After skimming the men’s basketball team’s roster, there is a statistic sports fans cannot help but notice. It has nothing to do with points, rebounds or assists. The thing that stands out most is the Illinois abbreviation that follows nearly half the names on the Rattler roster.
“When I came to FAMU, I noticed how many students came here that are from Chicago,” head coach Mike Gillespie said of his initial thoughts when he took the head coaching job at FAMU six seasons ago.
Being a product of the Land of Lincoln himself, Gillespie saw the opportunity to tap into the talent pool of the Chicagoland area.
“Being that Chicago is such a hotbed of basketball, we said, ‘Heck, if we can attract students to come here, why can’t we get student athletes to come here,'” Gillespie said.
Gillespie, a native of Joliet, Ill., and an alumnus of the DePaul University basketball team, used his connections to the area to begin the recruitment process. With the help of assistant coach Chrys Cornelius, also a Joliet product, the two set about building the Illinois talent lineup.
“My decision to come here came after coach Cornelius recruited me,” Glover said. “He was telling me about the ins and outs of the program. Once he said we would be able to play freely, he basically got it done for me.”
Glover said once he reached “The Hill,” the warm welcome he received was a pleasant surprise.
“It was very comfortable for me,” Glover said of his first experience on campus after transferring from Olney Central Community College. “I didn’t even know half the people that were saying hi to me. But they knew me from my reputation back at the city. So it made things a lot easier for me.”
Within two seasons, Glover was joined by sophomore guard Joe Ballard, sophomore forward Quinton Strothers, freshman forward John Williams, junior guard L.C. Robinson and senior center Rome Sanders as the Illinois bred Rattlers.
With the abnormal amount of players from Illinois littering the team’s roster, it hasn’t been uncommon to see them playing alongside each other on a regular basis.
This season Glover, Robinson and Sanders have started the majority of the team’s games, and each has played a big role in coach Gillespie’s game plan.
Sanders has established himself as the team’s main low-post threat and leads the team in scoring with 15.4 points a game. Glover is fourth on the team in scoring with 10.5 points a game.
In his first season with the Rattlers, Robinson, who transferred from Rockford Community College in Rockford, Ill., is third on the team in scoring with 12.2 points a game. Robinson has carved a niche for himself as one of the team’s best threats from long range.
Glover, who won a state championship in 2003 in the famous Chicago Public League, said the level of competition the Windy City players face has a lot to do with the contributions they are able to bring to the game.
“We have a lot of confidence,” Glover said of the Chicago mentality.
“It gave us a edge to have been in such a competitive place,” Glover said. “I see it in me and Joe and Rome, Quinton, all of us. We come from a tough environment, and we are able to take criticism from the coach. We are just able to hold our own.”
Strothers, a 6-foot-8-inch forward from Chicago, said playing alongside teammates from the same state has made being a Rattler a better experience.
“That common bond makes the game more fun,” Strothers said. “In practice the rivalries are still there.”
Gillespie said the Illinois pedigree has been one of the most appealing aspects of recruiting in the state, especially in the Chicago area.
“They are winners,” Gillespie said. “They all come from winning programs. That makes a difference in college when you have been well coached.”
While away from their Windy City roots, players make Tallahasse feel just like home.
“Tallahassee is like a second Chicago for me,” Glover said. “It’s nothing to see somebody from the crib here. There are a lot of Illinois tags here.”
Although they do not get to travel home as much as they would like, Strothers and his teammates make sure to bring a little of the Chicago swagger to Florida’s capitol.
“You try and bring that Chicago mentality with you,” Strothers said. “You see it every day in practice. That never-give-up, never-say-die attitude is there. Just go hard like you do back at home.”
Gillespie said he has no plans to get his hand out of the Illinois basketball cookie jar.
“I am still recruiting out of Chicago,” Gillespie said. “We have had a great deal of success. As long as we keep getting good student athletes we are going to keep going back to where we have had the most success.”