A) A Season to Remember > Basketball & Destiny
"Final destination: Illini have fans behind them on date with destiny" / SI.com
"When Coach Weber put 'St. Louis' on the chalkboard at the beginning of the year," said Illini fan Steven King of Lewisville, Ill., a front-row spectator at Friday's open practice, "so did we."
It's been said on numerous occasions that the Illini are a "team of destiny," what with the coinciding forces of a 29-0 start, a geographically favorable bracket (Indianapolis, Chicago and St. Louis, all less than three hours from campus) and this being the program's 100th year of basketball. It's a sentiment that has grown stronger ever since the death of Weber's 81-year-old mother at the start of the postseason and their miraculous Elite Eight comeback against Arizona.
"That word - [destiny] - is getting thrown around a lot right now," said Smith. "I hope people are right."
"St. Louis was one of the goals we talked about since the time I got the job [two years ago]," said Weber, who, shortly after returning from last year's Final Four, hung a miniature Arch in the locker room. "All year we've seen the March to the Arch posters, then all of a sudden we're coming across the bridge [Wednesday night], the city is lit up and there's the Arch. A couple of kids were joking about it, but I think it hit them that we were truly here."
According to Smith, Weber first addressed the possibility of the potential Indianapolis-Chicago-St. Louis tourney run - the most favorable a Final Four team has enjoyed since 2000 champ Michigan State played in Cleveland, Detroit and Indianapolis - to his players at a meeting the day before their first preseason practice. Sure enough, the homecourt advantage has paid dividends.
"Closer Look - No. 1 Illinois 90, No. 3 Arizona 89" / SI.com
It was an Easter Uprising of biblical proportions, a "miracle" in the words of Illinois guard Dee Brown. Down 15 points with four minutes to go, the Illini blitzed Arizona with an epic comeback Saturday night to steal victory and advance to the Final Four.
"Mail it in: Illini will emerge champs" / Daily Trojan
Illinois is going to win the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
There's just no other way around it.
Not after that remarkable comeback against Arizona. Not after winning 35 of 36 games this season. Not after blasting through a clearly tougher than-advertised Big Ten Conference. Not after the death of Illini coach Bruce Weber's mother just before the conference tournament.
It's cliché, but the Illinois Fighting Illini are a team of destiny.
And that destiny is even clear in their path to the Final Four, as demonstrated by the long road to the national championship game drawn up so long ago.
For the overall No. 1 team in the tournament, their first- and second round games were in Indianapolis.
Next two were just down the road in Rosemont, Ill., the same place the orange-clad Illini faithful gathered for the Big Ten tourney less than a month ago. The same fans powered their team during those remarkable final four minutes and into overtime against the Wildcats.
Last stop for the Illinois bus tour is this weekend in St Louis.
It almost adds up like one of those MasterCard ads....
Champaign to Indianapolis: 120 miles.
Champaign to Rosemont: 150 miles.
Champaign to St. Louis: 180 miles.
Home court advantage: priceless.
"March to Arch? Try quiver to river?" / Chicago Sun Times
Destiny would appear to be on the side of the Illinois basketball team. Or at the very least, no farther than a few feet behind the Illini and the three-point line.
March to the Arch indeed. OK, more like a quiver to the river for some Illini fans during anxious moments Saturday against Arizona.
"U.S. Reps issue Illini/Cardinal Challenge"
Taking a brief hiatus from the mundane diversions of public policy, U.S. congressmen representing the Fighting Illini and the Louisville Cardinal turned their attention to another weighty matter today - NCAA basketball.
The congressmen - U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Ill. and Anne Northrup, R-Ky. - have agreed to a wager - a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken if the Illini win and a bushel of sweetcorn if the Cardinal wins. Rep. Northrup said she is looking forward to Illini corn.
"We have Rick Pitino and a great group of basketball players to lead U. of L. to victory," Rep. Northrup said. "Our office is confident we'll soon be enjoying some corn from Illinois, courtesy of my esteemed colleague Mr. Johnson."
On the other hand, Johnson said he fully expects to bring home the chicken as well as the bacon. "I'm glad I don't have to face Rep. Northrup in a political contest because she'd be a formidable opponent, and I know firsthand she's an outstanding legislator who has accomplished much for her district and the University of Louisville. As much respect as I have for her, in the basketball arena, she loses."
"Louisville has had their fun in the Final Fours of the past, but this is 2005, it is the Illini's turn and the Illini's destiny. I'll bet our kernels against her colonel any day."
