Being an Illini fan can be trying at times, but sometimes things actually do go our way. So, on this Thanksgiving evening it just seemed like the right thing to do to reflect back on a couple of things that I am thankful for with regards to the football and basketball programs.
It’s America. It’s Thanksgiving. So, let’s give thanks!
1. I’m thankful that John Groce is running the basketball program.
Let’s face it. When John Groce was hired to take over as the new Head Coach of the Illinois Basketball program after Bruce Weber was removed the majority of the fan base was less than thrilled because the general perception was that Mike Thomas had missed on reeling in a bigger name coach like Shaka Smart or Brad Stevens.
What we are finding out is that while Thomas may have come up short in pulling in a “bigger name” for the vacant position, John Groce is turning out to be much more than the fallback that many perceived him to be at the time of his hiring. He has been nothing short of a revelation thus far, and things only seem to be getting better as each day passes.
Recruiting is clearly on the upswing despite the signing day misses recently. The team plays an exciting brand of basketball, and they are tough. They play with energy, and it feels like there are going to be very few times when they are ever completely out of a game because they use every bit of that energy to fight with everything they’ve got. Simply put, it’s refreshing to watch.
Groce is the right man for this job, and as long as he sticks around there seems to be little doubt that this team is going to be in the mix as a conference contender. That’s really the least you can ever ask for as a fan, and for that I am thankful.
2. I’m thankful the Big Ten football losing streak is over.
It’s no secret that the football team has struggled mightily since their Kraft Fight Hunger bowl win over UCLA back on December 31, 2011. You could write for days about the things that have went wrong with the program over the nearly 2 years that have elapsed since that victory, but on a day like today there just isn’t any reason to do that right now.
Instead, I just want to take this chance to say that it makes me happy that the team went on the road and won a Big Ten game for the first time in 21 tries when they derailed the Boilermakers this past Saturday. Naturally, I’m happy because they won, but I’m even more happy because the monkey is off the team’s back.
Though you may not get many of the players to admit it, the streak had to be weighing on them. Each loss had to be more crushing than the last. Sitting through press interview after press interview discussing what went wrong isn’t ever the ideal way to spend your day, but now that’s all in the past. For those players and coaches, I am definitely thankful that they don’t have to deal with the weight of that streak any longer.
The program has made some minor strides this season by doubling up last year’s win total, and that’s a stept in the right direction. Now they just need to build off the momentum of winning their first Big Ten game since October 8th, 2011, and there is no better way to do that than to start a winning streak when they take on the Big Ten Winless Wildcats of Northwestern in this weekend’s battle for the Land of Lincoln Trophy.
If the Illini hoist the Land of Lincoln Trophy this weekend after hauling off the Cannon last weekend, then an even bigger faction of the fan base can be thankful that the program will be headed to the off season on a positive note. Sure, the Illini won’t be headed to a bowl game, but at least they’ll have won 5 games this season, and I think most in the fan base will be thankful for a 3 game improvement in the win column.
So, there you have it, a couple of things that I am thankful for regarding two different Illinois programs on this Thanksgiving day.
What about you? What are you thankful for as an Illini fan? Feel free to share whatever it may be in the comments section below.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @RPKraemer.