The 90's Illini - Jerry Hester
I've been doing these on an off through the spring. I have a few minutes to sit down and write some words, so I go back to a "pick a 90's player" tweet I sent out in January and write up another guy. Today's guy: Jerry Hester.
My first Jerry Hester memory: his first game in December of 1993. I'm a junior in Krush. Back then the season didn't start until December so the first game was after Thanksgiving. That's the Thanksgiving where my father had passed away, so my first day back on campus was the day of that LaSalle game (the season opener). I remember being in a total daze.
But for two hours, the world was somewhat normal. And it was normal because, as I recall, this freshman named Jerry Hester put up 20 points in his very first game. I can't find a box score to validate that, but I swear it was 20 points. I'm there in the corner of Krush - my friend Scott and I had seats together, in the upper right of the corner Krush section (right behind the opponent's bench - the part of Krush you could see on TV back then). As Hester went off, we went nuts. We have found a freshman star.
Today's "People Forget That" - the 1993/94 team started off the year ranked #17. We had just been to the Tournament the year before (beat LBSU, lost to Vandy), we had Deon Thomas back and had added a juco big man (Shelly Clark) for a couple of twin towers, the backcourt had a sophomore McDonald's All American (Richard Keene) and a freshman Parade All American (Kiwane Garris), TJ Wheeler and Tom Michael were the other seniors (along with Deon) - that was a solid team. They did make the Tournament and lost to Georgetown in the 8/9 game. We talk about the "lows" of the 1990's, but man, I'd give anything for those lows right now.
Anyway, this is about Hester. There are five main memories for me:
1. His first game and scoring 20 points.
2. Him single-handedly taking down Missouri in overtime of the 1995 Braggin' Rights game, finishing them off with a Kendall Gill-like left hand jam down the lane.
3. Missing the 1996/97 season with an injury which allowed him to return for a fifth year where he
4. Helped lead us (and I mean lead us) to the Big Ten title in 1997/98 including
5. Taking over in the "Bobby Knight ejected by Ted Valentine for walking out on the court to check out an injured player" game.
Number 2 and number 5 were my favorites. I had a VCR tape of the 1995 Braggin' Rights game that I would watch over and over. I can still remember Larry Conley, in overtime, screaming "I'm telling you - he's the guy" when talking about Hester. That left hand jam is one of my all time top 10 Illini dunks.
Number 5 was pretty great as well. Bobby Knight was back and forth with TV Teddy all night, and Teddy kept telling him to stay on the sideline. Bobby Knight, being Bobby Knight, took the opportunity of an injured player under the basket to do a Bobby Knight thing and more or less say "I haven't been out to check on the last 25 injured Indiana players on the court the last five year but now I have a reason to defy Teddy and wander out on the court so I'm going to do it". Teddy called him on it, technical foul (his second), Knight was ejected, and the other Assembly Hall went insane. Bobby Knight, being Bobby Knight, did an actual brush-by as he left the court, glancing Teddy with his shoulder. The Indiana crowd wanted blood, and IU started a little comeback, but Jerry Hester shut the door. I still remember one shot that just devastated the Indiana crowd. You could watch the fans on the sideline just fall to their knees when it went in. It was beautiful.
Hester's injury in 1996/97 turned out to be a blessing. I'm not sure that 97/98 team wins the Big Ten without him. Heldman, Turner, Hester, Johnson, Gee. All seniors, all starters. And almost all of the points. The highest scoring player off the bench was freshman Sergio McClain who averaged only 3.5 ppg. Hester was the second-leading scorer and, in another People Forget That, was the leading rebounder. Man, could next year's team use a Jerry Hester.
Hmmm... maybe that's a good comp for Tevian Jones? Be Jerry Hester 2.0. A guy on the wing who can be a four when you need it and can also be a 2 in a pinch. Guard the 4? Yep. Lock down the opposing shooting guard who's been scoring at will? Yep.
I like it. Tevian Jones = Jerry Hester II. Maybe he can even be our radio guy some day and scream WHAT A GAME, WHAT A GAME when Tyler Griffey's son makes a layup to beat Indiana at the buzzer...