"We all declare for Liberty," said Abraham Lincoln in his 1864 address at the Sanitary Fair in Baltimore, "but in using the same word we do not mean the same thing." One hundred and twenty-four years later, another statesman from Illinois, Illini coach Lou Henson, is trying to figure out how to define his Liberty—6'8" forward Marcus Liberty, that is. "We'll bring him along slowly and not worry about his numbers," Henson says. "He's a nice young man who's eager to learn." Liberty, who sat out last year because of Bylaw 5-1-(j), was the top recruit in the country in 1987.
"Liberty will either make Illinois unbeatable or he'll absolutely ruin that team," says one rival coach, referring to Liberty's history of inconsistent play. "It'll be one way or the other. There won't be any in between."
It's possible all of Henson's five starters will be between 6'6" and 6'8". Steve Bardo, at 6'6", will direct an offense featuring four forwards. "We'll try to run motion, keep moving everybody and not have one or two guys post up all the time," says Henson. "We'll have all of them play all positions. We'll have our guards post up, and our 6'7" and 6'8" guys on the perimeter." The Illini have a pair of 6'6" forwards with vastly different skills in Nick Anderson, a stunning shooter, and Kenny Battle, a ferocious inside force. It took the twosome half the 1987-88 season to mesh, but when they did, Illinois took off.
Illinois's lineup will create matchup troubles for the Illini as well as for their opposition. "We could have two problems: guarding the big guy and rebounding with him," says Henson, who will rely on 6'7" senior Lowell Hamilton in the middle. Henson has experience working well with a small team: At New Mexico State in 1966-67, he went to the NCAAs with only one player over 6'6". And he can teach defense: Illinois has led the conference in that category in four of the last five seasons. And if all else fails, Henson can hearken back to Lincoln, who wrote in an 1864 letter, "I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me."