With Ohio State’s win over Michigan State, the Illini’s hopes for the Big Ten Championship are now, nearly non-existent. As this realization sits it for fans, players, and coaches, it is time to look forward to the post-season, the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. But as the Illini look ahead, it is also time to look back at two great careers. Saturday evening, James Augustine and Dee Brown will step foot in Assembly Hall as an Illini basketball player for the last time.
Yes, this is not the way that either James Augustine or Dee Brown wanted to enter their Senior Day. They did not want to come into the game losing three of their last five, nor did they want to come into Assembly Hal not having the home court winning streak in which they took pride in throughout their career. But on Saturday night, none of this will matter as Augustine and Brown will play in their last home game in front of the orange clad Illini faithful. There are sure to be strong emotions on the court before the game when both players are introduced as part of the annual Senior Day Festivities.
While the game with Iowa is going to be the highlight of the day, Saturday will also be a day to reminisce about how many great memories the careers of Dee and James have brought to Illini fans.
FRESHMAN SEASON: 2002-2003
“Youth was no excuse” for this Fighting Illini Basketball team, and thanks to the contributions of three freshmen (Dee, Deron, and James) and the steady play of two seniors, Brian Cook and Sean Harrington, it did not need to be. The Fighting Illini finished the season 25-7 and finished just a game out of the Big Ten Regular Season Championship, won the Big Ten Tournament in the United Center, and lost in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament to Notre Dame.
- On November 24, 2002, Illini fans heard Jim Sheppard announce “Deeeeeeeee for Threeeeee!” in a regular season game as Illinois defeated Lehigh 90-56.
- On December 3, 2002, the Illini dismantled the North Carolina Tarheels 92-65 in what would be their first of four games against them in four years (three Big Ten / ACC Challenge match ups and the 2005 National Championship game).
- On December 21, 2002, the Illini beat the Missouri Tigers, something this group of players would become very used to.
- On January 11, 2003, James Augustine scored 11 points in the first half against Wisconsin as the Illini defeated the Wisconsin Badgers in Big Ten play.
- After losing by one to the Wisconsin Badgers, and just missing the Big Ten Regular Season Championship, the Illini ran rough shot over the Big Ten streaking to the Big Ten Tournament Championship in Chicago’s United Center.
SOPHOMORE SEASON: 2003-2004
Things changed for the Illini between the 2003-2004 season as Bruce Weber took over for Bill Self when he left Illinois to take over the Kansas Jayhawks. Now, there was no doubt, this team belonged to the Illini sophomores. The Illini struggled early, and they lost their first game at home in their career, but once the stretch run hit, the Illini were playing on all cylinders. The Illini finished the season 26-7, winning twelve in a row before losing to Wisconsin in the Championship Game of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. For the first time in the history of the program, the Illini defeated a higher ranked seed in the NCAA Tournament as the fifth ranked Illini just hammered Cincinnati in the second round, bringing the Illini back to the Sweet 16 after a one year hiatus. The Illini’s season would end with a loss to Duke in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.
- On December 23, 2003, the Illini defeated Missouri 71-70 in the Bragging Rights game.
- On January 31, 2004, the Illini defeated Michigan in Assembly Hall, starting a run of twelve consecutive victories. The Illini would not lose again until March 14, 2004 in the Big Ten Tournament Championship Game.
- On March 3, 2004, the Illini defeated Purdue in West Lafayette. Sure, it was neither Dee nor James who made the shot, that was Luther Head, but that game will forever be etched in the mind of those Illini fans who saw the game, and turned Mackey Arena into another home court with orange scattered throughout the stadium.
- On March 7, 2004, the Illini defeated Ohio State in Columbus to clinch the Big Ten Championship.
- On March 21, 2004, the Illini rained three pointers on the Cincinnati Bearcats, and made Nick Lachey ask someone to cover them in the best episode ever aired of MTV’s Newleyweds.
JUNIOR SEASON: 2004-2005
The 100th Year of Illinois Basketball turned out to be the best year of Illinois Basketball. The Illini announced the All Century team against Minnesota in Assembly Hall, and the Illini ran through the regular season like a team possessed before losing to Ohio State in the last game of the season. Then the Illini ran through the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago, before making trips to Indianapolis, Chicago, and then St. Louis in the NCAA Tournament. While the loss to North Carolina in the National Championship game still stings every Illinois fan to this day, mention the word “Arizona” and there is not a single Illini fan that will not smile and think back to the miraculous comeback when they displayed the “heart of a champion.”
The 2004-2005 season was dubbed The Fantastic Voyage by IlliniBoard.com in an article that first ran on April 6, 2005. This article is the only way IlliniBoard has been able to put into words the emotions that ran through the author’s mind as the season proceeded from the first day until the final seconds ticked down in the National Championship Game.
SENIOR SEASON: 2005-2006
The final chapters have yet to be completed in the book that will describe James Augustine and Dee Brown’s Illinois career, but much has already been written. Without three players that have started games with them for the last two years, James Augustine and Dee Brown lead Illinois to an undefeated non-conference season, including closing out their career at the United Center undefeated, and a career that included as many wins over Missouri (4) as Arthur Johnson and Ricky Paulding had losses to Illinois (4).
Yes, it appears the Illini have fallen short of their third straight Big Ten Championship, but the NCAA Tournament still looms, and Dee and James have a chance to put an even bigger impact on the program with another deep run in the NCAA Tournament. This season, many fans have been frustrated by the play of the two seniors and have highlighted every flaw in their game, especially on the IlliniBoard.com Hoops Fan Forum, while ignoring every beautiful thing in their game.
Saturday will be a sad day because Dee Brown will never wear the Orange Illinois #11 jersey and James Augustine will never wear the Orange Illinois #40 jersey as members of the Illinois Basketball team in Assembly Hall ever again.
Saturday will be a sad day because it will be your last time to hear Jim Sheppard say “Deeeeeeeeeeeeee for Threeeeeeeeeeee!”
While Saturday will be a sad day because there is no more time left to watch these two special players, and people that have helped bring the Illini Basketball program to new heights, it will also be a great day to celebrate their accomplishments.
It will be your last time to catch James Augustine throw down a two-handed dunk and waive his hands in joy in Assembly Hall.
It will be your last time to see the orange mouthpiece protruding from Dee Brown’s mouth when he smiles in Assembly Hall.
It will be your last time to witness James Augustine winning a tip off in Assembly Hall.
It will be your last time to witness Dee Brown run out on the fast break in Assembly Hall.
It will be a time to celebrate Dee Brown’s career in the orange and blue.
It will be a time to celebrate James Augustine’s career in the orange and blue.
So get to Assembly Hall early and honor these two seniors with your applause, laughter, and probably tears.