As They Leave For The Valley In The Shadow Of Horizon Boy’s Death: Farewell Flames!

Photo courtesy of UIC Athletics

Welp, The UIC Flames are unofficially but pretty officially leaving the Horizon League for the Missouri Valley Conference– and yours truly, Horizon Boy, is losing his local HLMBB watching hub. No, I’m not dying, but I feel like a fella from the 1800’s waving off his pals as their ship disappears into, ironically, the horizon.

The conference change is great news for the Flames’ program and I believe they have the tinder for success in the Valley. We’ve all seen what the Loyola Chicago Ramblers have done since their Horizon League departure in 2013. No, UIC doesn’t have a 102 year old nun on their side like their neighbors up north. However, they do have Sparky, a magical dragon mascot with potentially limitless power. Even if Sparky’s juju doesn’t lead to a Final Four appearance within the next 5 years, Flames fans should also look to Valparaiso’s Valley transition as a “Beacon” of hope. The Beacons have been nothing short of competitive in each of their MVC seasons since leaving the Horizon League in 2017.

Besides Sparky, the Flames have the staff, the talent, and the facilities to follow suit with Loyola and Valparaiso. Suit-donning Coach Yaklich is what I’d call a pro’s pro. You have to love a coach who still has the decorum to rock the full suit (it’s okay to dress down too, Coach Kampe), but still dances around with his team after victories. While results have varied, Coach Yaklich has proved his program to be an effective destination in the transfer portal. Talented transfers like Damaria Franklin, Kevin Johnson, and Zion Griffin are now the Flames’ top three scorers. I think the transfer trend will only improve once playing on the Valley stage. The Flames facilities are there too. Credit 1 is a big beautiful stadium in a big beautiful city. The program has been no stranger to empty seats, but like Loyola and DePaul, all it takes is a spark.

As I sat in Credit 1 Union Arena on Saturday night, watching UIC host Wright State, I couldn’t withhold my mixed thoughts of nostalgia. I couldn’t help but wonder what was running through Coach Yaklich and his squad’s minds. I thought about Tarkus Ferguson, Jordan Blount, Michael Diggins, Dikembe Dixson, and all the other bright Flames over the past decade. I thought about the UIC fans I’ve met on Twitter and grabbed a beer with at games. They all must be excited. New stage, new rivals– all the smoke signals point towards future Flames success.

UIC has been a warm home-base for Horizon Boy over the past 4 years. As a fan of none and a fan of all Horizon League teams, it was quite the pleasure to catch as many teams as possible on their annual trips to Chicago. Thanks and a premature farewell, UIC, as you disappear into the horizon. Horizon Boy wishes you nothing but the best.

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