Illinois alumni team looking to fill void for Illini fans after lost NCAA Tournament run

 

By: Meghan Carroll


This is the first Illinois alumni team in TBT history

The last time anyone had seen Illinois in the NCAA Tournament was 2013, when the Illini were a 7-seed. The team lost a heartbreaker to Miami in the Sweet 16, 63-59, and have not been back since. That was all about to change this season. 

It had been a rough seven years for the Illini. Some years they had losing seasons and others came close to the NCAA tournament, but had instead made the NIT. This year was different, this was the year Illinois made a comeback.

Illinois was sitting at No. 21 in the country at the end of the regular season. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit and it was all over. With the NCAA season ending abruptly, the Illini lost the chance to see its tournament dreams come true.

In comes House of 'Paign. To try and fill the void, Illinois has entered an alumni team into TBT for the first time. With several Illini legends slated to play, including Malcolm Hill, Nnnanna Egwu, Rayvonte Rice, and Cory Bradford, the team is hoping that the tournament can serve as a positive distraction during these tumultuous times. 

 

GM Mike LaTulip, a former Illini guardhad been promoting the idea of a TBT team for a while. He said he mentioned the idea to Egwu and Hill a few years back. It wasn’t until this year that it became official.

“I’ve seen all the alumni teams over the years, whether it was Notre Dame in the first year of TBT or last year you see Boeheim’s Army,” said LaTulip. “A lot of these alumni teams, obviously Carmen’s Crew taking it home last year, that really sparked it for us and we kept up those conversations.”

Although much of the team knows each other and are used to playing together, LaTulip said recruiting can be difficult at times.

“These are all guys that I’m really close with and when you’re recruiting you have to put a different hat on at times,” said LaTulip, “and be able to be stern with these guys if you haven’t gotten an answer or really trying to figure out what they’re thinking or what their timeline is.”

For example, LaTulip said guard Malcolm Hill values his offseason. Not only does he have a set regiment, but he just got over tearing his ACL a few years back. To switch up that routine this summer took some convincing.

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Hill is one of the school's most notable alumni ever. His 1,846 career points are third most in program history. In short, he was a must-have addition to the roster.

At the end of the day, having the opportunity to play with old teammates on national television for the grand prize meant LaTulip didn't have to twist his arm too much.

“I’m able to bring back some memories with guys that honestly were some of the best memories of my life,” said Hill.

“We all just have that really good chemistry we’ve had for all those years that we were together, so it’ll be a lot of fun to get back on the court,” added forward Michael Finke. “We’ve all stayed in touch, so it’s not like it’s a big reunion where we haven't talked in so long.”

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Most importantly, the team is excited to play in front of Illini nation again.

“It’s like a blast from the past, that’s how I have taken my approach to it,” said Hill. “We’re grown up, we’re older, and the last time fans saw me I was a kid.”

Other additions to the House of 'Paign roster include Andres Feliz and Cory Bradford. Feliz just finished his senior season at Illinois, averaging 11 ppg. The 41-year old Bradford is Illinois’ all-time 3-point leader and has been playing as a pro for 18 years. He will be retiring after TBT 2020.

“To be able to give these fans a tournament type game and something they can really hop on, enjoy, and root us on, I think will be really fun for them," said Finke. "Hopefully we can make them all proud.