Illini (Coaching) Standards Out Of Whack

TBToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Does the University of Illinois need to loosen its stringent admissions standards for athletes in order to compete at football’s highest level?

Or does it instead need to elevate its standards for hiring football coaches?

Based on more than two decades of watching Illini teams play largely subpar football since coach John Mackovic left Champaign in 1991, I tend to vote for the latter. However, last week, veteran Illini scribe Loren Tate argued for the former through an in-depth and informative three-part series of columns for the Champaign News-Gazette.

In the series’ first part, entitled “UI standards out of whack,” Tate writes that, “While the UI is recognized with Michigan and Wisconsin nationally and internationally for their greatness as research institutions, Illinois is far behind athletically. Wins, resources, prospects, attendance … Illinois is behind.

“And part of the reason – emphasis on PART because there are many reasons – is the academic gap between NCAA qualifying standards and the level the UI insists upon.”

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Celebrating Millennium Park (and other oases)

Millennium-Park_Millennium-Park-aerial-view_4281From the Saturday, July 19, edition of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

On Wednesday, the best thing to hit Chicago in decades turned 10.

It was back on July 16, 2004, when Mayor Richard M. Daley sliced a red ribbon to officially welcome the public to Millennium Park, the downtown gem that has since grown to become a true jewel of the city.

Construction of the $490 million, 24.5-acre urban playground has long been criticized for rampant overspending, and just this month a trial over a controversial contract for the Park Grill again brought that enduring drama to light.

But as Chicago Tribune architectural critic Blair Kamin wrote this week, “Little matter. Calculate the pluses and minuses, and it’s hard not to conclude that Millennium Park … is a great work of civic art, a robust generator of jobs and construction and the latest demonstration of Chicago’s audacious ability to invent the urban future.”

It’s also a resplendent oasis in the midst of Chicago’s concrete jungle that’s more accessible, beautiful and festive than adjacent Grant Park. Featuring the reflective Cloud Gate sculpture (better known as “The Bean”) as well as the Crown Fountain, Lurie Garden and Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park is also chock full of city icons.

And as it celebrates its milestone birthday, it may indeed be the best urban oasis in Chicago, but it’s not the only one. Here are three of my other favorites throughout the city.

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If Ventura Falls Short, Ozzie Actually Makes Sense

Toronto Blue Jays v Chicago White Sox

Today’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Over the past season-and-a-half, Chicago’s two baseball teams are a combined 86 games under .500. Good seats aren’t just available at U.S. Cellular and Wrigley Field – they’re plentiful. And so far this summer, both the Cubs and the White Sox have found themselves largely overshadowed by the Blackhawks, World Cup and even NBA free agency.

Yes, right now in the Windy City, baseball is a bore.

But Ozzie Guillen would apparently love to change that – down on the South Side, at least. And I don’t doubt that he could.

Before Tuesday’s All-Star Game, the Sun-Times’ Joe Cowley asked the former manager of the White Sox if could see himself being the future manager of the White Sox now that he’s significant steps toward patching up a relationship with owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

Guillen replied, ‘‘I wish,” before immediately adding, “If I say yes, then I don’t respect (current manager) Robin Ventura. But that’s not where I’m coming from. When Robin gets tired of managing or he’s had enough, I would like to be back. But it’s up to them. If I wear a uniform and it’s the White Sox, that will be special.”

It would certainly be interesting, considering that Guillen almost always is. And even though I’ve never been particularly pro-Ozzie, his eventual return to the South Side could actually make a lot of sense if Ventura doesn’t ultimately pan out.

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LeBron’s Return Hits Home For Illini Nation

GroceToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Four times in the past eight years, the No. 1 high school basketball player in the nation has called Illinois home.

Yet, none of them have ended up calling Illinois home in college.

In 2007, Simeon’s Derrick Rose chose Memphis over the University of Illinois. In 2011, Anthony Davis of Perspectives Charter picked Kentucky. In 2013, Jabari Parker, also of Simeon, headed off to Duke, while this summer Whitney Young’s Jahlil Okafor will do the same.

Throw in the likes of Homewood-Flossmoor’s Julian Wright and Crane’s Sherron Collins matriculating to Kansas, Peoria Central’s Shaun Livingston announcing for Duke before declaring for the NBA and Curie’s Cliff Alexander spurning the Illini for the Jayhawks just this past fall, and Illinois has had a rough go of it over the past several years in regards to keeping the state’s top basketball players actually in state.

The growing trend has led to increasing frustration for a fan base still waiting for a homegrown prep superstar to finally stay home, which makes LeBron James’ dramatic NBA return to Northeast Ohio something of an inspiration for Illini Nation.

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Exploring Chicago’s French Connections

Flag_of_Alliance-Française_de_Chicago_studentsFrom the Saturday, July 12, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

By Dave Wischnowsky


It isn’t July’s most popular revolutionary holiday – I’m pretty sure you know what that is – but come Monday evening, the celebration of Bastille Day will very much be a thing at Daley Plaza in Chicago’s Loop.

One during which le clou du spectacle – the show stopper – will feature waiters from Chicago’s finest French restaurants running a 200-meter footrace while balancing a tray filled with plastic glasses of Grand Cru wine.

The event, called “La Course de Garçons & Filles de Café,” begins at 5:30 p.m. with the championship sprint scheduled for 7. It’s preceded by the French national anthem and likely followed by mops.

For Francophiles far and wide, Bastille Day – which marks the moment 225 years ago when a pack of fed-up Parisians stormed a prison and sparked the French Revolution – is an opportunity to indulge France’s famed cuisine, wine and music without crossing the Atlantic.

