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COVID19 Discoveries: Flashback to Western Illinois Basketball’s Magical Season

Shelter in place has given many of us plenty of time to dig through our basements and storage. It has allowed us to rediscover old treasures along with enjoying created content while stuck at home.

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This blog is geared towards the Chicago Cubs, but on occasion I’ll tie in something non-Cubs related like my memories from interviewing Derek Jeter, Joe Tait, and Steven Jackson.

Also, in a recent blog post highlighting my eBay searches amid the shelter in place I mentioned an awesome series done by Ricky O’Donnell where he set up a dynasty mode on College Basketball 2K8 with the Western Illinois Leathernecks. This is special to me for two reasons.

  1. Western Illinois is my alma mater, and I was the Director of the Leatherneck Sports Network for three years. One of my duties was play-by-play announcer for the men’s basketball team.
  2. I love dynasty modes. Growing up I absolutely loved the season modes for Madden Football, and later dynasty modes. Usually, I would just sim through the actual games and just play general manager to build a winner.
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So, when I saw O’Donnell’s series originally run on SB Nation, I was enthralled. I am so captivated by this series that I am actually watching the computer sim videos of the games he is posting in the articles from the NCAA Tournament. I’m cheering out loud when the Leathernecks hit a big basket.

Coach Ricky Charisma, Bud Richards, Ferdinand Thompson, Giovanni Nelke, Deke Van. Following this series those names have become just as special as Coach Mo, Ceola Clark, Terell Parks, “Donny Doubles” Don McAvoy, and Jack Houpt.

Recently, the current Director of the Leatherneck Sports Network, Danny Frey, reached out asking if I had audio from my time broadcasting WIU men’s basketball. Somewhere, I do have it. I keep everything, and that probably doesn’t surprise you. One million Cubs baseball cards and all.

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I finally found a couple thumb drives. Remember those? One of the thumb drives contained folders for 2011-12 WIU Basketball and 2012-13 WIU Basketball. All of the audio was here. Complete game broadcasts, interviews, highlights, and special player highlight montages.

As I follow the latest run in season eight of the Western Illinois 2K8 Dynasty, I had to go back and relive the magical 2011-12 Leathernecks basketball season. Western, as a number five seed in the conference tournament, made a run to the nationally televised championship game. An NCAA Tournament berth was on the line. The Leathernecks had never gone to the Big Dance, nor had the program ever been invite to a Division 1 postseason tournament (WIU made the transition to D1 for the 1981-82 season).

Here is my highlight montage for the 2011-12 Summit League championship between the Leathernecks and the South Dakota State Jackrabbits.

That final clip was broadcast the next day on the Dan Patrick Show. While on the long bus ride from Sioux Falls, South Dakota to Macomb, Illinois I began receiving text messages they heard my audio on the program.

I can absolutely tie this into the Chicago Cubs. While the Leathernecks did not hear their name on Selection Sunday, Western Illinois did receive an invitation to the program’s first-ever NCAA Division 1 postseason tournament. We were heading to Corvallis, Oregon to face the Oregon State Beavers in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI).

This date coincided with my already-booked trip to Mesa, Arizona to experience my first-ever trip to Major League Baseball Spring Training with the Chicago Cubs. As they say, “wait ’til next year,” though it would be another eight years before I would get to Mesa as I documented my first Spring Training trip earlier this year.

Oh, and to at least get a Cubs baseball card in this piece….Western Illinois is the alma mater to the “Big League Brothers,” Rick and Paul Reuschel.

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