I’ve been waiting forever for The Athletic to do a feature on the Fighting Illini Men’s Basketball team since I saw the first of their “The Program” series. Brendan Quinn’s article is insightful, smart, and ends with these two paragraphs:
Underwood has established himself as one of the better coaches in the conference, and both this team and program are now built in his image. When asked recently about Illinois’ ability to get under opponent’s skin, Underwood replied, “Maybe it’s taken on a little bit of my personality. I hope so.” He added: “You have to play with a little fire in your belly. Maybe it means we’ve arrived. If people want to talk about us that way, and not like us that way, maybe it’s because we’ve stepped on toes.”
That’s indeed how the Illini play. It’s taken them all the way back to the upper-echelon of college basketball. Fact is, though, they’re still pissed about how last season ended, meaning a team that already plays with a massive chip on its shoulder is now carrying around a boulder. That edge, along with Curbelo, Cockburn and all those well-aged veterans, is enough to pen a special year in Champaign and fill Underwood’s glass to the top.
Yup. I like them to be a little chippy… not get technicals chippy, but chippy nonetheless.