Saturday, October 13, 2012
Bulls players enjoy being back on campus
By Nick Friedell
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The tweets started coming at Taj Gibson quickly. As soon as the Bulls' plane landed near the University of Illinois campus, the Chicago Bulls' forward was fielding requests to play video games at fraternity houses. Some wanted help with their homework. Others just wanted to be in the general vicinity of an NBA player. For Gibson, who is in just his fourth season from USC Trojans, it was a fun experience. He knows that he isn't that far removed from his college days, and like his teammates, he enjoyed being back on campus and going back in time.
"It feels surreal," Gibson said. "You look at the campus ... you're just thinking back to how when you were young, being on a college campus, no worries, just having fun, partying, meeting new people. That's the way I felt, I was meeting new people every five minutes so it was great."
Gibson hopped in a cab with some of his teammates, but ultimately decided to walk around and get a feel for part of the campus. That's when things got interesting.
"It was crazy because all I did was just try to be normal and it just became a crazy epidemic," he said. "Everybody was coming of the woodwork, (coming from their) jobs, it was just crazy."
So crazy that Gibson couldn't even walk into some stores around town. On the hunt for a video-game system, Gibson was repeatedly stopped for pictures and autographs. The happy-go-lucky big man took it all in stride.
"It was weird because I couldn't go to stores," Gibson said. "I couldn't go to certain places. They would just follow me everywhere. I couldn't even eat food, but everybody was nice. Everybody is really friendly ... people were talking about, 'I can drive you around,' but I didn't want to be a missing person."
Gibson wasn't the only player walking around town. Pictures of Bulls players popped up all over Twitter as fans tried to get a piece of their favorite players. Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich walked into a local establishment called Legend's looking for food, but they had to leave a little while later because they were being mobbed by fans.
"It was a little weird. I'm getting old to be on college campuses," Hinrich joked. "It was just a bad decision. We just were trying to find a place to eat and we went to the wrong part of town I guess. But it was cool. It was just a little much."
Noah felt the same way. He wanted to get out and mingle with the locals, but the attention he drew was overwhelming.
"I'm a little old to be going to college bars, you know what I mean?" he said after the game with a smile. "I promise I thought it was a restaurant."
It was still an experience that players seemed to enjoy. Like Gibson, it made them think about days gone by.
"It just kind of brings back memories," Hinrich said. "I really enjoyed my time at college. It's just a special thing; it's a small college town everybody kind of rallies around the university and it's always a lot of fun."
The memories really flooded back for Gibson when the Bulls got their hotel. Instead of the five-star accommodations they were used to, the team stayed at a Courtyard by Marriott. Gibson didn't seem to mind at all, noting how friendly the staff was.
"It brings you back to Earth because you're back to just going to college days where you've got to share a room with people," he said. "We didn't have to share rooms here, but they way the rooms were lined up, it was crazy."