CHAMPAIGN — Let’s take a cue from “Hoosiers” for a second. And the enduring scene that performs out when Hickory Excessive enters Hinkle Fieldhouse, principally in awe, forward of the state championship recreation from the fictional 1986 film geared across the mystique of Indiana highschool basketball.
Measure the space from the backboard to the free-throw line — like Danville’s personal Gene Hackman did by utilizing a tape measure — and also you’ll discover it’s nonetheless 15 ft. The space from the ground to the rim — who can overlook supervisor and postseason hero Ollie getting on the shoulders of an even bigger teammate — to confirm that, sure, it’s nonetheless 10 ft. The basketball piece of taking part in amid the COVID-19 pandemic, simplistic as it might be, stays the identical.
That’s what Illinois coach Brad Underwood and his employees have tried to emphasize ever because the eighth-ranked Illini returned to campus this summer season to start preparations for the 2020-21 season.
“When the ball bounces, it’s all the identical,” Underwood mentioned. “The on a regular basis observe mentality hasn’t modified. The main target continues to be on execution and taking part in laborious.
“We talked about that in the summertime. We’ve simply form of modified the course slightly bit, nevertheless it’s at all times been about basketball. It’s been about getting higher. It’s been about our course of. That hasn’t modified.”
What has modified is the atmosphere the Illini will see after they play towards North Carolina A&T at 1 p.m. Wednesday within the season opener.
An empty area.
Socially distanced benches. Face coverings for a lot of who’re really allowed within the constructing to work the sport.
It’s a far cry from the final Illini recreation performed inside State Farm Middle.
The ultimate recreation of the 2019-20 season feels each like ceaselessly in the past and contemporary within the reminiscence.
Time has seemingly slowed since that 78-76 victory on March 8 towards Iowa. A worldwide pandemic could make 81/2 months really feel like ceaselessly.
However that recreation was electrical. State Farm Middle was packed — the fifth sellout of the season. The gang was on fireplace. Illinois was taking part in for a top-four end within the Huge Ten and newly-minted fiercest rival Iowa was standing in the best way.
How might you overlook Da’Monte Williams going nose-to-nose with Connor McCaffery? Or the Orange Krush trolling Iowa coach Fran McCaffery with an enormous assortment of indicators and cardboard cutouts?
The following time State Farm Middle will boast that form of environment is the nice unknown.
Illinois gamers, coaches and employees are examined daily for the novel coronavirus. They work in a observe facility that’s gone into fortress mode with entry restricted. Homecourt benefit is a figment of the previous this season.
Nothing is identical.
Besides the basketball element.
Understanding the basketball piece is identical is one thing Underwood mentioned the Illini grasped this summer season.
Watching the NBA playoffs occur — albeit in a bubble faculty basketball can’t replicate — was an indication to them their very own season was at the very least doable. It created anticipation.
“The one factor we’ve tried to do will not be overcomplicate issues in a time the place there’s lots of change and simply hold it actually about basketball and never make an enormous deal concerning the circumstances round us altering,” Underwood mentioned. “Not having a schedule. Not realizing who your first opponent is.”
Solutions to these specific questions got here within the final two weeks. The nonconference slate was launched first, with Wednesday’s season opener coming towards North Carolina A&T in a multi-team occasion. The 20-game Huge Ten schedule adopted 5 days later, with wiggle room in-built with collapsible byes if video games should be rescheduled.
The ultimate Zoom name between the 14 Huge Ten coaches got here the day after the convention’s schedule launch. They’d been assembly nearly for months, addressing challenge after challenge when it got here to getting the 2020-21 season underway. These are accomplished.
“From my perspective, it’s like, ‘OK, 100% of the time it’s ball now,’” Underwood mentioned. “It’s not the schedule. It’s not COVID. Not that we’re not coping with these issues — we’re — however now it’s time to essentially get all the way down to enterprise and get dialed in. Possibly a pair much less distractions now that it’s all accomplished.”
“Completed,” after all, is a bit subjective with regards to a school basketball season in a pandemic. Illinois, after all, misplaced certainly one of its MTE opponents every week after the nonconference schedule was launched when Wright State pulled out final Friday afternoon due to COVID-19 associated depth points. The Illini have been capable of change the Raiders with Chicago State lower than 24 hours later.
Underwood has repeatedly mentioned the final a number of months that the groups who deal with the pandemic and all that it entails the very best would be the most profitable.
Beginning at dwelling with an MTE — one thing Underwood known as the one resolution as soon as the initially scheduled Emerald Coast Traditional in Florida fell via — is at the very least a little bit of a head begin towards success.
“Being at dwelling, there’s little doubt you’ll really feel slightly extra comfy,” Underwood mentioned. “However we’ll see what dwelling court docket’s like with no followers.”