Mike Tisdale entered Illinois as a 7'-1", 190 pounder. The Riverton High School graduate was young for his age and definitely needed more weight and strength. But he has always been a sweet-shooting marksman, and his talents were needed his freshman year as the lone backup to senior center Shaun Pruitt.
Tisdale likely needed a redshirt year before exposure to college ball. Does he regret not having another year?
"The experience I got freshman year was good. Obviously, you can't go and change the past, so I don't want to change things. I just want to move forward. I made that decision a long time ago, and I'm not disappointed with it. I really wouldn't change too much. I'd want to win more games."
Tisdale weighs around 250 pounds as a senior, but even now he would benefit from more weight. His coach Bruce Weber spoke recently about how hard the young man worked to develop a body capable of withstanding the strain of major college basketball.
"He's put a lot of time into gaining weight. It hasn't been easy. When you get to my age, eat a couple cheeseburgers and it's pretty easy to gain weight. But in his case, he had to work at it. He put in the time and effort. I'm sure he wishes he could do even more strength-wise."
As is true for most seniors, Tisdale's time at Illinois has gone by rapidly.
"At times it's gone slow, but for the most part it's just flown by. I was talking to our trainer Al (Martindale) a couple years ago, saying four years would take forever. But it went by fast."
Of course, he will retain many positive memories of his college career.
"GameDay was really cool. Going to Hawaii was one of the best places I've ever been. There's games here and there that were fun. The Indiana game when Eric Gordon was here was fun. There's definitely a lot of good memories."
He didn't include any personal memories, for a good reason.
"I decided everything I did was with the team. My high points game was against Northwestern. But other than that, the games kind of fly by. You don't remember them individually. I remember more of the trips with the team."
Of course, he has a number of memories of his time with Weber.
"There's a lot of them. There's been blowups and jokes and stuff like that. He's broken more cell phones than I could pay for. It's been fun though. He's been a great coach. We have some season left, and I hope to enjoy the time I have with him."
"We've struggled, but we've also won some games that we probably shouldn't have. It's been up and down with us, but hopefully we can go out on a high note. I hope that's how people characterize us.
"We've got some games left, so we're still in the process. We've still got a chance to do something with it. Until then, I'm not gonna say much.
"Winning changes a lot of things, no matter what. You can be a bad player and people like you. You play loose and people hate you, so it doesn't really matter."
Tisdale had his share of detractors over the years. He has rolled with the punches as best he could, learning as an upperclassman that winning solves most of the problems. He remembers how former Illini Chester Frazier rose from ignominy to MVP his senior year, setting a good example for him to follow.
"I've got to give Chester a lot of credit. He did things most people wouldn't do. He's injured diving over benches, things like that. I'd pay to see people do that. He did get booed at home a couple times; it happens when you don't make shots. But he gave everything he had his whole career."
He hopes to work harder than ever to help the Illini do well in the Big 10 Tournament and accomplish NCAA goals as well. He and his teammates can still be remembered fondly if they play their best ball in March.
"People will be real happy. Winning is everything. We still have a chance to do that, we've just got to go out there and do it. Then hopefully everybody's perception will be good.
"We've been playing pretty well. We've had a streak of a couple of games that haven't been wins, but I feel everything's starting to click. I wish I could explain why now. The end is near if we don't start playing, and the seniors don't want to go out with a bad taste in their mouths. It's our last chance to do something.
"We've had times this year where it looked like we could be #1. When we do things we're supposed to like moving the ball, stuff like that, we're a pretty tough team. If we can figure a way to do that the last couple of games, we'll go out on a good note."
Tisdale's fan support has blown hot and cold, but he knows his family loves and supports him unconditionally.
"They try to make all my games. They've been to all the games this year except the two Penn State games. It's good. I appreciate them doing that for me, all the support they've given me."
With at least two more games to play, Tisdale has scored 1214 points in his Illini career, shooting an impressive 53.8% from the field. He his hitting a fraction under 80% of his free throws and has added 18 three point buckets this year. In addition, he has 608 career rebounds, improving his totals every season, and he is among the UI leaders in blocked shots with 172.
Weber will long remember his lanky but talented center. He is convinced Tisdale's basketball days are far from over.
"Mike Tisdale is a small town kid. It was a dream for him and his family to come to Illinois. I know the day we offered, the mom was crying in the Assembly Hall.
"I think he still has a lot in front of him basketball-wise. He's so young. We should have redshirted him. I wish we would have, and maybe even started him a year later in school. Then maybe his body would finally catch up. He's got great skills."