CHAMPAIGN – Aaron Jordan had a family from New Jersey on Thursday night at the State Farm Center. Also relatives from Georgia made the journey. Of course, friends from Indiana and his parents, Rob and Romelda, who were regulars during their four-year career in Illinois.
Jordan had the largest continent of seniors before the Illini took on the Hoosiers.
This group saw Jordan in double digits for the first time since 18 February in Wisconsin. The 6ft 5 guard had 11 points against Indiana, but he retired frustrated from Lou Henson Court following the defeat of Illinois 92-74.
"It's definitely frustrating to lose a game like this just to know what's at stake at the end of the season," Jordan said after completing his final game at the State Farm Center. "There are many memories and how far the team has come, we've gone through the ups and downs, we just have to keep going and deal with what's ahead."
Jordan could have left Illinois. The 6-foot-5 guard had a minimal playing time in his first two seasons in Illinois – less than second graders when he played as a freshman. Then John Groce, the trainer who recruited and brought him to Illinois, was fired.
The change of coach to Brad Underwood was another crucial moment for Jordan. He also stayed when the rest of his class – Jalen Coleman-Lands and D.J. Williams – decided to switch.
"When it comes to culture, it's all," Underwood said. "If at this time a year ago I could take a snapshot of a man that is in our program, then it is him, life is not easy, he had every opportunity to leave this program for a variety of reasons – from Coaching Change non-gambling That speaks volumes to who he is It speaks volumes about his character and speaks volumes about his love for the University of Illinois and about this program.
"These factors are really very important to me, you want someone in your program who wants to be here and loves and has a passion, I use the term" pay it forward "a lot and AJ will be one of our best advocates for our program for the years to come. "
Seaman Ayo Dosunmu said Jordan had paved the way for him – on and off the field.
"He's a great shooter, so he always gave me the floor," Dosunmu said. "I can drive in there and I can always kick him in. He was always a vocal leader for me, they always need those guys in the locker room, I've learned a lot about him, he comes from two different coaching staffs." large. The adjustment he has made to make himself successful, I welcome him for it.
"He just told me the passion you have to play with, when I first came here, I did not know anything about college or anything, it's always good to have seniors here who can help me."
This year's Illinois team, where newcomers had passed the number of fellows two-to-one, put Jordan in the lead. He remained in that role, even though several newcomers themselves became capable leaders.
"It takes more than one person to lead," said Underwood, "and I think he was very proud to be able to help young people, see how it's done and what it's all about."
Jordan, who feels comfortable with the freshman year, said Giorgi Bezhanishvili, meant a lot.
"He's not like 'OK, these young people do not know anything, and I will not let them say anything, I'll just lead by myself," Bezhanishvili said. "He did not, he was vulnerable, if we have to say something, he listens, of course we'll listen when he says something because he's been around so long.
"This is really a powerful thing – especially as a basketball player, as the dominant basketball player – to be vulnerable to other people, he listens and absorbs it, that's a really powerful thing he has, and I appreciate that . "
Adonis De La Rosa has not caused much of a stir in his only season in Illinois. But what the 7-foot graduate transfer center did in the practice studio – especially the extra time it spent after training – working with freshmens like Samba Kane and Bezhanishvili, called Underwood the "best thing" on the Illini.
"This team is selfless," he said. "(De La Rosa) is committed to being a good team mate and has been working for our team since day one, knowing that it would be really hard work to get back from the injury has surpassed all that. "
Deon Thomas found out on Sunday before the game against Illinois against Northwestern that he should be included in the fall of the 16-member Illini Hall of Fame class in the fall.
"I appreciate (Kentucky) and how mysterious he was about it, but they made me think I was going over something else, and then they told me that I had been selected to do so third class, "said Thomas. "There are no words to describe how you feel, I've never played basketball, but I appreciate it so much.
"I played basketball to escape the life I grew up on the west side of Chicago, you all know how much I love the University of Illinois, and it was not basketball-like, it really was I saved my life and took my life in a completely different direction from many of my friends and even many of my families, and I can not be proud or more excited to be part of this year's class. "
Graduating was all that Thomas had in mind when he came to Illinois. His education is still starting when he James D. Anderson, the dean of the College of Education, sees his visits to Champaign.
"Every time I see him and he tells me it's not too late to go to law school," joked Thomas. "That was literally my intention when I came to the University of Illinois, it should not go on and play professionally, it was a law school, and I wanted, to be honest, to be a judge."
Thomas, the Illini MVP in his last three seasons, was selected by Dallas Mavericks as a second choice in 1994 before settling on a 14-year international basketball career in six different countries.
Anderson is not the only one attending a law school.
"It may be too late for law school," said 48-year-old Thomas with a laugh. "There are so many other things I try, it's so funny, my stepfather tells me the same thing, I just enjoy sending, and I love spending time with my family, watching my girls, as my youngest daughter plays volleyball.
"Besides, my wife would probably look at me crazy, you do not have any paychecks when you're at a law school, I have a mortgage and a kid as a freshman in Illinois now, it could be a bit too late."
Thomas is one of three former basketball players from Illinois, who were prepared in September along with Don Freeman and Eddie Johnson for the Hall of Fame introduction. Thomas, the Illini's top scorer so far, Johnson took this special honor.
"Eddie, when I broke his record was just the class he spoke to me when he called me and congratulated me on breaking his record, nothing short of remarkable," said Thomas. "He was a player I saw growing up in. As he was from Chicago, of course I knew him as a player and it's an honor to be with Eddie Johnson." Scott Richey