Illini Pics, Vids from ESPN Gameday Experience Saturday

By Paul M. Banks

This page is a must view for all Illini fans! Here a few pictures and Flipshare videos from Saturday’s HUGE win over #5 Michigan St. and the ESPN College Gameday broadcast

To view the Facebook album these pics are contain in go here. There will be more pics in this week’s Big 10 Power Rankings, so be sure to check back here Thursday. For more TSB Flipshare videos, be sure to check out our YouTube Channel here.

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Fridays with Izzo:Free Throw Contest vs. Bruce Weber

By Paul M. Banks

Welcome to a new quasi-weekly feature where we discuss some of the biggest topics in the Michigan State Spartan world, including the insight and observations of legendary MSU coach Tom Izzo. This installment highlights his charity free shooting contest against close friend, and Illinois Head Coach, Bruce Weber.

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Orange Juice (Williams) and Champaign

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The Juice Williams Interview/Profile Part 1

By Paul M. Banks

On May 10, 2005, Urban dictionary made “juice” the Urban Word of the Day and defined it as such “Respect and credibility on the street. A.K.A. Sauce “I can’t be seen with them – they don’t have juice.”

Sounds like another word for power, connections, a big time reputation- something a star quarterback at a large, Big Ten University would have. But University of Illinois quarterback Isaiah John “the kids call him Juice” Williams didn’t get his name on the southside of Chicago’s mean streets, or because he has juice from his teammates. (and to play the most high profile position in all of sports, having juice is a must) Williams was dubbed “Juice” by his grandmother because of his large size as a child. “I was kind of big … you know, big and juicy, I guess.” Williams nearly died at birth due to his large size of 13 pounds and 8 ounces. Today, he’s large within the Illinois and college football record book.

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He enters his senior season with 6,405 career passing yards, fifth on the Illinois all-time list. He ranks 14th on the Illinois all-time rushing list and is the first non-running back in Illini history to top the 2,000 yard career rushing mark. Juice is third on the Illinois career total offense list with 8,455 yards.

His 475 pass completions and 909 pass attempts both rank fifth on the all-time list, he’s also thrown 44 career touchdown passes, third in school history. Oh, and as you might have heard 1000 times before, he attended the same school as former Illinois and Chicago Bears legend Dick Butkus. At Chicago Vocational High, Juice was an honor student.

Former Illini QB Kurt Kittner holds a lot of the records that Juice is poised to break, and as the team’s current radio color analyst, he remains close to the program. “We’ve had a few conversations. Kurt is a great guy, he’s not too worried about me breaking the records, if I’m able to, he’s fine with it. A compliment to the type of mentor he’s been to me, he loves Illini football,” Juice said about his interactions with Kittner.

In the bigger picture, Juice realizes that these records are just numbers. Instead he wants his legacy to be something else.kurtkittner

“I want people to say that Juice was one of the best guys to ever come through here, as far as leadership, being the captain, being the playmaker, being the role model, and being a great human being, not only just around campus but around the community…helping out youngsters, being a positive influence in other people’s lives…on the field, hopefully I can say that I will be the all-time leader in passing, passing yards, rushing yards by a QB, those things would be huge.  In order to get to that point, you have to do things as a team…fulfill team goals and the individual goals will come after that.”

Williams knows that the most important thing for him to do as a quarterback is be the “field general,” to be almost James Bondlike- staying calm and composed when dire situations arise. “Keep your head…a majority of quarterbacks know that when things start going on around them, people start talking, things start to tank. It’s just the quarterback mentality to let everything go and just stay focused and go from there, once you start paying attention to everything negative going on around you, you kind of lose sight of what you’re trying to do, so I just block everything out and just go,” Williams stated.

Of course, Williams has not had this healthy attitude during his entire Illini career. At Big Ten Media Day I asked him if he ever had read some criticism of himself online and gotten offended, thinking “hey, now that’s just not true.”

“I used to do it all the time my freshman year and part of my sophomore year, but you got to get over it, if you look at it too much, you read the blogs, the newspapers, all the negative criticism it takes a toll on you…even outside of football when you’re walking around, I’ve kind of let it go and learned from it,” Juice responded.

