Senior Sendoff May 17, 2012
Chris Gandy. Kevin Turner. Jerry Hester. Jack Ingram. Warren Carter. Trent Meacham.
Tyler Griffey. DJ Richardson.
Those are the two names I want to add to the first list. The list of “guys who put it all together as seniors.” I love nothing more than a Nate Bussey-like senior year. Relative obscurity, never quite there, and then BOOM senior star. Here’s my recollection of each player from that hastily-put-together list:
Gandy is the best example of what I hoping to see from DJ and Tyler. He never quite found his place under Henson, but in his senior seasion, with Lon taking over, suddenly he’s our go-to post player with a pure baseline jumper. That was a fun season in 1996/97. Kiwane’s final year where he climbed to #2 on the all-time scoring list, Gandy surprised, Heldman/Hester/Turner showed why they’d be vital pieces the following season, and we found ourselves ranked and playing a 14 seed for a shot at the Sweet 16. I won’t tell you how that ended.
And then the next year, BOOM, Kevin Turner scores 33 at UCLA and suddenly the tag-along recruit we signed with Bryant Notree is a first-team All Big Ten performer. I’m totally going from memory there. Maybe he scored 31. Might have been USC or something. And maybe he was only second team. But at least in my head, it’s 33/UCLA/1st Team. That was another fun season. And if we’re looking for an example of two players who put it all together at the same time, why, look no further than…
Quick, what’s your first thought when you think of Jerry Hester? You said the game at Indiana where Teddy Valentine kicked Bobby Knight out of the game and Hester took over in the second half, didn’t you? Well, to be honest, that’s not what I’d say – I’d say overtime of the 1996 Missouri game where Hester took over and we broke our 4 game losing streak and Larry Connelly screamed “I’m telling you he’s the guy” on ESPN. That’s what I think of. But that’s because I watched that game on VHS approximately 50 times.
I picked Hester, but I could have said several other players on the 1998 Big Ten Championship team. What a perfect time for the seniors to step up. Hey, speaking of seniors stepping up.
Quick – how many minutes did Jack Ingram play in the two Final Four games in 2005? Would you believe 51? All season Big Jack kept progressing and progressing until he was firmly entrenched as our 6th man. And if he doesn’t tip the ball away against Arizona, we’re looking back on 2005 as a huge disappointment. Tyler Griffey – go watch some film of 2005 Jack Ingram and then do exactly that next season. Including the two dagger threes at Wisconsin.
WarCat! Averaged 2 points per game as a sophomore, averaged 4 points per game as a junior, and then BOOM 2nd team All Big Ten as a senior. Completely out of nowhere. With a Gandy-like baseline jumper. Now is when I want DJ to listen. No, I’m not comparing you to WarCat. But remember that baseline floater you loved in high school but couldn’t ever use in the motion offense? Rediscover that. You’ll be glad you did.
I saw Trent Meacham at Custard Cup once. There’s nothing more to that story – just that I saw Meacham at Custard Cup and now The Cup has found it’s way into Illini meme lore what with Bruce leaving his presser and immediately heading out for a Berry Delightful Parfait and I thought that was somehow significant.
OK, so maybe this is a good goal for DJ. Meacham increased everything his senior year – his shooting percentage, his 3-point percentage, his free throw percentage, everything. Most of all, I remember his senior year as the first time he really looked comfortable on the court. My recollection of that season was simply Chet and Trent gelling as a backcourt and everything falling into place from there.
There are other examples that aren’t coming to mind, I’m sure. The name Craig Tucker keeps popping up in my head, although I was too young to really remember anything back then. And Larry Smith had a great final season in 1991. I’m sure there are others.
My point: I want DJ and Tyler to be the next two on this list. A new offense, a new coach, a new start. I’m hoping the urgency of their senior seasons combined with the new mindset from a new coaching staff will produce a Chris Gandy/Kevin Turner result.
I’d add BP3 to this list, but he was our leading scorer last season, so it’s hard to see a breakout season in the future. Although, if he wanted to, say, turn his 14.7 points per game into 19.7 points per game, I won’t complain.