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Illini hoops seniors seek to make their mark

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Illinois senior forward Mike Davis glanced at the back wall of the Illini’s practice gym in the Ubben Complex.

Davis already knew what he’d see before doing so. He had stared in that direction on plenty of occasions over his last three seasons.

This time was no different. There on the wall hung banners for all of Illinois’ Big Ten basketball championships, and again he recognized that none of them had been won during his time there.

“We’re back to business,” Davis said during Illinois’ basketball media day on Tuesday. “Back to trying to get a banner up there. I have no legacy here. Demetri McCamey has no legacy here. We want to hang a banner, so people can remember us by it. ‘That [2010-11] team hung a banner. They won a Big Ten championship.’ That’s what I want to leave.”

Illinois’ four seniors -- Davis, McCamey, Bill Cole and Mike Tisdale -- haven’t achieved in the last three years what they hoped to when they arrived in Champaign. Now with one season left, their one and only goal is to leave a lasting mark on the program.

So far, the seniors’ legacy is a 61-44 overall record, a 26-28 Big Ten record, one NCAA Tournament first-round exit and last year’s NIT quarterfinal loss to Dayton at Assembly Hall.

In McCamey’s eyes, it’s not exactly an impressive resume.

“You look at it, as far as being the point guard and wins and losses, and you look back as far as not making [the NCAA Tournament] for two years and then you make the NIT and then you go and lose the first round to a mid-major school. There’s really no success there as far as postseason. At the same time, you got to say, ‘Seniors, this is what we got to do.’”

Tisdale expressed a similar thought.

“We’ve been here for a couple years now, and we haven’t hung a banner,” Tisdale said. “This year our attitude is: we have to win. We got to win something because over the past couple years we haven’t achieved what we could have. This year our focus is winning and winning only.”

The goals the seniors have set out for themselves are a Big Ten championship followed by a long run in the NCAA Tournament.

“I don’t care about the [individual] numbers,” said McCamey, who is a Wooden Award candidate. “It’s about the wins and trying to get Illinois to a Final Four, Elite 8 and back to the NCAA Tournament. It’s all about trying to win and going out with a bang. One day, hopefully tell your kids how you did your senior year and the success you had as a senior.”

There is optimism around the Illini this season. With Davis and McCamey back after testing the NBA waters, Tisdale adding weight and playing with the U.S. select team this summer, the improvement of sophomore guards Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson, Cole and sophomore Tyler Griffey proving depth at the forward position and the addition of a highly-touted recruiting class, which is headlined by McDonald’s All-American Jereme Richmond, Illinois’ seniors believe this will finally be the year for them.

“It’s going to be our deal [as seniors] and get everyone else into it,” Cole said. “Bring those young guys along. If the younger guys catch on, we’ll be really tough to beat this year. I thought we had the best offseason by far since we’ve been here. It was putting [last season] behind us and realizing how good we can actually be this season.”