B) Divine Intervention
"Licensed minister Powell is spiritual leader for Illini" / BP Sports
"Powell ministers to needs of Illinois in win over Louisville" / The San Diego Union Tribune
"College Basketball Player Hopes to Become a Pentecostal Minister" / Charisma
"Roger Powell made all the difference" / Star Tribune
All season, Illinois anticipated what CBS calls "The March to the Arch," and now that Roger Powell had waited patiently through foul trouble, had finally gotten back into a game that had become way too close for the Illini's taste, he was ready to make sure this was a bus trip worth $2.25 a gallon.
So he made the March to the Arch worthwhile with the Loop to the Hoop.
Under the Arch - St. Louis' shrine to westward expansion and riverboat casinos? That was Powell territory Saturday, just as the Illini has made the Midwest its postseason step stool.
Illinois has become the DMV's favorite team, spending the last month on buses to Chicago for the Big Ten tournament, Indianapolis for an NCAA subregional, Chicago for the regional and now St. Louis for the Final Four.
Their final trip, the one that could establish them as one of the best teams of this generation, will require just another short bus ride from their team hotel to the Edward Jones Dome on Monday - and probably a few more surprises from Minister Powell.
"Powell stands tall in the post" / Copley News Service
Roger Powell reads the Bible regularly, so it wasn't surprising to hear the undersized Illinois forward's description of his matchup Wednesday with Wake Forest center Eric Williams.
"David vs. Goliath," Powell said. "I don't have a slingshot or anything."
Perhaps it's divine intervention, but the devout Powell suddenly has become the defensive force needed early this season as the Illini head into today's game against Arkansas at the Alltel Arena.
Powell's shoes are covered with Bible verses. In a world of profane language, Powell keeps it clean. One day this fall, Powell hit the practice court hard. His reaction: "Shoot!"
"It's A Miracle; Illinois Heading to The Final Four - The Handwriting Was On The Shoes" / The Rugged Elegance Inspiration Network
On the Eve of Easter, Saturday, March 26th 2005, the University of llinois Men's Basketball team performed a miracle.
The Fighting Illini completed one of the most dramatic comebacks in NCAA history by resurrecting themselves from a 15-point deficit with four minutes left in the game to defeat the Arizona Wildcats, 90 - 89 in overtime.
People have called Illinois a team of destiny. This has been their year from the start. But perhaps they are a team of providence.
At least one person on the team credited divine intervention for the miracle.
The handwriting wasn't actually on the wall. In tonight's case, it was on Roger Powell's shoes.
Powell, a Pentecostal minister nicknamed "Rev" by his teammates, went up for a dunk in the closing minutes and the ball rattled around the rim four or five times before it went in. If he had missed that shot, the Illini might have lost.
So what was on Powell shoes that he so proudly pointed at after Illinois claimed victory?
Both shoes were festooned with Bible verses.
"JESUS was written in black ink on his right shoe along with a reference to Philippians 4:13.
I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
"CHRIST" was on his left shoe along with a reference to Isaiah 41:10.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Great words to inspire a comeback, especially one of Biblical proportions.
Inspire & Be Inspired. We were!
Here's to healthy, adventuresome, soulful and "coming back from the dead" living!
"Powell revs up Illinois' offense" / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
If anything, the Illini figure Powell might give them an added edge. You know, like he might have a line to a higher power. It's not as if this Illinois team needs much help. It's 37-1 and will set an NCAA record for single season victories if it wins tomorrow night. But who's going to complain about a little extra boost?
Actually, that's not the best thing for Powell.
When the game ended, he raised two hands skyward and pointed toward the best part - the most influential figure in his life - just as he had after Illinois came back from 15 points down in the final four minutes against Arizona last weekend to make it to the Final Four.
No, not Illinois coach Bruce Weber.
You know who.
"Illini advance with faith restored by an unlikely savior" / St. Petersburg Times
By night's end, the minister had worked up a sweat.
He had grabbed everyone's attention in the previous 40 minutes and now offered a parting message of praise. Head tilted back, arms raised, he used his index fingers to point skyward. Thousands watched and cheered.
He was, you might say, preaching to the choir.
Roger Powell is a Pentecostal minister. A frequent guest in the pulpit at the Mount Zion Full Gospel Tabernacle Church in Joliet, Ill., where his parents listen to his sermons and worshipers follow his words.
Roger Powell is also an Illinois basketball player. A senior forward who does much of the grunt work on a team of stars.
Someday soon he may be in the business of saving souls.
On Saturday night he settled for rescuing a season.
Everything about Powell feels engaging. From the generosity of his grin to the profoundness of his calling.
He wears his devotion on his sleeve, and his shoes too. Across the toes and down the sides of his sneakers are citations for his favorite Bible verses.
Isaiah 41:10 is next to Matthew 9:26.
