Griffith recaps Illini  basketball season

Zach Griffith cheers on the team from the bench at an Illini road game at Ohio State. 

 

CHAMPAIGN – Former Fisher High School basketball star Zach Griffith said the injury he suffered while a member of the University of Illinois basketball team is healing. 

Griffith sustained a fractured tibia. 

“At the beginning of January, I had ankle pain. I got it looked at after a couple weeks,” Griffith said. “A fractured tibia puts you out six to eight weeks, and I am on week five, and I have no pain anymore.”

The bigger pain likely occurred when Griffith and the team found out they wouldn’t be playing in the Big Ten Tournament or the NCAA Tournament due to COVID-19. The Illini were likely bound for the NCAAs for the first time since 2013, 

Griffith said the mood within the team was filled with a lot of disappointment.

“We haven’t had any team meetings yet, but Coach Underwood talked about how proud he was and how bad he felt for the seniors,” Griffith said.

Griffith went from smalltown high school basketball to the Big Ten in just two years. 

Griffith, who graduated from Fisher in 2017, is a walk-on for the Illini basketball team. Although Griffith does not see much playing time, his job might be even harder than playing in games. 

In practice, while guarding guys like Kofi Cockburn and Giorgi Bezhanishvilli, Griffith has to try to replicate the games of other Big Ten big men like Luka Garza and Jalen Smith. Griffith said he loves his role with the team. 

“My only goal is to do whatever I can to help the team out,” Griffith said.  “I think I have done that really well so far.”

After being a team manager as a freshman, Griffith has been on the team the last two seasons. This year was obviously much more enjoyable than the first two. 

“Overall we had a great season. I was a part of the team my freshman and sophomore year we had a good locker room then, but this year was awesome,” Griffith said. “We struggled with some losses like against Miami, but it was part of the process and made us stronger.” 

Although the season ended on a low note, the final game the Illini played was one of the highest points of the season. The Illini took down the rival Iowa Hawkeyes and locked up what would have been a double bye in the Big Ten Tournament. 

“That was an awesome game with the rivalry and how the first game ended, but to have the season to end on a win like that, it gave us a lot of motivation,” Griffith said.

There are a lot of questions around the Illini going into next year. It does not sound like this year’s seniors will be allowed to play again next year, so that question is more than likely already answered. 

If that is the case Andres Feliz and Kipper Nichols would be the only two scholarship players graduating. Also the elephant in the room is whether Ayo Dosunmo will return. If Dosunmo returns, paired with highly touted recruits Adam Miller and Andre Curbelo coming in, the Illini should be a preseason top 15 team. Griffith knows his senior year could be the best one yet.

“I have high expectations; we have great recruits coming in, and we are

excited to get back after it, and this season will make us even more hungry,” Griffith said. 

Griffith is back home in Fisher waiting for his chance to get back to campus and continue his college career.

You can contact Ryan Birch at Rbirch@Rantoulpress.com or on twitter @RyanBirchRP