Illini senior Mike Tisdale's parents have been with him from AAU days to the NCAA tournament.
His parents already drove the wheels off one van during the basketball career of Illinois senior center Mike Tisdale.
Old Bertha, a white Dodge van, lasted through AAU basketball until last season, and the replacement helped carry the Tisdale family from small-town Riverton, Ill., through the Big Ten Conference and finally to the NCAA Tournament this weekend.
"It's been quite a ride,'' said Tisdale's mother, Robin. "I don't think anybody knew what to expect. I'll be excited to see what comes in the future, but my life will be completely different.''
There will be time for the grandchildren. But not yet. When No. 9 Illinois (19-13) plays No. 8 UNLV (24-8) at the BOK Center Friday (8:20 p.m. CDT, TBS), Tisdale's parents finally reach the NCAA bracket. They didn't attend Illinois' game in the NCAAs two years ago, when the Illini were shipped to Portland.
Experiencing things most folks in Riverton only see on TV, Tisdale's parents dodged snow storms and deer season, making the most of this season dubbed the Senior Tour, spanning from Manhattan to Seattle. The Tisdales missed only two games -- both dates aganst Penn State because of snow -- making it truly a family affair. Moments after the Illini popped up on Selection Sunday, "they're ready to go to Tulsa,'' Mike said.
The Tisdales pooled vacation time to watch their youngest son, who started every game but one in the last three years, ranks 26th in school history with 1,224 points and stands three shy of the school record of 174 blocks. He is averaging 10.1 points and 6.4 rebounds this season. The two-time academic all-Big Ten team member will graduate in May with a degree in communication.
The only Big Ten court his parents haven't seen is Penn State.
"I appreciate them doing all that for me,'' Mike said. "Any time you get to share stuff with family, especially things we weren't used to doing, it makes it special.''
There might not be more than a glance and a nod, but Tisdale found his parents in the crowd.
"He'd look at me and roll his eyes,'' said Tisdale's father, Mike Sr.
It didn't start this season. The basketball journey began before Mike started his sophomore season at Riverton, when he played for the AAU St. Louis Eagles. You would often find them on long-distance trips during his first three seasons with the Illini, such as Las Vegas for Thanksgiving. Only weather kept Robin from attending every game this season.
It's easy to find Tisdale's parents. A coal miner, Mike Sr. is the guy with broad shoulders wearing the big smile and an Illini hat.
"Everytime I give him one, he wears it,'' Mike said. "He's always wearing it, wherever he goes.''
Mike Sr. works at International Coal Group in Williamsville, Ill., where he's a weekend supervisor who needed to schedule days off sometimes a year in advance. The toughest challenge came when TV networks decided gametimes only two weeks in advance.
"Those to-be-announced game (times) are hard to make,'' Mike Sr. said. "It's hard to figure out what day it's going to be on. It's not too hard to get days off (in February). Nobody wants to be off in bad weather. If it's decent weather or a holiday, it's next to impossible. November is extremely hard. Everybody is off deer hunting.''
The administrative assistant to the depurty director at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Ill., Robin is the one covering her eyes when the game gets tight, hiding behind her husband, squirming in her seat or making a bathroom run early in the second half, even if only out of superstition, she said.
"It will be tough on her not to have the games,'' Mike said. "It will be good to not have her blood pressure up.''
Stephen, the oldest son who works in the same mine with his father, will stay home this weekend while he awaits the birth of his second child with his wife, Leslie. Ron, the middle child, is a former Illinois basketball manager who graduated last season and teaches at Riverton Junior High School. He will attend the game vs. UNLV.
Like Robin said, life will change, but even if Tisdale plays overseas next season, his parents will likely come see him play. They already applied for passports, even though the first priority is celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary this year with a getaway for some fun, maybe some deep sea fishing.
"Somewhere away from a basketball court,'' said Robin.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.
The highlights for Mike Tisdale
-- This season, Tisdale ranks eighth in Big Ten in shooting (51.7 percent) and third in blocks (52).
-- By playing against UNLV, Tisdale and Demetri McCamey would set a school record with 138 games played.
-- Member of U.S. Select team that practiced vs. national team last summer.
-- Two-time honorable mention all-Big Ten.
-- Named South Padre Invitational MVP as a sophomore.