Groce, Illini Still Just Missing On Big-Time Recruits

Illinois v WisconsinToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) It’s a tough time to be an Illini fan.

The football program has lost 24 of its last 25 Big Ten games. The basketball program has missed four of the last seven NCAA Tournaments. And on Tuesday, Illini hoops coach John Groce ended up on the short end of yet another high-profile recruiting stick when 6-foot-9, 245-pound banger Elijah Thomas chose Texas A&M over Illinois, SMU, LSU and Oklahoma State.

While quite disappointing for Illini fans in dire need of a pick-me-up, five-star power forward Thomas’ decision was also quite understandable. Thomas’ close friend Admon Gilder just committed to the Aggies, and Champaign is located 400 miles further away from his hometown of Lancaster, Texas, than his next most distant finalist (LSU in Baton Rouge).

Despite naming Illinois as his leader last month following an official visit to campus, home ultimately was where Thomas’ heart was. And as a result, his failed pursuit was yet another case of the Illini hearing, “It’s not you, it’s me,” following in the recent footsteps of Villanova recruit Jalen Brunson (family ties to Philadelphia), Oklahoma State recruit Jawun Evans (proximity to his hometown Dallas), Louisville freshman Quentin Snider (cold feet prompted him to stay home) and Kansas freshman Cliff Alexander (the Jayhawks’ cachet provided the biggest ego boost).

With this ultimately unfruitful string of big-time recruitments, it’s not that Groce has done anything wrong, but rather it appears that for a variety of disparate reasons with each kid, nothing has turned out to be quite right.

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‘Open House Chicago’ grants entrance to exclusive spots


From the Saturday, Oct. 18, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

At some point you’ve strolled past an interesting building in Chicago and thought, “I really wish I could see what’s inside.”

Well, this weekend, you actually can.

Through Open House Chicago, the Chicago Architecture Foundation is offering today and Sunday a free, behind-the-scenes look at more than 150 of the greatest places and spaces in neighborhoods across the city.

The venues opening their doors include repurposed mansions, hidden rooms, sacred spaces, private clubs, iconic theaters, downtown offices, posh hotels and even a vintage Airstream trailer perched atop a roof on the North Side.

If you can make it up to Chicago, most buildings are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day with the full list of sites available at If you can’t make it up to Chicago, here are some of the venues open to the public that I find most intriguing.

Original Sears Tower

The Sears Tower that we all know may not be around any longer – by name, at least, since it’s now called Willis. But at 900 S. Homan Ave. in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood, another Sears Tower still stands.

The original one.

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Rodgers Not The First NFL QB Illini Dropped The Ball On

RodgersToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) These days, he torments the orange and blue faithful at Soldier Field.

But on Tuesday, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers took a moment to instead torment the fans down in Champaign when he told “The Dan Patrick Show” that he actually wanted to play college ball for the University of Illinois coming out of his California high school in 2002. But then-Illini coach Ron Turner didn’t want him.

“I can remember the first time I started a game in college and heard the anthem and … talk about an absolute thrill,” Rodgers recalled. “We were in Champaign, I was playing the University of Illinois, who I wanted to go to out of high school. I was playing for Cal, and I just always think about that moment and how far I’ve come from there.”

After Patrick pointed out to Rodgers how his admission has to be a painful blow for Illini fans, Rodgers said, “I went out to their team camp, and they didn’t offer me. They didn’t offer me a scholarship.”


Turner, of course, wasn’t the only college coach to miss on Rodgers, who ended up going the junior college route before eventually signing with Cal. At the same time, Rodgers also didn’t attend every school’s team camp or place any other program atop his college wish list like he apparently did with Illinois.

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In Chicago this month, wine tasting can be a ‘Riot’

wineriotFrom the Saturday, Oct. 11, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)

By Dave Wischnowsky


It may be best known these days for its craft breweries, the creative cocktails that the trendy crowd sips downtown during wild nights out and the blue-collar guys perched on barstools with a shot and a beer at corner joints throughout the city, but Chicago has a wine crowd too.

And come next weekend, Tyler Balliet will again tap into it and let it breathe as he also continues to work to inspire a new generation of wine connoisseurs in the Windy City.

