Former Illini Stephen Bardo says hard work, toughness keys to success

By August 8, 2013Uncategorized

Aug 08, 2013
By Dave Reynolds
From : Journal Star

PEORIA — Stephen Bardo’s life has been quite a ride. And at 45, he’s not close to getting off.

The starting point guard at Illinois for four years — including the Final Four Flyin’ Illini team of 1989 — Bardo went on to a 10-year professional career with short NBA stints for three teams.

In between, he saw the world, playing for clubs in Spain, Italy, France and Japan as well as several stops in lower-level American leagues.

Bardo’s second career as a broadcaster is now in full bloom. He’s worked as a basketball color analyst for the Illini Sports Network, for CBS Sports and for ESPN all the while growing a career as a successful motivational speaker.

He just signed a contract with the Big Ten Network as an analyst and studio host.

Oh, and on the side, Bardo’s an author.

He’s putting the finishing touches on a 25th anniversary retrospective view of the Flyin’ Illini, which will be published in November. It can be found on Amazon and promoted on his website, It’ll be Bardo’s second book.

You would think he’s seen and heard it all.

He may have until Thursday afternoon at the Mitchell “J.J.” Anderson and Dana Davis All-Star Basketball Camp at the Peoria Civic Center.

During the question-and-answer session after his speech to the youngsters, a young female camper stumped him with a brilliantly insightful question.

“When you die, how do you want your sons to remember you?” she asked timidly, almost in a whisper.

Bardo was stunned.

“That’s one of the greatest questions I’ve ever been asked,” he said. “I haven’t thought about that. I’ve tried to raise my sons (21-year-old Stephen and 14-year-old London) so they respect me and love me, but know that I’m not their friend. I want them to be able to fend for themselves.”

A pretty solid answer off the cuff, given the magnitude of the query.

But that’s the way Bardo has always been.

“You could tell when Steve came in as a freshman (to Illinois), he was beyond his years,” said camp co-director Tony Wysinger, who was an Illini senior on that squad. “He’s always been a class act.”

That came through is Bardo’s other responses to the kids. He talked about the incredible work ethic of basketball greats like LeBron James and Michael Jordan (“That’s the secret to success, young people. I just gave it to you”).

He also gave them worldly advice to consider.

“We need more toughness from our young people,” he said. “It’s a different society now. Our generation of adults has let our kids down; they’re too soft. It’s a global fight for jobs. People from overseas are taking our jobs here.”

Later, he discussed the good ol’ days in Champaign when Kendall Gill, Kenny Battle, Marcus Liberty, Nick Anderson, Lowell Hamilton and Bardo led Illinois to a 31-5 season that ended with an 83-81 loss to Michigan on Final Four weekend.

Bardo, a native of Carbondale, was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year that glorious season.

“The competitive spirit of that team was as high as I’ve ever seen,” Bardo said. “We were all from the state of Illinois and there was a pride to try to represent the state. Illinois has had a love affair with that team all these years, and that’s why I wrote the book. I like writing books because it’s a challenge to me.”

Because if there’s a common theme to Stephen Bardo’s life, it’s that he never backs away from a challenge.