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Illinois State's Cirone does it all - and asks for more
By Patricia Babcock McGraw | Daily Herald Columnist

Kristi Cirone

 

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Published: 3/13/2009 4:45 PM

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Now may not be the time to be spending money on room additions, but, the Cirone family of Chicago probably could use some extra space.

I'm thinking a trophy room isn't a far-fetched idea.

After all, Kristi Cirone has collected lots of hardware, and might just be the most decorated women's college basketball player to ever play for an Illinois university.

Never heard of Cirone?

Well, she's not Big Ten or Big East, but she is big time. She was a four-year starter at Resurrection, and since 2005 she has been a diamond-in-the-rough point guard at Illinois State, which won its first outright conference championship in 20 years this winter under her direction. The Redbirds finished with a 24-6 record and earned the No. 1 seed in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.

Illinois State, however, was stunned by No. 9 seed Evansville (73-60) in its tourney opener Friday, so her illustrious career could be over. The Redbirds need an at-large berth to get into the NCAA Tournament, which isn't likely. And a spot in the WNIT is possible, but not guaranteed.

It's too bad, because Cirone has had the kind of career that should fade to black on the biggest of stages.

Should I list all of the awards she's won in her career? How about just the ones she's been nominated for this season?

Let's see, how much more room do I have? I'm not joking. The list goes on and on.

"I've just been trying to help build a program," said Cirone, who will leave Illinois State as the school's all-time leader in points (2,060) and assists (663). "All the awards and everything that has come along the way have been a blessing. I'm honored by them. But it's really been all about getting things done for the team."

Love the humbleness. Is there an award for that, too?

If so, Cirone can add it to her collection, which includes being named the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year for the last three consecutive years.

The only other player in the conference to have achieved that feat is former Missouri State star Jackie Stiles, and the Player of the Year award is now named after her.

Cirone, who led the MVC in scoring (18.7 ppg) while dishing out 6.1 assists per game, was first-team all-conference for the fourth straight year. She's on the MVC's all-defensive team, its all-scholar-athlete team and she was named player of the week five times this season, more than anyone in a single season in conference history.

She also won the MVC Good Neighbor Award as a model student-athlete because she boasts a 3.5 grade point average and volunteers for various community service programs throughout the Bloomington-Normal area.

On top of that, Cirone is a candidate for the Wade Trophy and Wooden Award, which are given to the top female player in college basketball. Ditto for the Nancy Lieberman Award, given to the best point guard in women's basketball.

So what's her secret?

"I grew up in the gym. My parents are both coaches," said Cirone, whose father Frank is an assistant coach at Northside Prep and whose mother Eileen is a grade school coach. "It's just a work ethic from that, from being in the gym. I don't know how much time I spend on my game each day or every week, but it's an awful lot of hours."

Hey, I get it now. Maybe Cirone is being rewarded with an award for each one of those hours. Seems like it anyway.

pbabcock@dailyherald.com