Interview: 1989 Flyin’ Illini Stephen Bardo

Joining me today is former Illini basketball great, Stephen Bardo.

PH: Who was better, the ’89 Flying Illini or the ’05 Fighting Illini? Why?

SB: 89′ was the best because the ONLY advantage they had over us at any position was Deron Williams against me. Other than that I would take Kendall (#5 pick), Nick (lottery pick), Kenny Battle (1st rd), and Lowell Hamilton any day. We played against much tougher competition, 17 first and second round NBA drafts picks in my junior and senior years alone in the Big Ten!

PH: Lou Henson, better coach or better person?

SB: Great coach but a better person now that I don’t play for him. He was tough as most good coaches are but he has a funny side that most people don’t see.

PH: was your favorite memory of the 1989 Season?

SB:  I can’t say just one. Georgia Tech SuperBowl Sunday we won in OT. Putting 129 points on LSU at their place. Elite Eight win against a loaded Syracuse team and of course playing in the Final Four.

PH: In 1989 you guys beat Michigan twice in the regular season, what was different about the Final 4 game against the Wolverines?

SB:  They had a new coach that got all of them to understand to get Glen Rice the ball first on offense. Michigan had 7 NBA players on that team and Steve Fisher got them all to understand Glen would take them to the promise land. They also double-teamed Nick Anderson, which we hadn’t seen all year. Nice adjustments by them.

PH: When did you and your teammates think, Wow, we have an amazing team here?

SB: The year before when we lost to Villanova in the 2nd round after leading them by 10 with 1:30 left in the game.

PH: I met you in 2005 at the 100th year anniversary celebration, how special was that night for you?

SB:  It’s always great to be a part of something that special, with that much history. The older I get the bigger the stories become. When you have Jerry Colangelo, Manny Jackson, Ken Norman, Doug Altenberger, Bruce Douglas, Deron Williams, Dee Brown, Luther Head, Kiwane Garris, etc back together it’s definitely something special.

PH: What made the ’89 Illini such a hard team to beat?

SB:  We were the best conditioned team in the nation that year. No one could outlast our pressure defense and uptempo offense. We were all in the 6’5-6’7 range and we switched a lot on defense which made it difficult for teams to run their offense against us. We had tremendous competitors on that team that hated to lose.

PH: You are now an analyst for ESPN, does that give you a different perspective of the game of basketball?

SB:  I think I’ve got the best job in the country, serious. I get to watch and comment on games. My experience at the college, CBA, NBA, and overseas levels gives me a unique experience that no one other than LaPhonso Ellis brings to the table among color analysts at ESPN. I find myself fighting sounding too old or purists during the broadcast but I can’t help myself at times with what I see. I’ve always called it like I see it whether it makes people upset or not. My job is to give my opinion, not make people feel good.

PH: Which person at ESPN do you most enjoy working with?

SB:  Hands down its my main man Terry Gannon! He’s been like a big brother for me in the business and in life. One of the smartest and most sincere people you will ever meet. And the most under-rated play-by-play announcer in the business.

PH: Does Dick Vitale yell when he is not on camera?

SB: Dick Vitale figured out a long time ago that he is very fortunate to have the type of success that he enjoys. He’s a very passionate man and might be the most influential person to bring college basketball to the heights that it is today. No other announcer has had the effect of elevating the status and exposure of college basketball like Dick Vitale has. More so than Billy Packer in my opinion!

PH: What are your expectations for this years Illini basketball team?

SB:  I expect the Illini to contend for a Big Ten title. There’s no reason they shouldn’t with Demetri, Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale, DJ Richardson, Brandon Paul, Tyler Griffey, Joseph Bertrand coming back from injury, and Jeremy Richmond and Myers Leonard joining the group! If the freshmen can mature into vital roles and Mike Davis and Tisdale can be more physical they could contend with the likes of Purdue, Michigan State, and Ohio State.

PH: Which player should be looking forward to seeing?

SB:  Jeremy Richmond could be a star for the Illini this season! He has more upside than any player Illinois has had in the last decade!

1990 Stephen Bardo against Purdue

This was Brian Randle jumping over Bardo at the University of Illinois, Midnight Madness.

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