Illinois basketball has the twelfth-best winning percentage all-time and the fourteenth-most wins of any NCAA program. And yet, it isn't often that Illini fans have alums who made it to the NBA to boast about. One of the few former Illini who is currently in the Association, however, is Deron Williams. Williams was the starting point guard for the Fighting Illini during the team's magical championship game run in 2005, but even a year earlier during his sophomore year he was averaging 14 points and 6 assists per game. He was named a First-Team All-Big Ten selection by both the coaches and media after his junior year, and he will best be remembered for his game-tying shot against Arizona with just 38 seconds left in regulation to help seal the Illinois comeback victory.
Williams announced that he would be bypassing his senior year to go to the NBA (a move that surprised very few) and was drafted third overall by the Utah Jazz in the 2005 NBA draft. He played in Utah for six seasons and averaged 19 points per game during that time span. The former Illini was then traded from the west to the east coast and the Nets in early 2011. There he would become the team's "big name" as they made their transition from New Jersey to Brooklyn. He appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and continued to improve his strong offensive skills, averaging 22 points per game in 2012.
After several futile seasons of not making the playoffs in Brooklyn, Williams became an unrestricted free agent after 2014 and agreed to a deal with the Dallas Mavericks this past offseason. He notched a season-high 30 points in an overtime victory over Portland back in December, but then missed nearly half a month with a left hamstring injury. He managed to fight through the pain and play in 65 out of the team's 82 regular season games this year as the starting point guard. He also became the first Maverick since Jason Kidd in 1996 to score 30 points and 15 assists in a game. He finished the regular season averaging 14 points, 6 assists and 3 rebounds per game.
Williams and the Mavs clinched a playoff spot a few weeks ago and will play the 3-seed Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the NBA playoffs. If they advance, they would most likely play the San Antonio Spurs. Williams is under contract with Dallas for the next two years. At that point he will become an unrestricted free agent and may begin to ponder retirement. In an era where Illinois alums playing in the NBA are few and far between, Deron Williams has been a bright spot and is still making the Illini faithful proud.