St. Louis hosted the NCAA Final Four Mens' Basketball Championships at the Jones Dome and as local luck would have it the University of Illinois was one of the four teams. Also in town were Michigan State, North Carolina, and Louisville. The excitement in this area was over the moon that weekend.
As the practice sessions were free and open to the public, I went over to see the Illini practice and absorb some of the atmosphere. That year Illinois celebrated its 100th year of men's basketball and had one of their most successful teams in school history, starting the season at 29-0 and holding the number one ranking for 15 straight weeks. Ohio State gave them their first loss of the season on the last game of the regular season before heading into conference tournament play, but still ended up Big Ten Conference Champions. They went on to win the conference tournament, regional finals and ended up at the Final Four.
They beat Louisville in the semi-finals and then lost a heartbreaker to North Carolina in the Championship game, 70-75.
Of local interest during that weekend, the team delayed their trip into downtown to spend a couple of hours bowling and they chose the Camelot Bowl in Collinsville where, as I recall, they thrilled the surprised local bowlers by signing nearly anything put in front of them.
That was a fantastic weekend for St. Louis and hard to believe its been ten years.
The country was still in a post 9-11 patriotic frame of mind as you can see by the entrance to the Jones Dome.
Coach Bruce Weber with the Illinois in 2005, now at Kansas State