By Zain Bando - IlliniGuys Student Correspondent
July 12, 2022
(Cover photo courtesy Illinois Athletics)
The date is March 6, 2022. The final buzzer sounds, and Nebraska has just upset Wisconsin at Kohl Center, which in turn, left the Big Ten regular season title up for grabs. I am in my dorm room at Nugent Hall in jubilation realizing what is at stake for Illinois just a few short hours later and a few miles up the road at State Farm Center – a shot at a Big Ten regular season title versus Iowa.
Many of you reading this are probably thinking ‘Zain, you probably couldn’t contain yourself, right?’ The short answer is yes. I had followed the team long before I became a credentialed media member with IlliniGuys, who had just hired me to be their first-ever Student Correspondent. All in all, things were going well for me at the time, but I told myself that I had to remain a fan for the final regular season game. I knew this was the way to go considering that I had done so for the last four years and that some of my best memories were made on the baseline of the East basket in the Orange Krush.
I drive over to the game about an hour and a half before tip, and the line to get into the arena is massive. Due to my physical limitations, I get to enter through the media entrance, which leads to an exclusive elevator for stadium club members. I probably shouldn’t have been allowed to go through that way during my time in undergrad, but thanks to an unnamed security guard, it always worked out.
I finally get to my seat, the seat that I had sat in for the last four years (not counting the pandemic), and I was lucky enough to sit with my right-hand man, Max Tincknell, who is entering his senior year as a Consumer Economics and Finance major at Illinois. Collectively, we had missed around four or five home games during the season, but knew we weren’t missing this one for anything.
The attendance for this highly anticipated rematch was read as 15,544, even though it felt like double the size. The crowd was into the game throughout, as both teams went back and forth with several lead changes coinciding. If you were there, it felt like a tournament game. Kofi Cockburn solidified his greatness with 21 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Illini in scoring.
After Illinois took the lead late, Iowa had one more chance to win the game or send it to overtime. Kris Murray had the ball and launched up a desperation three-point attempt. At this point, the Orange Krush students had already figured out that a court storm was going to happen.
It was only a matter of time. As Murray took the shot, time stopped for a split second. The ball trickled out and chaos ensued. I was pulled back by security, as they initially advised me not to rush the floor. Although I am a good listener, there was no way I was missing an opportunity of a lifetime.
The final score read 74-72. Illinois had just clinched a share of the Big Ten regular season title and earned the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. Jubilation ensued, as everyone was in shambles. What I didn’t know was what had ensued on TV, where FS1 was broadcasting the game.
I enter the tunnel where on one side, the players enter the locker room, and the other is where the fans disperse to leave State Farm Center. A bit of a holding pattern took place as we waited for the players to come back from the locker room. In doing so, I pulled out my phone, where I found dozens of text messages with the same video and tweet of me storming the court, and from that day forward, the term “Hot Wheels” was born.
Those memories are ones I will never take for granted, but I will say that BroBible, a sporting news and entertainment website, got it right when I was dubbed as an “absolute legend” the following day.
And although Illinois fell to Houston in the Round of 32 just a few weeks later, my court storm will always live on in Illini lore until the end of time.
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