ST. LOUIS — Despite growing up in Independence, Mo., Jon Ekey was actually a Kansas fan.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
Both of Ekey’s parents are Kansas graduates, so he was born rooting for Missouri’s most fierce rival, the Jayhawks.
Of course, Ekey, a William Chrisman graduate who is now a senior forward for Illinois, also knew about the Braggin’ Rights game. This afternoon he will play against the Tigers in one of the nation’s best non-conference rivalries at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
“I’m excited for it,” Ekey said. “I’ve always heard, next to the MU-KU game, this was always the next biggest one I heard about from my Mizzou friends. I had a lot of friends who would come to this game and tell me about it growing up.”
Ekey played his first three seasons at Illinois State, but he transferred — and didn’t have to sit out a year as a graduate school enrollee — at Illinois last summer.
“Everything at Illinois State from the time I got there until now had changed,” Ekey said. “The president of the university was changing. We had a new athletic director, new coaching, new study hall people. Everything had changed. They’re all great people, but it wasn’t really what I was looking for anymore.”
So far, he’s enjoying his time with the Fighting Illini, 9-2, who are trying to snap a four-game losing skid against No. 23 Missouri, 10-0.
“I’m loving it,” Ekey said. “It’s a change. It’s a little bit bigger, but I’m enjoying the competition. The coaches have been great since I got here this summer, so I’m loving it so far.”
He would love a victory against the Tigers, of course, but that has little to do with his childhood allegiance to the Jayhawks.
“It’s there, but I had a brother (Mike) who went to Mizzou and a lot of my friends went to Mizzou,” Ekey said. “That (animosity) is still in there, but not as much as it was growing up.”
Ekey’s teammate, Rayvonte Rice, who leads Illinois in scoring at 17.7 points per game, is also a transfer.
Rice played two seasons at Drake under first-year Missouri assistant coach Mark Phelps before bolting for Illinois before last season.
“He’s a great guy,” Rice said of Phelps, “but it wasn’t the right fit for me at Drake, so I came to Illinois.”
Rice is a Champaign, Ill., native and shed 30 pounds in the last year, which helped jumpstart a breakout junior season.