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Hook, Line and Sinker

By Tony Hooker
Potpourri this week
* altruistic concern for human welfare and advancement, usually manifested by donations of money, property, or work to needy persons, by endowment of institutions of learning and hospitals, and by generosity to other socially useful purposes.

Yesterday saw the end of my annual fundraiser for the Mills Breast Cancer center, and all I can say is that I continue to be amazed by the capacity of the residents of my little river city to give to others. 

In the middle of the worst weather day of the season, we were able to raise nearly $600 while eating some great chili and soup and having a whole lot of fun. 

Today, more than ever before, there is an expectation of fundraising that comes with nearly all our children’s extracurricular activities, and for folks to take time to support my cause is truly moving.

Speaking of philanthropists… 
Villa Grove lost a good one as Ralph Westray, longtime proprietor of JR’s passed away this week. I didn’t know Ralph as well as I know his son Bub and daughter in law Karla, but I’ve never heard of him refusing a request for assistance from any person or group in need, a tradition which his children have lovingly continued. Ralph loved sports, a lively debate and a nice strong drink, but he loved his family more than anything, and he will be deeply missed by all of them and the myriad friends he made during his time at JRs, where he and his loving wife Judie started the tradition of serving great food and cold drinks with a heaping side helping of fantastic conversation that continues today. 

Speaking of sports and conversations, I am sure that Ralph enjoyed watching Kofi…
Ralph loved his Dodgers, but he was also a fan of the Illini, and I’m sure he would agree that there has never been and probably never will be another player like Kofi to suit up for Illinois. His improvement from freshman year to this, his junior season, should serve as the best recruiting weapon in the coaches’ arsenal. He’s always been a force of nature at 7’-0” and nearly 300 pounds, but he’s put in the work to improve his conditioning and ball skills tremendously. Where once he was a black hole of sorts and the basketball never came back out once he got it down low, he’s now become adept at finding open shooters on the perimeter. He’s also worked hard to shore up the main weakness in his game, raising his free throw percentage from 55 percent as a sophomore to nearly 70 percent this season. His presence forces double teams which the Illini have exploited by making nine three pointers a game since Big Ten play has begun. He’s made a similar impact on the defensive end as well, serving as a foreboding presence down low that allows Trent Frazier and the other guards and forwards to gamble and pressure opposing players into taking less than optimal shots. It’s been said that he’s a ‘unicorn’, unique in the college basketball world, and it might be true. All I know is that I’ve been watching Illinois basketball since 1974, and we’ve never had a presence like him. The fact that he seems to be a fun loving, good dude just makes it even more special, so we should enjoy watching him while we can.

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