So, How We Doin'? Senior Night
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I mean, look at that photo. That's Trent in the 2017 Longwood game. That game was a few weeks after the football team lost to Northwestern 42-7 in the 2017 finale. Cam Thomas was the starting QB. Louis Dorsey was the leading receiver. And Trent had already started his Illini career.
Da'Monte too. Remember the loss at Eastern Illinois in the exhibition game? Da'Monte started that game (much to everyone's surprise including those of us who were there mostly just to see Mark Smith). I still remember Brad Underwood pointing out Da'Monte's play on the postgame radio show, saying something like "you now see why I started that kid tonight". He loves every single Glue Guy thing that Da'Monte does.
So Trent and Da'Monte's Senior Night is a very special Senior Night. Yes, basically the entire starting five will be going through Senior Night. Jacob Grandison will be honored, but he could still return for a bonus year next year. Alfonso Plummer will be honored on Senior Night, but he's only been here one season. Kofi Cockburn will be honored on Senior Night, but... we'll talk about that below. Tomorrow, to me, is about Trent and Da'Monte.
Let's just look at the five Big Ten seasons for these two guys:
14-5 (will be either 15-5 or 14-6)
If it's 15 after this game, just think about those numbers. 4-7-13-16-15. A rebuild we probably wouldn't even allow ourselves to dream about. Four years ago, we were just hoping to go into Senior Night knowing we were on the safe side of the bubble. And now 4-7-13-16-15. Just incredible.
These two guys were there for the entire ride. Underwood went 14-18 his first season and then started his second season 4-12. So yeah, 18-30 was not exactly the "rebuild of our dreams" at that point.
Since then? 74-34. 8-9 to finish 2018/19 and then 21-10, 24-7, and now 21-8 going into the finale. We know that, and we're aware of that, but it will probably be five years before we fully understand what was accomplished here.
And Trent and Da'Monte were at the center of it all. There for the entire ascension. Yes, we're currently 43-16 in the Big Ten with Kofi on the roster, and we wouldn't be anywhere close to 43-16 without Kofi. This era will be remembered as the Ayo and Kofi era, and I think that's the correct way to view it. The 15 Naismith finalists were announced today, and for the second straight year, we had one of the 15-best players in college basketball (last year top-5, even top-2, and this year... we shall see). Yes, this is the Ayo and Kofi era.
But Trent and Da'Monte are the heart. They're that thing that Ironman has to have close to his heart. Sure, he can fly and all, but take that out and the whole thing dies. Every team needs the Ironman thingy. And we have two of them.
Kofi? Kofi we can discuss after the season. Kofi might even return next season (doubtful, but still possible). Heck, with his bonus year, Kofi could technically return for two more seasons (I said "technically"). Kofi I will save for another post late. Plummer and Jake, too. This Senior Night, to me, is about Trent and Da'Monte.
Which is why the game is somewhat secondary to me (unless Nebraska somehow wins at Wisconsin). If that happens (it won't), then toss all of this out and tomorrow night is all about winning a share of the Big Ten title. But once Wisconsin wins, tomorrow night is no longer the game I was hoping it would be before the Ohio State loss. I was thinking "chance to clinch at home", but if that is gone, tomorrow is less "win for this season" and more "win for Da'Monte and Trent."
I now that sounds dumb when I've spent the last month obsessing over "can we get a three-seed?" This game could go a long way towards accomplishing that. I'm not saying "don't care if we win - just make sure Trent and Da'Monte are honored properly." I'm saying that my BEAT IOWA emotions are different this time. They're more "hey, other 11 players on the roster - you CANNOT lose to Iowa on Trent and Da'Monte's Senior Night."
This is where I'd usually spend at least a few paragraphs talking about our opponent. But even that feels wrong for tomorrow. Don't care about Iowa. Only care that Trent and Da'Monte walk off the court as winners. 0.0% I can predict a loss in this one, even if Iowa is the hottest team in the Big Ten right now. You CANNOT lose to Iowa on Trent and Da'Monte's Senior Night.
Illinois 83, Iowa 80