Galatians 5:22 bumps up to Proverbs 11:2.
He is a walking testimony to his faith.
And when it was nearly done, when the clock was counting down and the Illinois fans were calling his name, Powell looked heavenward and raised his fingers in celebration.
"I was pointing to Jesus," Powell said. "I was really thankful."
In a time of crisis, you turn to the source of your faith.
In the case of Illinois, that means Roger Powell.
C) The Arch
Not long ago, I visited St. Louis. As I first entered my hotel room, its window framed an unremarkable nighttime urban vista. Nineteen stories below, two venerable bridges spanned the Mississippi. On the right, on the opposite bank, a modern-day grain elevator owned by an agribusiness conglomerate dominated a dreary postindustrial skyline. In the center, demanding all attention, were the gaudily flashing lights of two riverboat casinos. Yet as I walked closer to the window to draw the curtains against the casinos' glare, Eero Saarinen's Gateway Arch suddenly entered the picture from the right. To take in its vastness, I had to shift my line of vision in a way that made the bright lights and bridges disappear. From a perch about one-third as high as the arch, I gazed through it facing east, toward the country that early nineteenth-century folks who lit out for the territories thought they had left behind.
Saarinen intended his monument to be viewed from the opposite direction, facing west, from the Illinois side of the river. But unless they can walk on water, all who actually visit must approach it the way I looked through it, facing east. They find that the arch is rooted in an urban national park, the Thomas Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. If they descend into the earth beneath its base to board a tram to the top, they discover a Museum of Westward Expansion that movingly portrays the impact of Euro-American conquest on Native Americans. Aboveground, though, the museum is invisible. Nothing can be seen except the gleaming arch itself and, behind it, green terraces that rise from the riverbank to the dome of the old St. Louis Courthouse, which, viewed from Illinois, the arch was designed to frame. It is not just any courthouse. There, in 1847 and again in 1850, an enslaved African-American couple named Dred and Henrietta Scott sued for their freedom. Although the second trial's jury of local Whites decided in their favor, every higher level of a judicial system devoted to the protection of American liberties refused to agree. In 1858, speaking for a Supreme Court more deeply divided on why than on whether freedom must be denied, Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney declared that people like the Scotts were "regarded as being of an inferior order" who "had no rights the white man was bound to respect."
Haunting courtroom; subterranean museum; triumphal arch dominating both. Perhaps no other plot of ground in the United States more eloquently symbolizes how freedom and unfreedom, expansion and dispossession, entwined to create the nation's story than does this park named for a president whose own life so profoundly wove together the same conflicting strands. Part of that national story is the persistent idea that the west was a land of new beginnings. Did not Jefferson famously declare "that the earth belongs in usufruct to the living; that the dead have neither powers nor rights over it"? Yet those who poured through St. Louis in the early 1800s could not so easily abandon their past, and neither could Jefferson's nation. Trends that played themselves out west of the Mississippi grew from three hundred years' experience in the east. Between the early sixteenth century and the early nineteenth, ugly patterns of racial antagonism took root, but the course of their growth was not nearly so straightforward as might be suggested by the old saying about Pilgrims who fell first on their knees and next on the aborigines. Whites and Indians had to learn to hate each other - had even to learn that there were such clear-cut "racial" categories as "White" and "Indian" - before "westward expansion" across a steadily advancing "frontier" could become the trajectory for a nation that was itself a belated result of the same learning process. Perhaps the strangest lesson of all was that in the new nation Whites were the ones entitled to be called "Americans." Indians bizarrely became something else. (1-2)
Facing East from Indian Country (2001)
Daniel K Richter
"The Road Trip: Week 1"
Man I wish we had eaten before. The museum was absolutely fascinating, but our stomachs and blood sugars were yelling at us to cut it short. There's a tram that you can ride to the top of the Arch which Lauren had wanted to take, but the line to get tickets was as insanely long as the line for the tram itself. Instead, we opted to spend about an hour reading a timeline history of the American settlement. One thing that I found interesting was the way the museum phrased their little historical snippets. Somebody who had turned their brain off for a minute wouldn't realize just how badly we screwed over the Indians as we claimed more and more land for ourselves. For instance, one blurb would say that in such and such a year, "Seminole Indians ceded Florida to America." We all know that the rest of that sentence should probably read, "....under the threat of extermination." Elsewhere it would say, "Cherokee Indians are given a patch of land west of the Mississippi." The museum left out the part that explains how that patch of land was probably a swath of barren desert. One thing I would have liked the museum to include was an exhibit explaining the dark side of the Westward Expansion. I know it was good and important for this country, but at least acknowledge and pay respect to the people who caught the raw end of it all.
