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Michael’s Travel Diary

Monday, 25 Dec 2006

Location: Chicago, USA


Okay, so the Thursday was spent rather hung over, driving from Carbondale in the south of Illinois to Champaign, in the middle of Illinois. Richie and I spent the entire trip on a rainy day, passed out in the back seats of the van, trying to feel somewhat 'normal' - we essentially failed miserably.

So why Champaign? Because it is the home of the University of Illinois, and more importantly, the site of our 3rd basketball game in three nights! Illinois are in the Big Ten conference of college sports (which actually has 11 teams?) and were possibly the best team in college basketball 2 years ago after going 37-1 for the season. They just happened to loose the National Championship game to a much more well known school, the University of North Carolina, with an extensive history in college basketball including a National Championship win when Michael Jordan was there. So whilst I was a couple years too late to see this team in one of the most dominating seasons in recent NCAA history, I was happy to see them as I somehow adopted them as my team when I was here in 2003 - just in time to be on the band wagon for their stellar year.

So we pull into town, and head to a pizza joint, and every person in their is in their orange t-shirts, singlets, hoodies and whatever else they have that is orange. The crowd is known as the Orange Krush, and the team plays in the House of (Cham)Paign. It was much louder, and much bigger than the Saluki game. The stadium holds 16,608, which is about the size of Melbourne Park (Tennis Centre) and has sold out 70 games in a row (even if the crowd didn't show up for our game - stadium was about 75-80% full being so close to Christmas).

The game was good. This year Illinois are polling as many votes as Southern Illinois, and were playing Idaho State, a should win game. But after getting up 29-16, they found themselves behind 40-46 in the second half. It was then that the crowd got behind the team. For the rest of the game, the stadium was loud. I couldn't imagine if it was full - and full of students - playing against a Big Ten rival... that would have been amazing. But the team came good. They started hitting their 3 pointers, and finally got some points under the basket. In the last couple minutes they put the game beyond doubt and walked away up 71-60.

In the car on the way home, the local radio stations were all talking bout the team, the game, and having interviews with the players and coaches. Can you imagine a local station at home doing interview with a player from a Monash Uni basketball team after a game, let alone having the team sell out a 16,000 seat stadium - EVER? It is so hard to imagine, and the college sport scene is worth so much money to the colleges. There is even a Big Ten Sport TV station starting next year on cable! Incredible.

So we drove home, Richie and I still feeling miserable from the previous night, and we crashed almost the minute we got in the door - and didn't stir well until late Friday morning.

Next issue, Friday night in downtown Chicago, and Christmas weekend.

Hope you all have a very MERRY CHRISTMAS, and an awesome new year. Enjoy your time off work, and never utter the words Happy Holidays again... As Justin Timberlake would sing - "I'm brining Christmas back... These Mother f*&#kers don't know how to act - take it to bridge"