The flow of negative press is even more constant in today’s world of Web 2.0 and social media. Juice discussed not being online with Facebook, Twitter etc. too much. “You have to in order to be happy with your life, you got to get away from that,” Isaiah John Williams said.juice2willimas

Last year, the team slipped back a big step, going from a 9-4 BCS season to a lackluster 5-7, could the added media attention and pressure have had something to do with it? Perhaps the bright lights and constant TV cameras of the Big Ten Network’s Illinois Football: the Journey have had something to do with it? “I don’t think it hurt us at all. I think that it gave us an opportunity to showcase what goes on behind the scenes within our team.  It gave guys an opportunity to go out there and represent this University well. I think it was very beneficial to the program. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get the job done on Saturdays, but I don’t think having the cameras around had anything to do with it. I keep all the copies…of course the season didn’t go the way we wanted to, but you’ve gotta have all the videos for when you get older so you can show your kids, and your grandkids and your friends.  Especially with my daughter cause I can say, ‘Hey, you were on TV too.’ You have to have that stuff around,” Juice answered.

That was 2008. In 2009 Juice will get his final opportunities at collegiate glory. “We have to do our job. You have to count on the next man to do their job, and the next guy and the next guy, and you have to do yours, and all the parts to the machine really have to come together and operate. Once you do that you know, that’s when things start happening. You start getting the rushing yards, you start getting the passing yards, but most importantly, you get the W’s.”

Despite their awful record last season, Illinois was not a bad team. Almost all their losses were by narrow margins and came at the hands of teams that eventually played in the postseason. “Anybody who plays this sport is going to lose by just one or two points a few times and you can get very upset at that. But you have to just keep your cool and learn from it,” Williams said.

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Tune in tomorrow, where I’ll post part two of this exclusive. It will feature Juice thoughts on working out with Philadelphia Eagles QB and Chicago native Donovan McNabb, his thoughts about going on to the next level, and much more.

Exclusive with the Nation’s Best WR Arrelious “Rejus” Benn

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The University of Illinois Wide Receiving Corps will be among the best in College Football this year. In this four part series, Paul M. Banks interviews and profiles each of the top four Illini pass catching threats.

Part 4: Arrelious “Rejus” Benn

Talk about saving the best for last- in the final installment of my interview/profiles of the stellar University of Illinois Fighting Illini wide receiving corp, I profile Arrelious ‘Rejus’ Benn. He’s by far the best Illini receiver in a generation. The 6’2”, 214 lb darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate has his share of accolades and hardware including:

•    Maxwell Award Candidate
•    Biletnikoff Award Candidate
•    Preseason Third-Team All-American (Athlon)
•    Preseason First-Team All-Big Ten (Athlon)
•    Named Big Ten’s Fastest Receiver (The Sporting News)
•    Rated the No. 20 player in the nation (The Sporting News)
•    Rated the No. 1 wide receiver in the Big Ten (The Sporting News)
•    2007 Big Ten Freshman of the Year
•    2007 Freshman All-American

Almost everyone knows him as Arrelious, but people really close to him call him Rejus. “It’s a nickname that started when I was younger, my father’s nickname was Redus and his real name was Arrelious, so I’m named after him,” Benn said. No word yet if anyone in Rejus’s family is named Kathie Lee (hey hey…thanks I just got in from Champaign-Urbana and boy are my arms tired).

Rejus is from Washington D.C. and prepped at Dunbar, in one of the District’s roughest neighborhoods. He’s come a long way to get here and spoke about the difference between a small town in Central Illinois and the nation’s capital. “It’s been slow, but I like it. D. C. is fast, but it’s always good to get away from the city, and find yourself and just focus on what you need to do…Being in Champaign has really matured me into the person I am and I’ve seen a lot of things from both sides, being in the city and in a place like Champaign.” Despite the distance, his family often makes the trek to see him play. “I always have my mom and younger brothers coming to some games.”dsc026871

Illinois’ schedule will extend much longer this season as bye weeks will be more frequent, and much later, until the regular season concludes with a December 5th home date against Fresno St. “I’m the kind of guy who likes to go out there in the cold and sweat. Get covered with scarves around my arm, I like just going out there and playing the game, and I hope it snows,” Benn said about the Illini’s adjusted schedule, which is an attempt to be much crisper and ready for a bowl game- should they qualify.

Benn has mid 4.4 speed, but still includes speed in his list of what he feels he needs to improve upon; which is pretty much everything: route-running, pass-catching, the whole package as he puts it. So what about his greatest strength? “For me to be able to do all the things I can do, at my size, I’m not your typical receiver,” Rejus answered. And his game has drawn comparisons to one of the best in the business right now. “For me to labeled as the next Anquan Boldin would be a tremendous complement.”dsc02693

And you’ll see Benn this fall on special teams, not just in the offense. “That’s my thing, I like to return kicks. Jarrod Fayson, he’s gonna take care of the punt returns, and I’ll get back there some in case he needs a blow. Mostly though, I’ll be doing kickoffs,”  Rejus said.