“We held our first Wine Riot in Boston in the spring of 2009, and the whole idea was to have a place where people could come to learn about wine, and do it in a fun way without spending a bajillion dollars,” explained Balliet, the co-founder and president of the events and technology start-up Second Glass.

Since that inaugural event, Balliet and his business partner Morgan First have held gone on to stage 27 more Wine Riots in seven cities, including Chicago as recently as just this past May. Based on the success that the events have enjoyed in Chicago thus far, Wine Riot is rolling back into town for its first-ever fall event this week.

On Oct 17-18 inside the spacious Great Hall at Union Station (500 W. Jackson Blvd.), three Wine Riot sessions will be held on Friday (7 p.m. to 11 p.m.) and Saturday (1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.). Tickets are $60 and can be purchased online at

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Badgers Shows Us Illini Football Can Be More

Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio - Wisconsin v OregonToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Is Illinois football simply what it is?

Or can it be something more?

On Wednesday, with the sorry state of the Illini as our topic of online discussion, one of my Twitter pals asked me, “At some point, after decades and decades, aren’t you kind of what you are?”

I argued otherwise. After all, during the decade from 2001-2010, Illinois reached two BCS games — the Sugar Bowl following the 2007 season and Rose Bowl following the 2007 season. Among all Big Ten teams, only Ohio State (seven) and Michigan (three) played in more. With that in mind, the Illini football program quite simply should be much better than the disaster that it’s now devolved into with only one win over its past 24 conference games.

In sports, fortunes change all the time – even after a long time. These days, for example, after decades of being what they were, the Kansas City Royals no longer are. Neither are the Baltimore Orioles or even the Pittsburgh Pirates. (The Chicago Cubs, of course, would be the exception).

Meanwhile, in college football circles, the Wisconsin Badgers – who Illinois face on Saturday in Madison – most definitely aren’t what they once were for decades. Rather, Wisconsin has long since become something else entirely. And it’s the Badgers who remain the (orange and) blueprint for what the Illini should aspire to become on the gridiron.

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It’s Time To Let Tim Beckman Go

Today’s column from CBS Chicago

Tim Beckman(CBS) At the University of Illinois, he was never the right fit.

But now, with a 1-17 Big Ten record after Illinois’ humiliating 38-27 home loss to lowly Purdue on Saturday, it’s painfully clear that Tim Beckman and major college football go together about as well as a right-handed glove on somebody’s left foot.

Beckman’s program is just all thumbs, and the time has come for Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas to mercifully give his in-over-his-head football coach the boot. The news on Sunday that quarterback Wes Lunt will now be out four to six weeks with a leg fracture shouldn’t be used as some kind of crutch.

After all, the program was already limping badly even with him behind center.

Two years ago, just four games into Tim Beckman’s career at Illinois, I wrote the following words: “While being outscored 97-38 by Arizona State and Louisiana Tech, Beckman has shown himself to be overmatched, outwitted and unprepared.

“I wish I felt like I was being too harsh with those statements. And I wish that I felt brighter days were on the horizon for Beckman & Co. Maybe I am and maybe they are, but unfortunately I really just don’t think so.”

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Controversial professor fails to learn his own lesson

Prof. Steven Salaita's former Twitter profile photo.

From the Saturday, Oct. 5, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

By Dave Wischnowsky


If a professor doesn’t learn a lesson from his own mistake, should we then have faith in that professor’s ability to teach lessons to others?

That’s a question I have for Steven Salaita, the former Virginia Tech professor who was scheduled to begin a tenured position in the University of Illinois Native American studies department on Aug. 16, before top university officials belatedly became aware of his controversial Twitter posts critical of Israel’s invasion of Gaza and decided otherwise.

After reviewing Salaita’s hostile and profanity-rich @SteveSalaita Twitter feed, which included posts characterized by many (including, yes, angry alumni and donors) as anti-Semitic, Chancellor Phyllis Wise decided not to submit his paperwork to the board of trustees for approval, effectively rescinding Salaita’s job offer.

That decision set off a firestorm of protests among the Illinois academic community and beyond, culminating to this point with an op-ed written by Salaita and published last Monday in the Chicago Tribune under the headline, “U. of I. destroyed my career.”

Throughout his essay, the professor listed his grievances against university officials, attempted to explain (or spin) a few of his controversial tweets (while ignoring others), and generally cast himself as an innocent victim whose unfair plight embodies “a grave threat to faculty and students everywhere,” not to mention “the principles of free speech, academic freedom and shared governance.”