It’s also an opportunity for me to fill you in on some things you might not know about Chicago’s French connections, both historic and contemporary.

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A Proposal For The ‘Barnstorming Illini’ In 2015

GroceToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Come the fall of 2016, the University of Illinois men’s basketball team will have a snazzy new home thanks to the State Farm Center renovations.

But come the fall of 2015, the Illini won’t have a home at all – for a few games, at least – also thanks to the State Farm Center renovations.

As a result, I think the Illini should look to have several homes during that time.

On Monday, the Champaign News-Gazette reported that John Groce’s Illini will play five home games – one exhibition and four nonconference – away from State Farm Center during the start of the 2015-’16 season because a phase of construction at the arena won’t be finished until Dec. 1, 2015. So where should they be held?

Senior associate athletic director Jason Lerner said that playing games at historic Huff Hall – where Illinois played its basketball before Assembly Hall opened in 1963 – isn’t an option because its seating capacity is too small. He didn’t disclose what other alternate sites the university is considering, saying only that, “We’re looking for different venues throughout the state.”

To that, I say the Illini should play in as many of them as possible.

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LeBron’s Desired Legacy Can Only Be Safe At Home

Indiana Pacers v Miami Heat - Game 6Today’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) He has fame. He has riches. And he even has championship rings.

What LeBron James doesn’t yet have is the basketball legacy that he desires – and, honestly, the one that an NBA player of his caliber probably deserves.

But, you know, that’s his own fault.

Because if James hadn’t been so arrogant and tone-deaf in 2010 when he humiliated his hometown area of Cleveland on national television via “The Decision,” America might view him in a far different light today.

The good news for James, however, is that here in 2014 he now has an opportunity to redeem both himself and his legacy. All he has to do is go home to Cleveland – and, of course, win a championship there.

That’s easier said than done in a city where no team has won a title in any sport since the Browns captured the 1964 NFL crown in the pre-Super Bowl era. But with a core of talented young players now on the Cavaliers roster, a championship could happen if James returns to where it all began.

And I believe he should do just that.

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Get a Taste of Chicago this July


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


By Dave Wischnowsky

The fireworks may be over this July, but in Chicago the fun isn’t.

And neither is the food. Or the music, for that matter.

In fact, there’s perhaps no better month during which you can get a taste of Chicago – and not just at the Taste of Chicago. Beyond the city’s longtime signature food event, there are also three other “Tastes” around town this month to satisfy your summertime appetite.

So, fire up your taste buds, take out your ear buds and hang out with some of your buds at these July festivals.

Taste of Lakeview
July 5-6

Tucked in the heart of Chicago’s vibrant Lakeview neighborhood at the intersection of Lincoln and Belmont avenues, the Taste of Lakeview is expected to attract more than 35,000 fest-goers this weekend to sample summertime fare from the likes of The Pony Inn (a favorite among Blackhawks players), Dinky Donuts and Mrs. Murphy & Sons Irish Bistro.

The fest, which asks for a $5 donation, also features four of the city’s most popular cover bands with Hairbangers Ball (7 p.m.) and Wedding Banned (8 p.m.) hitting the stage tonight, with 16 Candles (7 p.m.) and Too White Crew (8 p.m.) performing on Sunday evening.

For more information, visit

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Chicago’s best baseball? This summer, it’s in Iowa

PrincipalFrom the Saturday, June 28, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

It’s 332 miles from downtown Chicago to downtown Des Moines, but from the doldrums that is Chicago baseball this summer, it’s a world away – and a worthwhile road trip.

Last weekend, my dad and I made the leisurely drive out to Iowa’s capital city in the hopes of finding a baseball team more compelling than either the Cubs or White Sox. We ended up finding just that in the Triple-A Iowa Cubs thanks to a roster now boasting the franchise’s top two prospects in third baseman Kris Bryant and shortstop Javier Baez.

Along the way, we also discovered a town even more fun than expected. And if you’re a baseball fan seeking an enjoyable “Chicago” version of the sport, here’s how you too can find it in the middle of Iowa.

Getting There

Getting to Des Moines is easy. Simply find your way to Interstate 80 and go west, young man (or lady).

After crossing the Mississippi River and zipping past Iowa City, you’ll eventually take I-235 West and wind your way through downtown Des Moines until you reach Principal Park, home of the I-Cubs, located at 1 Line Drive.

Several large parking lots ring the ballpark, but they seem to fill up quickly. Instead, I suggest seeking out the smaller pay lots downtown at the nearby intersection of 4th Street and Court Avenue.

At only $3 to $5, the prices are far different from Wrigleyville.

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Bring The IHSA Basketball Tourney Back Home

Gonzaga v Illinois

My June 28 column from …

(CBS) It’s been so long since the IHSA boys’ basketball state tournament left Champaign that when it was last held in town, the high school players in the Class of 2015 weren’t even born yet.

Neither were those in the Class of 2014, for that matter.

And that’s simply far too long.

“It should have never left,” Big Ten Network analyst and former University of Illinois point guard Stephen Bardo told Champaign’s WCIA 3 News last week when asked about the state tournament’s exodus to Peoria in 1995. “It was a huge draw.”

And after years of decreasing buzz and diminishing crowds, I believe the tournament potentially could be that again – but only if it returns to Champaign and the soon-to-be-refurbished State Farm Center.

Last week, the IHSA announced that it’s accepting bids from cities wishing to host the state championships from 2016 to 2020, which prompted the tourism bureau “Visit Champaign County” and the University of Illinois to say that they will be working together to bring the finals back.

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