CHAMPAIGN — The game won’t count in the standings, but it certainly was something that people at the State Farm Center will remember for a while.
It was an exhibition basketball game that included a reunion, charity, and the victory for the hosts over a No. 1 ranked team. Not bad for a chilly Sunday in Champaign in October for essentially a training game for Illinois and Kansas.
With a common goal to raise money for the victims of the wildfires this summer in Maui, Hawaii, the Illini and Jayhawks played an exhibition contest at the State Farm Center. Proceeds from the game went to the Hawai’i Community Foundation Maui Strong Fund.
The game raised over $1 million for those affected by the fires.
That meant that Bill Self would be returning to Champaign, and that’s something significant for the coach and Illinois fans.
It was in 2003 that the talented head coach, who led Illinois to two Big Ten co-regular season and a tournament championship, decided to leave Champaign for his dream job at Kansas. It drew the ire of the Illini fanbase, one that remained for years after he left the school, leading the Jayhawks to four Final Fours and two national championships.
Most of that was gone when Self walked onto the floor for a game since his last game with Illinois against Minnesota on March 9, 2003. It was the return of a short-tenured but quite successful coach in Illini history.
On the floor, the result was encouraging for Illinois, who is looking to improve after a so-so season in 2022-2023 where they were knocked out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The 25th-ranked Illini knocked off preseason No. 1 Kansas 82-75 behind 28 points from Chicago native Terrence Shannon Jr. and 14 from Coleman Hawkins. It didn’t count, and they won for Illinois until they open the 2023-2024 season against Eastern Illinois on November 6, but it does provide some positive vibes heading into the season.
Yet for Illinois head coach Brad Underwood, it had a much more important mission.
“It’s a heck of a day when you raise over one million dollars for a lot of people who need it. I don’t think we should lose sight of the fact that two teams competed awfully hard today, but the real winners are not here,” said Underwood. “They are in Maui and Lahaina. When you lose thousands of buildings, and people lose their lives, and you think about the number of years it will take to replenish and rebuild, that’s what this is about to me. We all get wrapped up in the moment, but today was a really positive day.
“I want to thank our fans, their fans, and Bill for wanting to come back to a place where he did a lot of good things. I’m very appreciative of that.”
As two basketball programs, the current Illinois basketball coach and a former one created a most unique fall day in Champaign.