How Current Illini Remember First 'Wow' Moments of Terrence Shannon Jr.

Hours ahead of him leading Illinois into its first Sweet 16 game in 19 years, several Illini teammates share their first memories of Terrence Shannon Jr.

Matt Stevens, IlliniGuys Staff Writer

(Cover photo courtesy Joe Pickrell/IlliniGuys)

March 28, 2024

Terrence Shannon Jr courtesy of Joe Pickrell, IlliniGuys

BOSTON — Ty Rodgers still vividly remembers the first time he saw Terrence Shannon Jr. on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign nearly two years ago.

Just a few months after announcing his verbal pledge out of the transfer portal from Texas Tech in the summer of 2022, Shannon Jr. arrived at his next and final college looking for some pickup basketball games at the student rec center.

“Oh yeah, I can still see it to this day. So, Ubben hadn’t been completed yet and a lot of us were at the [The Activities and Recreation Center] working out and I was a freshman and it might have been my first week on campus as a student,” Rodgers said. “I was finishing one of my first workouts with (Illinois assistant coach Tim Anderson) and caught TJ out of the corner of my eye and I thought I was trippin for a second.”

Rodgers, a consensus Top 75 recruit in the 2022 recruiting class, stayed after his workout to watch Shannon go through several drills instructed by Anderson. This story ends with the Illini sophomore guard saying Wednesday that by the middle of Shannon’s workout, he wasn’t the only spectator. Suddenly, several university students on campus for this summer session were watching something without really knowing exactly what they were seeing or why it was so captivating.

“I just remember watching him go full-court drills and full-court runs and thinking ‘Man, this dude isn’t normal’ and it was like I was watching a DeAaron Fox or John Wall workout in the ARC,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers’ memory certainly coincides with the first time Justin Harmon, a Chicago native who starred in his senior year on a Curie High School squad that finished with a 35-2 record, a Chicago city championship, and third-place finish at the 2019 Illinois High School Athletics Association Class 4A state tournament, saw Shannon upon his personal arrival on the Illinois campus this past summer.

“I was arriving early at Ubben for a workout with (Anderson) and I saw him from a distance and he was so big and strong,” Harmon said. “Honestly, I immediately thought to myself ‘Why is Tim doing a workout with a football player? That doesn’t make sense.’ and then I got closer and realized that oh my God, that’s Terrence Shannon.”

Shannon, the same player who’s 1-on-1 workouts in the campus rec center attracted a small crowd nearly two years ago, will be leading 3-seed Illinois into TD Garden in Boston against 2-seed Iowa State for a right to play in a NCAA Tournament regional final round that the Illini have only achieved four times since 1989.

Luke Goode isn’t the least surprised to see Shannon Jr. playing a starring role in this Illinois postseason run. During the summer before his sophomore season, Goode headed to the ‘ARC’ to be, as he delicately put it, “sold on this guy who everybody said we had to have”.

“So, everybody kind of remembers Terrence’s recruitment, right? I mean, I’ll just say it - we all thought he was headed to Michigan and then all of sudden, he wasn’t and then he sends out the tweet saying he’s coming here. I swear to you that I found out just like everybody else that Terrence was coming to Illinois - social media,” Goode said. “And so, I’m like ‘okay, let’s go see this guy play for real’ and I swear it's not ten minutes into me walking into the ‘ARC’, I’m watching Terrence leap and hit his head on the side of the backboard. You want to talk about a ‘Holy you-know-what’ moment with Terence, that was mine.”

Shannon Jr. leads the Illini in scoring at 23.3 points per game, the program’s highest single-season scoring average in 51 years – since Nick Weatherspoon averaged 25.0 ppg in 1973 – and fourth-best average in school history.

“It starts definitely with just his aggressiveness on the offensive side and his play-making ability, his speed,” Iowa State sophomore guard Tamin Lipsey said Wednesday. “He uses his speed very well, and that's something that we're going to key in defensively trying to stop. He's a great overall player, and we’re looking forward to the matchup.”

Pursuant to the advice of his legal counsel, Shannon Jr. hasn’t been made available to the media since returning to the Illinois roster from a university suspension following a federal judge granting a legal injunction in late January.

On the basketball court, Shannon is on pace to record the fifth 20-point season by an Illini guard in program history. Other Illini guards to average more than 20 points per game are: Jim Dawson (21.7 ppg in 1966-67), Rick Howat (20.6 ppg in 1970-71), Kendall Gill (20 ppg in 1989-90), and Ayo Dosunmu (20.1 ppg in 2020-21). Illinois’ all-time leading scorer in NCAA Tournament play is Dee Brown, who had 179 points in 13 games from 2003-06. Shannon already has 76 points in three NCAA games (including last year's loss to Arkansas) and if he keeps his 25 points per game average in a deep postseason run, the 6-foot-6 guard will end up just three points shy of Brown’s record in six less games in a Illini jersey.

“Pretty special,” Underwood said with a smile on his face following the NCAA Tournament second round victory over Duquesne on Saturday. “It’s pretty special and he’s doing it guarding the other team’s best player. Great players rise to the occasions that are meaningful and he is doing that. It’s epic right now.”

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