Thrilled to land one Division I exhibition opponent for his Division III Illinois Wesleyan basketball team, Ron Rose wasn’t about to pass on another.
That led to an unusual and busy start to the Titans’ season. IWU will face Illinois-Chicago on Thursday in a 7 p.m. game in Chicago before meeting the University of Illinois on Friday in another 7 p.m. contest in Champaign.
“We contracted initially with UIC,” Rose said. “A couple weeks later, Illinois called. That’s certainly not an opportunity you’re going to turn down.”
Rose added playing back-to-back nights “isn’t the ideal scenario. But we’re not necessarily in position to negotiate the playing date.”
The Titans, who open the regular season with a Nov. 11 home game against the University of Chicago, aren’t complaining about workload.
“These are two really important games to get us under our feet and let us know the season is here, it’s time to go,” said junior forward Miles Curry.
Curry will join returning starters Brady Rose, Colin Bonnett, Jason Gregoire and Alex O’Neill in the starting lineup Thursday at the UIC Pavilion.
“I’m loving it being in my hometown and seeing all my friends and family,” said Curry, a product of Chicago Kenwood Academy. “I will definitely have some fans there.”
The Flames return three starters from a 20-16 team.
IWU played at what was then the Assembly Hall in Champaign in 2005. The Titans trailed the Fighting Illini by one point with 13:23 remaining and lost, 82-60.
One of Illinois’ standouts on that team was guard Dee Brown, who is now an assistant coach at UIC.
For IWU sophomore and Champaign Central High School graduate Doug Wallen, taking the State Farm Center floor will be “something I always wanted to do growing up. Now I get the opportunity with some of my best friends and teammates.
“I’ve got a lot of family and friends coming. It should be a good showcase and overall a good time to do that in my hometown.”
Ron Rose has attacked his preseason preparation with additional ferocity knowing he would face two Division I opponents less than three weeks after the initial practice.
“There has been an urgency to get organized as a group,” said the IWU coach. “We have more schemes in now than we typically would at some point in mid December. What made that possible was the number of returning guys we have. We’ve been able to go faster and put more in.”
Rose expects to use 10 to 12 players not only to survive playing on consecutive days but to get a look at several players under the scrutiny of a Division I arena.
Wallen, Grant Wolfe, Danny Baker and Charlie Bair will be the first Titans off the bench with another wave of three or four players likely to see action as well, according to Rose.
“This gave us a lot of energy and motivation going into the preseason,” Wallen said. “It’s all about momentum and energy and coming in confident. I think that’s what we’re ready to do.”