Yes, Thanksgiving happens Thursday. That means it's time for turkey,
stuffing and -- my personal favorite -- pumpkin pie.
But, most of all, it's a time to be thankful and to celebrate all
that is good.
Like all of you, I, too, have things to be thankful for --
especially as a sports fan.
Just what am I thankful for in 2012, exactly?
Basketball has begun
While I recognize that football is America's game, and baseball
is its national pastime, my favorite sport has always been, and will
forever be, played on the hardwood.
Basketball is in full swing now, at every level where the game is
played, from the pros down to the ninth-graders.
As is my tradition, I don't much follow the NBA at the moment.
After the NCAA tournament is completed, I'll tune in.
Until then, my focus will be primarily in three places: the
Illini, the Lynx and at the local high school level.
Although they've yet to face a quality opponent, the Illini are
giving me positive vibes. Most recently, they completed an emotional
comeback victory over Hawaii with a buzzer-beater by D.J.
Richardson. New coach John Groce seems to have the Illini playing at
an up-tempo pace, a welcome change from Bruce Weber's offense when
it didn't have Deron Williams at point guard.
Speaking of up-tempo, there's a special group of basketball
players at Lincoln College this season. New coach Pat Lepper has the
Lynx playing at a furious pace, especially on defense, where they
pressure the ball with nonstop intensity. Lepper is using a deep
rotation to his advantage, with 10 players seeing significant
minutes. The roster is made up primarily of freshman, but there may
be enough talent on the roster to offset their lack of experience.
If nothing else, their combination of talent, intensity on defense
and unselfishness on offense makes the Lynx a fun group to watch.
By the way, the Lady Lynx are also under way and off to a fine
start, with locals Edraniel Tookes and Angie Ruff seeing regular
High school basketball also starts this week, and there's plenty
of it to be seen locally, with LCHS hosting its annual Eaton
Electrical Thanksgiving Round Robin Tournament all week at Roy S.
The Railers are fairly young this season, and with that comes a
bit of mystery. Still, they're not entirely inexperienced, with
junior Max Cook, sophomore Gavin Block and senior Will Podbelsek
returning with starting experience, as well as junior Ed Bowlby, who
also saw significant minutes last year. Likely to join them in the
playing rotation are juniors Joey Olden, Tyler Horchem and Austin
Krusz. It's possible that some sophomores could contribute by
season's end as well.
My prediction for the Railers: They will progress considerably
over the course of the season. The young group may struggle at the
season-opening tournament, which is loaded with talent. But, as this
young group matures, the skill is there to be a formidable
postseason team. I expect Cook and Block to carry most of the
offensive load, but the emergence of a third or fourth reliable
scoring threat could make the Railers especially dangerous.
Defensively, Lincoln can't let their youth be an excuse for a lack
of toughness. If everything comes together under Neil Alexander's
guidance, I expect the Railers to approach 20 wins and be a strong
contender for a regional title.
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As for other local teams, look for big seasons from the Illini
Central Cougars and the Mount Pulaski Lady Toppers. The Cougars
return several contributors to last season's run to the state
tournament in Peoria and should be among the best small-school teams
in the state. In Mount Pulaski, the Lady Toppers should contend for
a regional title behind a strong senior class, many of whom were
also members of the Class 1A runner-up volleyball team.
Football, fantasy or reality
When I'm not watching basketball, you're likely to find me poring
over my fantasy football rosters this fall.
Because, this time of year, fantasy football is the fabric of
many of my friendships. My best friends and I celebrated our
league's 10th year this season. Dating back to high school, the
fantasy football league has played a significant role in sustaining
our friendships. College took many of us to different ends of the
state, but the distance was no match for fantasy football's magnetic
Now, as we grow older, our priorities have changed. Marriages,
careers and other obligations tend to occupy our time. But, on many
Sundays, we still find time to enjoy the fellowship of fantasy
football. I've especially enjoyed the last five Sundays, mostly
because my team has won each game.
I can be thankful for football in a realistic sense as well.
Although I don't truly have a favorite team, I'm enjoying what looks
to be a fairly balanced NFL, without a true top contender for a
Super Bowl victory. Some would say Houston or Atlanta, but I'm not
buying into either quite yet. Houston has never faced postseason
pressure, and Atlanta has looked bad the last three weeks.
I think we'll see more traditional powerhouses rise in the coming
weeks. In the NFC, I expect the Packers and Giants will each enter
postseason play on hot streaks. In the AFC, I predict that Tom Brady
and Peyton Manning will once again meet for a trip to the Super
Family, friends and the feel of writing
But naturally, the things I am most thankful for are my friends
and family. Year in and year out, I am blessed to be surrounded by
their love and support.
I'm also thankful this year for the opportunity I've had to write
for you, the readers at Lincoln Daily News. After a couple of years
away, I have quite enjoyed my part-time foray back into sports
journalism. You can expect to see more from me in the coming months
Hopefully, they'll be the type of stories that you'll be thankful
[By JUSTIN TIERNEY]