The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

84° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Illinois’ seniors seek to change image in NCAA tournament

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — One night when he went out to eat with his father, Mike Davis was feeling a little down about Illinois’ struggles this season and hurt by things fans were saying about him and his fellow seniors.

Steven Davis told his son to look at the nearby table of anonymous diners.

“”I said, ‘These are probably the guys who are writing on these message boards,'”” Steven Davis said.

Illinois’ senior class of Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale, Bill Cole and Davis never has been suspended for any violation of university rules. They never have been arrested or been academically ineligible to play. But some have vilified this senior class.

The crime? Not winning enough. With the cloak of anonymity talk radio and internet message boards provide, fans have felt free to fire at the four all year.

“”Goodbye to the seniors who don’t have the (guts) to lead a team to victory,”” said poster “”Juice 45″” on the popular message board after the Illini’s 60-55 loss to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament.

Poster “”docholliday”” added: “”Failure, no excuses. . . . Once again, I am glad I won’t have to watch these seniors for too much longer.””

Admittedly, the Illini have fallen short of their own expectations as they prepare for their NCAA tournament game Friday against UNLV in Tulsa, Okla. The year began with Big Ten title hopes because Illinois had a veteran group returning. But while the season never spiraled out of control, the Big Ten title dream vanished after losses to UIC, Penn State and Indiana, and the negativity of the vocal minority has taken its toll.

“”Sometimes it is hurtful,”” Mike Davis said. “”It’s coming from your own fans, people who cheer for you, come out to your games. You sweat, work so hard in the offseason and they talk bad about you. It just hurts.””

Davis said he gets some negative Facebook messages while Cole said some disgruntled fans got his e-mail address and sent him a few choice words.

“”Sometimes, you can’t listen to it,”” Cole said. “”You have to just remember that 95 percent of Illini fans want you to succeed.””

What went wrong for Illinois?

The Illini have watched as some other senior-laden teams across the country, such as St. John’s and Notre Dame, have found a winning formula. And the Illini have lost many close games because of their inability to make key plays in the final minutes.

Mike Mullins, CEO of the Illinois Wolves, McCamey’s AAU team, said the class imbalance in recruiting played a role in Illinois’ struggles this season. The Illini have no juniors on scholarship and the class ahead had just one role player, junior college transfer Dominique Keller, who received significant minutes.

“”These are guys who came in without a class ahead of them to lead them, and they didn’t have a class behind them, a junior class, to support them,”” Mullins said. “”That out-of-class balance is very difficult in college basketball.””

And it was tough for the Illini to win consistently when their best player, McCamey, was going through a slump in conference play. Coach Bruce Weber pinned some of McCamey’s struggles on outside influences such as family members, friends and even runners for agents whispering in McCamey’s ear. That was the most trying moment of the season for the team, Steven Davis said.

“”The whole thing with coach and Demetri, that took a toll on the team,”” he said. “”There are three sides to every story — coach’s side, Demetri’s side and there’s the truth, it’s somewhere in between. … Demetri’s the heart and soul of this team and if you don’t have him 100 percent committed, it’s tough to win without him.””

If the Illini lose Friday, it will mark the fourth straight year they haven’t won an NCAA tournament game. All season, the seniors talked about leaving a positive legacy.

“”I think that weighs on him more than anything,”” Ann Cole said of her son Bill.

But the NCAA tournament provides a opportunity to change that. A few victories — especially a potential third-round triumph over former Illini coach, current Kansas coach and fellow Illini punching bag Bill Self — could mold a new image for this class.

“”If we can make a run, it lifts the burden off the seniors,”” Tisdale said.

More to Discover
Activate Search