In 1982 UNESCO declared Cahokia Mounds a World Heritage Site, one of only a handful located in the United States. In 1989 the state of Illinois opened an $8.2 million Interpretative Center. In 2000 people have taken to driving their off-road vehicles on the mounds. The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, which manages the site, promises to beef up security. (161-62)
"At Home in Illinois: Presence of Chief Illiniwek, Absence of Native
"Crackdown on ATVs focuses attention on Cahokia Mounds" / Indian Country Today
About 1,000 years ago, Native Americans on the eastern banks of the Mississippi River built earthen mounds to bury their dead and raise their buildings toward the sky.
In recent years, the Cahokia Mounds became something else: a racing ground for rogue riders on all-terrain vehicles.
"When you've been riding all your life, that mound's just another big dirt hill," said Mitchell Adams, 21, who has tackled the mounds on a mud-spattered, four-wheel Yamaha.
Although the practice has been going on for years, the state announced just this month that police would crack down on the riders. But the droning bikes and four-wheelers already have torn deep ruts in some of the mounds, changing the shape of at least two ancient hills.
The damage will be added to a long list of indignities the mounds have endured, not the least of which is obscurity. In the last century, amateur archeologists have plundered the Cahokia Mounds, remnants of the largest prehistoric settlement north of Mexico. Campers have littered the site, and vandals have lit fires. Four lanes of asphalt cut through the ancient city's central plaza, and some of the American Indians' fields are strewn with beer cans and trash.
"Men's Final Four Generates an Estimated $71.9 Million for St. Louis"
According to a survey commissioned by the NCAA and the St. Louis Organizing Committee, the 2005 NCAA Men's Final Four generated an economic income of $71.9 million for the St. Louis metropolitan area.
[R]esearch estimates that the Final Four brought more than 54,000 visitors to the region. According to survey results, those visitors were responsible for:
"This information confirms what we have learned in the past," said Gregory A. Shaheen, NCAA vice-president for Division I Men’s Basketball and Championship Strategies. "The Final Four is a wonderful event for the host city."
D) Destinies Collide
"Final destination: Illini have fans behind them on date with destiny" / SI.com
Smith's teammate Warren Carter is slightly more steadfast in his belief in the team's predetermined status - "some call it pressure [to capture the title], but we feel like it's our destiny," he said - but the fact is, there are three equally if not more capable teams here who all have their own reasons to believe fate is on their side. Their opponent Saturday, Louisville, has defied the odds just to get here, is oozing with sentimental storylines (Francisco Garcia and Taquan Dean's family tragedies, Ellis Myles' return from a season-long injury) and will have its own drove of supporters whose campus is only 80 miles farther away than Illinois'. And if the Illini do get past the Cardinals, they may face a title-game matchup against a North Carolina team that's been on a three-year rebuilding mission from the depths of an 8-20 nightmare, and whose coach, Roy Williams, many feel is meant to finally capture his first national title now that he's returned to his alma mater.
"I definitely feel it's our destiny," said Tar Heels senior Melvin Scott. "A lot of people doubted us, but we're a whole different team from last year to this year. I feel it's our time now."
All of the Final Four teams feel that way - why shouldn't they? - and there were countless others who probably felt that way back in October. Illinois, however, has been plotting this moment for even longer.
"UNC: the real team of destiny" / IDSNews.com
It wasn't supposed to end this way for the Illini. They had it all. The team-first assist oriented offense that beat 37 teams, pesky defense, kids with hearts as large as the state they represented, and a coach and fan-base that believed in them. It was all there.
The bandwagon grew with each win and eventually turned into a standing-room only double-decker bus with people waiting at each stop to hop on for this magical ride. Their orange-clad fans engulfed every post-season venue in which they played, bringing homecourt advantage in Indianapolis, Chicago and St. Louis.
And when tragedy struck in the form of Bruce Weber's mom's death, it inspired and brought a sense of purpose to the players and their remaining season. They would play for her, and when Coach Weber referred to his mother as a reason for the Illini's unfathomable 15 point comeback against Arizona, destiny seemed to be on their side.
"Illinois coping with season's bitter end" / Detroit Free Press
Visitors to this midwestern city are often surprised at how big the famous Arch is. No kidding. Monday night, an entire state squeezed through it.
Illinois lost a virtual home game, 75-70, to North Carolina. Much of the nation predicted the outcome, but in the neighboring state of Illinois, a Fighting Illini loss was hard to comprehend.
If you believe in destiny, you must understand it can't be cloned. And North Carolina, in many ways, seemed as inevitable a champion as Illinois. But rarely has a state fallen for a team like Illinois fell for these Illini.
NEXT > Manifest Destiny
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