Stephen Bardo needs no introduction to Big Ten fans. A key cog to Illinois’ 1989 Final Four team, dubbed the “Flyin’ Illini,” and a respected broadcaster since his retirement, Bardo is about to become even more synonymous with Big Ten hoops. That’s because the Illini product is BTN’s newest hire, and he’ll serve as one of our basketball analysts. Read our Q&A with the Illini product in this post.
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Q: First of all, congratulations and welcome to BTN. What was it about BTN that attracted you here?
A: I attended the (Big Ten Network) opening party at Japonais, because I knew even seven years ago that it would be important for the Big Ten Network to thrive. One, because it’s covering the conference I know and love and I played in. And two, the way college athletics has changed over the last decade, I knew that the Big Ten Network would be an important player in what was going on. For it to be based in Chicago, for it to be covering the best conference in the country, I knew that at some point, this was going to be a major player, and I’m ecstatic to be a part of the team.
Q: What are you most looking forward to at BTN?
A: The challenge is to see where the next area of growth is. I have an entrepreneurial spirit. The Big Ten Network, to me, represents that entrepreneurial spirit. I think with Maryland and Rutgers coming on board next year, there’s a tremendous amount of growth the network can take because they’re coming in from different regions, New Jersey and the D.C. area. So there’s going to be, not only just from a programming standpoint, a lot of growth in a lot of other areas. That’s an exciting quality that the Big Ten Network brings, and one not any other network can offer.
Q: Can you give us a little insight about what your job duties will be here?
A: I’ll split between studio responsibilities and game responsibilities. I also hope to really just be a face of the network, in terms of getting out there, being visible, meeting with corporate partners and representing the network the best I can. I bring a unique skill set, in that I played in the conference, I live in the area, I grew up watching it, and I was fortunate enough to be at ESPN, so I’ve had a national platform the last seven years.
Q: Speaking of playing in the conference, what was your best memory with the Illini?
A: It had to be the (1988-89) Final Four year. I dreamed of playing in the Final Four when I was a little boy. Growing up, I watched every Final Four, from the age of 6 to 18. To almost recall all of them – at least something about them – and to be able to play in it with the special team that we had, that Final Four run was definitely one that was burned into my memory. I can recite it all in a moment’s notice, if anyone’s ever interested (laugh).
Q: What made that team so memorable – other than the great athleticism?
A: We were a group of guys around the same height – between 6-5 and 6-7. But I think the thing that really made us stand out was – I’ve been on teams in the NBA, I’ve been overseas, and I’ve been on other Illinois teams – this team was more competitive than any team that I’ve ever been on. The practices that season were better than some of the games that we played. Some of the best plays and some of the most intense competition, no one saw it but the coaching staff. It was just an incredible competitive environment.
There’s also this unforgettable play, with Bardo on the inbound:
Q: What are your thoughts on John Groce?
A: I think John Groce was an unbelievable hire for the University of Illinois. I have to be honest, when they first hired him, I wasn’t crazy about the hire, because I thought Illinois could attract a bigger name. Upon watching him and watching his enthusiasm level, his ability to motivate and his ability to motivate a group of players who pretty much quit on Bruce Weber in the middle of the season the year before, this guy is the real deal. He’s one of the better coaches in the country, and Illinois is very fortunate to have him.
Q: I have to ask: What are your thoughts on Assembly Hall becoming State Farm Arena?
A: You know, it’s a sign of the times. I would have preferred to see it stay Assembly Hall, but in order to compete in today’s college athletics, it’s an arms race. That means you have to have up-to-date facilities, you have to keep up with your competitors or beat them in order to attract top student-athletes. It’s so important to keep up with the competition, and Illinois had lagged behind. So, I’m pleased State Farm came on and has partnered with Illinois.
Q: But it will always be Assembly Hall to you, right?
A: Oh, for sure. And I hope that when I’m covering a game or in studio, I don’t slip up. I may, but I’ll chalk it up to a Freudian slip. But it will always be Assembly Hall in my heart.
Q: You’ve covered the game nationally, so do you have any reason why the Big Ten hasn’t won a title since 2000?
A: Winning begets winning. The Big Ten now is starting to win, and they’re winning these ACC-Big Ten Challenges. So, now the perception around the country is that the Big Ten is the best conference in the country. Thus, they’ll attract better players; thus, at some point, they’ll break through to win another national championship. It’s the cyclical nature of college basketball.
Q: Favorite Big Ten campus (other than Illinois) as a player?
A: Oh, my goodness! Um, probably Indiana, because it’s an incredible campus.
Q: Favorite Big Ten campus (other than Illinois) as an analyst?
A: I would have to give a tie to Madison and Minneapolis. Madison, because it’s such a unique college town and the way people respond to basketball there. Minneapolis, because it’s a tremendous city; it’s a cosmopolitan city. It has a lot of flair to it.
Q: Best Big Ten player you played against?
A: I’d have to give the nod to (Michigan’s) Glen Rice.
Q: Best Big Ten player in 2013-14?
A: I would probably lean toward Gary Harris of Michigan State. Him coming back, he should be healthier, he’ll have another year under his belt of Tom Izzo’s system, he’s a tremendous competitor, and I think he’s got the total package.
Q: Let’s talk fashion. Give me a “yea” or “nay.” First up: Orange blazer?
A: Of course, yea! Tradition. It’s unique.
Q: OK, candy stripe pants?
A: Definitely, yea. You talk about one of the blueblood programs in the nation. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Q: How about the current wave of alternate uniforms?
A: Nah! They try to keep it fresh and try to attract the young players, but sometimes things go a little too far with those jerseys.
FILL IN THE BLANK
Q: _____________ is the 2013-14 Big Ten preseason favorite?
A: I have to go with Michigan State.
Q: The current collection of Big Ten coaches is ______________?
A: The best in the nation.
Q: If you could call a game in any arena in the history of the game, it would be at ______________?
A: The Palestra in Philadlphia
Q: When you hear “Flyin’ Illini,” you think ____________?
A: Tremendous memories.
Here are a couple tweets from Bardo’s colleagues congratulating him on his BTN gig:
|About Brent Yarina||BTN.com web editor Brent Yarina covers football and men’s basketball for BTN.com. He writes the popular uniform feature “Clothes Call,” which also focuses on the latest cosmetic changes across Big Ten arenas and stadiums. Read all of his work here. You can subscribe to Yarina’s RSS feed and follow him on Twitter @BTNBrentYarina.|