Benn currently projects as a top ten, maybe even top 5 NFL Draft pick in 2010, and that stock could rise when you consider how (unlike in all of 2007, and portions of 2008) he no longer has to deal with any nagging injuries. “I think this is the healthiest I’ve been since I’ve been here,” Benn said at Illini Media Day. Obviously, this prompts the question of whether he will forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft next off-season. When asked about all the people who assume he’s done with college after this year, Benn said

“The media just does their job. All my focus is on September against Missouri. That decision is for later down the road. I think I would be dishonest if I was thinking about something like that which I’m not, because we have unfinished business here.”

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Last year’s 5-7 season, was a devastating disappointment for Benn and the Illini. Following 2007’s 9-4 BCS “Champaign Campaign,” many experts thought Illinois would take the next step forward- or at least remain where they were. “It’s been on our minds since the end of the Northwestern game, it’s been especially on my mind because I was kind of knocked out of that game we missed out on a lot…I wouldn’t say we’re hungry, I’d say we’re starving in terms of going back to a bowl, we had a taste with the Rose Bowl and now we want to know what it feels like to win,” Benn articulated on the program’s big picture before describing the attitude of this year’s squad in training camp “We got a lot of leadership this year, a lot of guys who have stepped up and taken on the role of vocal leaders on the team.”

And the fans are certainly ready for Benn and his teammates to rise. “For Illinois to have not been so good, football wise for a few years, they have a great fan base. Whether we win or lose, our fans are right beside us and I love that.”

ESPN Finally Gives Gameday Love to the Illini

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By Paul M. Banks

For some bizarre reason, the Eastern Seaboard Programming Network ignored the University of Illinois when it came to finding a locale to host their popular “College Gameday” pre-game show. The show has been running for six seasons, and during that period of time, the Fighting Illini were 6th in the nation in total wins! They’ve been a NCAA Tournament regular and they’re tied with Duke for the most number of 25+ win seasons this decade. A 2006 USA Today poll stated that Illinois was the 5th most recognizable college basketball program among 14 year old males, who comprise a huge demographic within ESPN’s pregame show audience. Yet despite all these facts, the Eastern biased conglomerate and empire brand NEVER made a single trip to showcase the Orange Crush at Illinois’ Assembly Hall. That all changed today.

Please read this press release sent straight from Champaign-Urbana this afternoon:
Champaign, Ill.-ESPN College Basketball GameDay driven by State Farm will make its first appearance at the University of Illinois’ Assembly Hall on Feb. 6, 2010, when the Fighting Illini host Big Ten rival Michigan State.

The popular network show will feature a pair of one-hour telecasts, at 10 a.m. CT and 7 p.m., followed by the 8 p.m. tip-off of the Illini and Spartans in ESPN’s Saturday Primetime Game of the Week.

“We are thrilled to have College GameDay coming to the Assembly Hall,” head coach Bruce Weber said. “We have watched the show at various college sites the past few seasons and have been anticipating the opportunity to host it on our campus. There are so many factors that make this a perfect fit. We enjoy a tremendous relationship with both ESPN and State Farm, we have high expectations for the upcoming season, and we are facing an outstanding opponent in Michigan State. I’m sure the Orange Krush and Illini Nation will be out in full force as we showcase our program to a national audience that day, and for what should be an incredible game-time atmosphere that evening.”

The complete ESPN Gameday schedule is as follows:

Jan. 16 – Notre Dame at Connecticut (women’s); Jan. 23 – Duke at Clemson; Jan. 30 – Kansas at Kansas State; Feb. 6 – Michigan State at Illinois; Feb. 13 – Tennessee at Kentucky; Feb. 20 – UCLA at Washington; Feb. 27 – Villanova at Syracuse; March 6 – North Carolina at Duke.

“We obviously feel the choice of Illinois men’s basketball and Assembly Hall, which is consistently ranked as one of the nation’s great home court atmospheres, create a great match with the College GameDay brand,” said Chris Hanna, Illinois Assistant Athletics Director for Sales and Marketing.  “We take great pride in our ongoing relationships with State Farm, the sponsor of College GameDay and a long-time Illinois corporate partner, and ESPN through our Big Ten Conference television agreement. We will approach this event with the intention of establishing a new attendance record for College GameDay in addition to filling Assembly Hall with 16,618 orange-clad fans for the Illinois-Michigan State game.”