Illinois State Redbirds play in memory of late coach

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The Illinois State Redbirds are good this year, and it may have to do with how the team rallied together after losing an assistant coach in a plane crash. (WLS)

Illinois State guard Paris Lee has played every conference game in the same pair of Jordans and the Redbirds are off to their best start in nearly 20 years.

"They were just sitting around and I'm like, 'Let me try these out' and ever since I tried them out they've been feeling real good," Lee said.

They belonged to associate head coach Torrey Ward, one of seven Illinois State University passengers killed in a 2015 plane crash.

"That was so unexpected, sad, for the whole community," said Deontae Hawkins, ISU forward.

"That's the last group that Torrey coached, so a lot of his spirit lives through them," said coach Dan Muller.

Muller was part of the last Redbirds team to make the NCAA tournament back in 1998, but this team has a legit chance, led by a senior class bonded through tragedy and motivated by Coach Ward's memory.

"Even if you were having the worst day he'd make you smile, make you laugh, say something to inspire you to go out and do better," Lee said.

"I've talked some. They think I'm old so they don't think I know what I'm talking about, but that's normal. I rarely, rarely ever talk about my playing days or my experiences, but I'll talk to them here and there about what it takes, about how fun it can be. You gotta know you're good. You guys have worked hard enough of eel that right now. We're really good. I watch us. I know," Muller said.
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