The basketball itself provided a lifetime’s worth of memories — in large part because of the company Luiz Mendes kept on Illini game days.
“My greatest memory from campus, and certainly what I miss the most today, is going to Illinois basketball games at Assembly Hall with my dad,” says the Urbana High grad, who earned two computer science degrees from his hometown university and now works as a software engineering manager at Google.
“We had season tickets every year and it didn’t matter how cold it was or how much snow was on the ground — we were there for every game, from the Lou Henson days in the ’90s all the way through the Bruce Weber days in the late 2000s.
“Those frigid Tuesday and Wednesday nights in January and February were the best tradition: my dad and I would bundle up and brave the cold together, enjoy the game, listen to the victory song inside the stadium, and then break down the game on the car ride home, listening to the postgame on the radio.
“The Wake Forest game in December 2004 was the most memorable one. They were the top-ranked team in the nation, but didn’t stand a chance that night, as we beat them 91-73 in a game that wasn’t even as close as that final score indicates.
"That game showed the nation just how good that team was, and propelled the Illini to the number 1 ranking in the country, where they’d remain until the end of the season. The Hall was rocking — I don’t think I’ve ever heard it as loud as it was that night.
“A few other memorable home games that immediately come to mind: the comeback against Seton Hall in 2000, Marcus Griffin’s put-back to beat Wisconsin in the closing seconds in 2001, and the big win against North Carolina in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge in 2002.”