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Making a plug for ‘Pug’

This Wisch List column originally appeared in the The Daily Times (Ottawa, Ill.) in 2004, and is included in my published book, “Northern IlliNOISE: Tales of a Territory.”

Making a plug for ‘Pug’


March 30, 2004

Portrait of Russell DaugherityBack in the 1920s, newspaper editors in Chicago loved Russ Daugherity the way they loved a sensational headline.

They slapped enormous photos of him on the front of their sports pages. They boasted how he was “one of the most popular gentlemen about the campus” at the University of Illinois. And they proclaimed that he had “a stack of friends on every corner of the crowded fraternity district, and they all sing loudly about how that boy can play football, basketball and on down the list.”

Heck, by the looks of some of the yellowed newspaper clippings that Ottawa resident Nancy Reinhardt has about her uncle – the late Russell “Pug” Daugherity – it seemed that the only guy getting more ink in Chicago during the “Roaring Twenties” was Al Capone.

And Pug’s press was a lot more positive.

“He was the best athlete in the state of Illinois at the time,” Reinhardt said about Daugherity, a 1921 Streator High School graduate, longtime Ottawa resident, and one of the greatest sports figures that La Salle County has ever produced.

“Streator claims him because he went to Streator High School,” Reinhardt said about Daugherity, who helped lead the Bulldogs to the state basketball tournament’s Sweet 16 in 1920. “But, really, he lived his entire adult life in Ottawa. And I know he considered Ottawa home.”

In turn, Ottawa now has a chance to give Daugherity – a 6-foot-2 super-athlete who blocked for the legendary Harold “Red” Grange on the gridiron and led the Illini basketball team in scoring from 1925-27 – a permanent home on the University of Illinois’ All-Century Basketball Team.

But to do so, Pug needs your plug.

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Ottawa’s long-lost son searches for his past

This Wisch List column originally appeared in the The Daily Times (Ottawa, Ill.) in 2003, and is included in my published book, “Northern IlliNOISE: Tales of a Territory.”

Ottawa’s long-lost son searches for his past


Jan. 14, 2003

Almost seven decades ago, deep in the heart of the Great Depression, a healthy eight-pound baby boy was brought into this world at a household somewhere in Ottawa.

Today, thoughts of this long-lost son have returned home, laden with a lifelong mystery and searching for answers.

“I was born in Ottawa on Jan. 26, 1933, and given up for adoption immediately,” said Don Smith of Madison, Wis., who knows little, but wonders much, about his family background in The River City.

“I would like to know my family name, really,” Smith explained. “Nothing else.”

In a dozen days, Don Smith will turn 70 years old. But, with your help, today could be a real birthday.

“(My background) is something that’s been bugging me for the past several years, ever since my adoptive parents died about 20 years ago,” said Smith, who is hoping that his story might ring a bell with one of Ottawa’s older residents. “I don’t want to intrude on the lives of people who have spent years not knowing about me …

“Heck, one of my siblings might have ended up as a bank robber or something, and be someone I wouldn’t want to know.”

And with that laugh, his story begins.

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Hungry Illini Fan Base Deserves To Be Fed

Wisconsin v IllinoisToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Right now among Illini Nation, losses are on the mind.

From those of the football blowout variety against Nebraska to the basketball program’s near-misses involving star point guard recruits Jalen Brunson and Jawun Evans, the University of Illinois seems to be scarfing down setbacks these days.

But the reason why all of that aches so much in the bellies of Illini supporters is because there are few, if any, college fan bases in America that are hungrier for success.

Skeptical? Well, then consider this. Last week, unveiled a bracket-style poll in which it seeded 16 college basketball teams from throughout history and asked fans to vote on which is “The Greatest Team to Never Win a Title.”

The 2005 Fighting Illini, who fell 75-70 to North Carolina in the national championship game, were only a No. 8 seed in’s bracket, but thanks to the rabid online nature of Illini fans, that hardly mattered. In the Sweet 16, Illinois hypothetically dumped a 1997 Kanas team that went 34-2, then was easily voted past No. 1 overall seed 1991 UNLV in the Elite Eight and the Fab Five-fueled 1993 Michigan squad in the semifinals.

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