By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Queasy. Jaded. Worried.
Constipated. Disoriented. Resigned.
Optimistic. Stoked. Ready.
When it comes to moods, Illini Nation has more of them than a stack of Psychology 101 textbooks. And, really, it’s for good reason considering the emotional roller coaster that the fan base seems ticketed to perpetually ride no matter if the sport is football or basketball, or who either program’s coach might be.
Early this morning on Twitter, with Chicago Curie’s basketball super recruit Cliff Alexander set to announce his college choice at 3:15 p.m. this afternoon, I threw out a simple question on Twitter, “In one word, how you feelin’ this morning, Illini fans?”
Expectedly, what I got back was a flurry of brief but complex answers, a handful of which I shared above.
The reason for Illinois fans’ sudden bout of nausea was because on Thursday night, word broke that Illini point guard commitment Quentin Snider is wavering and reportedly reconsidering Louisville – his hometown school and where he was committed prior to pledging Illinois. Meanwhile, online buzz also began to swirl about Kansas as Alexander’s projected destination, causing much of Illini Nation to feel like it was standing on a cliff.
And suddenly “Merry Cliffmas” – as Illini fans have taken to calling this announcement day – morphed into a Tim Burton production of “The Nightmare Before …” as these reports and rumors swirled about on message boards and fan forums.
Having played bridesmaid so many times before, it’s understandable why Illinois fans would be so nervous walking up to the altar. But my advice today is to for everyone to take a deep breath, put your feet up and just let it all play out.
Without a doubt, when it comes to hoops recruiting, Illinois is due. But whatever happens this afternoon – with Snider and/or Alexander – the program also isn’t going to die.
Now, that’s not to say there won’t be disappointment if one or both of the players opts to go elsewhere besides Champaign. Of course there will be – and should be. Meanwhile, there should also be great joy if one or both of the young men do sign with John Groce’s Illini. And, believe me, that absolutely can happen too.
We simply won’t know until we know.
Much has been written about the impact – and statement – that Alexander would make for Groce’s second-year program if he chooses Illinois today. It would be huge and it would be exciting. There’s no doubt about that.
But if he doesn’t come to Illinois, the program is still well stocked at the power forward position for the coming years with recruits Leron Black and Michael Finke, transfer Darius Paul and current Illini Austin Colbert, as well as Malcolm Hill who is putting in minutes at the position this season.
Meanwhile, if Snider doesn’t end up wearing orange and blue, Illinois is equally well equipped at point guard for the 2014-15 season with returnees Tracy Abrams and Jaylon Tate, along with senior transfer Ahmad Starks.
Even if the recruiting sky does fall in today, it’s hardly the end of the world for the Illinois program. Remember, this is still the beginning – either way. And what failing to snare players at the end would mean is that John Groce still needs to get his recruiting machine up to the level of Bill Self’s at KU and/or Rick Pitino’s Louisville.
For better or worse, this is big-time basketball.
And the fact that Groce already in the thick of things with those national championship coaches and programs in just Year 2 should tell you something about the Illini’s coach. If he ultimately does end up emerging from these final rounds with a win over one or both of those rival coaches, it could tell you even more.
Either way, we’ll find out soon enough.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.