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Ahhhh, Karma. Sometimes you get unexpected gifts from life. One of my hopefully comes on Thursday when Illinois faces Bruce "Lucifer" Pearl and Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

The old feud between the 2 goes back a ways. You Fools will no doubt hear of it this week, but here's the story:

Bruce Pearl was an assistant coach for Tom Davis at Iowa in 1990. Iowa at that time had a decent team, but were one notch below the Indianas, Illinois, and Michigans of the Big Ten. The Ten was at its height in power. The previous season saw Illinois and Michigan make the final 4 and UM winning the championship. And neither of those teams won the conference (Indiana did).

Iowa and Illinois were hot on the trail of Chicago's prize recruit, Deon Thomas. Bruce Pearl was Iowa's lead recruiter matched up against Jimmy Collins at the U of I. Based partially on the success of the Flyin' Illini, Deon signed with Illinois.

Pearl was incensed. He called Deon several times a day for weeks, at all hours of the day and night. The subject of his calls was that Illinois had to have paid Thomas to sign, specifically $80,000 and a Chevy Blazer. After a bunch of calls, Thomas said, "Yeah, sure, whatever" to the question of whether or not Illinois (and Collins) had offered him anything.

What Deon didn't know was that Bruce Pearl was secretly recording the conversation. Pearl turned the tapes over to the NCAA, minus (allegedly) several seconds of footage where he tried to match the "offer". The NCAA then launched a big investigation into Illinois' hoops program.

Recruits started heading elsewhere. Juwon Howard joined the Fab 5 at michigan. Laphonso Ellis bailed to Notre Dame and Digger Phelps. Cuonzo Martin fled to Purdue. Nick Anderson and Kenny Battle left a year early for the NBA (Anderson for family financial reasons - think about that. If they were paying players why didn't he get anything?) And Thomas? The NCAA couldn't find this supposed Blazer or the cash. Still, they did find that Jimmy Collins gave a player $10 fir some pizza and that another coach had given a player a pair of "athletic socks" (!).

For these huge violations, Illinois was given penalties that stopped just short of the death penalty in hoops. No recruiting off campus for a couple of years. Loss of scholarships. No postseason play. The momentum from the final four team was shot. Lou Henson would eventually retire. His supposed successor, Collins, was radioactive. He ended up at Illinois (Chicago) coaching in the same league as Pearl, oddly enough.

The fallout from the Pearl/Thomas fiasco cost Illini hoops about 10 years. It wasn't until Lon Kruger started finally getting some talent into Champaign that the run of mediocrity stopped. Bill Self advanced the program a little further and recreuited the kids today that hopefully Bruce Weber will take to the Final Four.

So I'm hoping that the fans in Chicago give Bruce Pearl all the love he so richly deserves and that the Illini hang 200 points on his team (sorry, UW-M players, but it must be so).

Some background (long article):
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