If five Illini basketball players are still standing by 8 pm tonight, there will probably be a basketball game at State Farm Center. That’s pretty much how Brad Underwood laid it out in his Sunday press conference.
Ben is out. That much we know. Scott Richey’s persistent questioning yielded as much. Trent, Belo and Jake might be available. Brad said he doesn’t know. Trent’s problem is a deep bone bruise. Belo’s problem should be the subject of a dissertation. The O-shaped suction marks on his neck recall Star Trek (the original series).
The rest of the team seems to be troubled by a respiratory virus. In the 2021 season, the team was protected from respiratory viruses. This year, not so much. For one thing, classes are in-person. For another, they live in an enormous apartment building with a thousand strangers. (It’s the building whose construction necessitated the demolition of Trito’s Uptown/Campus Crusade, Chin’s Wok n’ Roll/Eddie’s/Clybourne, RR Sportsgrill/Firehaus and the Sixth & Daniel Espresso Royale.)
Respiratory virus you say? That rings a bell. Is it influenza? Maybe. Scott persisted about that, too. He won Sunday’s Actual Journalist award.
It seems the flu is carving its way through the entire campus, not just the basketball team. It’s not Covid, unless the current strain mimics influenza’s bone pain, fever and listlessness.
The last two pre-game availabilities have been among the most frank of Underwood’s career. Perhaps by necessity. Maybe because he feels the pressure of two unexpected, early season losses.
In fairness, he’s generally straightforward, and you can literally see him thinking when a question veers on territory that DIA handlers have cautioned him against addressing. You can also tell, if you spend a lot of time around him, that he’d much rather shoot from the hip. (If he leaves the University of Illinois before he retires, it probably won’t be because the University of Illinois micromanaged him. It’s merely one of the irritants.)
So what about tonight’s basketball game, assuming there is one? What should you expect? Nobody knows. Even Brad Underwood doesn’t know.
If Illini basketball has a successful season, the narrative will begin with this hellish month of injuries and illness, and how the team came together despite them.
Let’s hope you’re reading that narrative in mid-March.