Domask family: 'We're part of this Illini nation now'

Mar. 9—Sign up for our daily Illini basketball newsletter here

To submit a letter to the editor, click here.

Want to purchase today's print edition? Here's a map of single-copy locations.

CHAMPAIGN — Patti and Dan Domask's perfect attendance with Illinois men's basketball started with 10 days in Spain.

Dan is quick to point out the first-year Illini parents have actually attended three more games than their son has played.

Marcus Domask was held out of Illinois' games in Spain while dealing with a hamstring injury. His parents still enjoyed the trip, with Patti calling it a "crash induction" in the Illini.

The Domasks' percent attendance has continued through the season.

They've been regulars at State Farm Center and on the road — from nonconference games in New York City, Knoxville, Tenn., and St. Louis and Big Ten road trips running the gamut from Ann Arbor, Mich., to College Park, Md., to a "homecoming" in Madison, Wis.

Patti and Dan have been there every step of the way as Marcus has become an integral part of the success Illinois has found this season. And they'll be in Iowa City, Iowa, on Sunday as the 12th-ranked Illini (22-8, 13-6 Big Ten) wrap up the regular season against Iowa (18-12, 10-9).

Perfect attendance for the Domasks also included a trip to Champaign before heading to Iowa to see their son celebrated again Friday afternoon at the Illini Rebounders senior luncheon.

Afterward, Patti pulled double duty as proud mom and photographer as Illinois fan after Illinois fan wanted a picture with her son.

"It's definitely heartwarming to see how quickly they embraced him and, I guess, love him as much as the love he got at SIU and back in high school," Patti said. "They've certainly welcomed us and Marcus, and I feel like we're part of this Illini nation now."

The trip to Spain is where it started. It wasn't just the coaches, staff, players and their families. There were athletic administrators, alumni and donors, too.

"We got to know all the coaches and their families — the kids and spouses," Dan said. "You're not a stranger when you come to the arena. We met so many alumni and donors on that trip. We've got a chat group from Spain that we've got going. We never stopped it. We meet up before and after games. That whole experience makes it an enjoyable trip every time."

The Domasks ran into some of those same people Friday at I Hotel and Illinois Conference Center during the Rebounders event and interacted with a conference room full of Illinois fans before and after the seven Illini that were celebrated Tuesday during Senior Night festivities at State Farm Center got another round before heading to Iowa City this weekend.

Just as many fans wanted a quick word with the Domasks as did a photo with their son. That kind of support was the Domasks' hope when Marcus entered the transfer portal after four successful seasons at Southern Illinois. But it wasn't a given. Making that move was a leap into the unknown with only hope that the landing is smooth.

But it was a leap Marcus was willing to make. One his parents fully supported.

"Part of the reason he left SIU was to force himself out of the comfort zone of SIU," Dan said. "He could have went there another year and just go back to the same locker, the same apartment (and) the same routines in that space he was in."

Illinois provided the challenge — and the opportunity — Marcus was seeking. A basketball career post-college is the goal. Adding an All-Big Ten caliber season with the Illini to four impressive ones at SIU will only help.

"He wanted to level up and see what he could do," Dan said. "I think he's done a pretty good job. ... We've gotten to enjoy watching him play and watching him grow in his role here. To be honest, when you're piecing together a roster like happened this year here with bringing in so many pieces, it's hard to predict who's going to play how many minutes and even what position players are going to be at.

"Watching Marcus inch his way up the totem pole in terms of priority was enjoyable to see. I know Marcus. I know how he operates, his approach, and he's going to find a way in every situation to make an impact. For me, it was how is he going to find a way on this roster this year? He's been able to carve out an important role."

The Domasks have at least three more road trips to make with the regular-season finale at Iowa, the Big Ten tournament in Minneapolis and wherever Illinois lands in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Spokane? Brooklyn? Somewhere in between?

Watching Marcus put up 31 points at the Kohl Center in Illinois' 91-83 win last weekend at Wisconsin — with hundreds of family and friends in attendance — stands out among the trips they've already made. So did watching Illinois beat Florida Atlantic 98-89 at Madison Square Garden, with Marcus scoring a season-high 33 points and their other son, Mason, lighting up an FAU fan in a free-throw contest during a timeout.

"That was an amazing, fun environment," Patti said. "That was a fun trip for us. We are used to basketball events being family road trips. That wasn't anything new for us, but that was a fun one."