky high.
“I dream big,” said Brad Underwood, who Whitman poached from Oklahoma State with a six-year, $18 million contract. “Winning a national championship is something that can happen here.”
It absolutely can. Illinois, after all, is among the handful of basketball programs that has everything it needs to win a national title, from the facilities and financial resources to the in-state talent and fan support. As proven by its four coaches prior to Groce, all it needs is a truly good leader to truly contend.
And I believe that the Illini now has one of those in Underwood.