CHAMPAIGN — It’s rare to find healthy seniors sitting on the end of the bench. But that’s right where Illini guard Mike LaTulip has been all year. In his case, it’s by design.
“It’s a different perspective when you’re sitting out,” LaTulip said. “It’s almost like guys that retire and look back and you see ‘oh maybe I could have done this in game’ and stuff and I kind of have that perspective now and I still have another year.”
Before the season started, LaTulip decided to use redshirt so he could transfer to another school for his fifth year of eligibility. But he almost changed his mind before the first game.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t at least think about it,” the Arlington Heights native said. “I was talking to my mom and she was like, ‘You know, maybe you should play’ and I’m telling you, I was so close.”
With injuries to several guards early in the season, LaTulip would have likely seen more playing time than in years’ past.
“Would it have been worth it for like three weeks? Yeah but thinking long term and what was best for my particular situation, it was best just to stay redshirting.”
LaTulip took the court at the State Farm Center for the last time Sunday night, not with the jersey on his back but framed for Senior night. Looking back at his time at the U of I, he says the early days stand out the most.
“Nothing can replace the NCAA tournament,” he said of Illinois’ 2013 appearance. “I was the only freshman so kind of a deer in the headlights, just kind of looking at everything going on.
“I look back and I was spoiled my freshman year, man, oh my gosh. We won the Maui, won at Gonzaga, like four buzzer beaters, beat the No. 1 team at home on a buzzer beater, then you make the NCAA tournament, you win in the NCAA tournament, we’re super close to going to a Sweet 16. Just an unbelievable year, unbelievable guys.”