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Greatest Illini Men’s Basketball Player Ever Tournament: Deon Thomas Region Round of 32

Vote here for the Round of 32!

Illinois Men’s Basketball missed the NCAA Tournament again this season, marking five years in a row without a bid for the Illini. Since we still have March Madness fever at The Champaign Room, we’re holding our Greatest Illini Men’s Basketball Player Ever Tournament this month, and you’re going to decide the winners.

Today we’re starting with the Deon Thomas Region and its Round of 32. Thomas, ranked the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed by our staff, faces the last man in, Richard Keene.

Check out our preview of each matchup and then vote for which player you think deserves to move on in our bracket to the Sweet 16. Voting will be open for one day.

Player’s seeding is in parentheses. Entire bracket is below.

Deon Thomas (1) vs. Richard Keene (16)

Ignore the Bruce Pearl and Iowa incident, and Deon Thomas is an Illini great, no matter how you look at it. Currently the career-scoring leader for Illinois at 2,129 points and 18 points per game, Thomas is the only Illini to ever crack 2,000 points. He was named Illinois Mr. Basketball as a senior at Simeon and played in the McDonald’s All-American Game in 1989. Thomas was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in 1994, but he was not able to find success in the NBA.

A teammate of Thomas for a few years, Richard Keene was clearly never the player Deon was. Keene averaged 9.4 points per game over four seasons and started 113 of his 122 games for the Orange and Blue. Keene was a big guard at 6-foot-6 and hailed from Collinsville, Illinois. He shot 42.5 percent from three as a sophomore in 1993-94.


Deon Thomas (1) or Richard Keene (16)?

This poll is closed

  • 97%
    Deon Thomas (1)
    (392 votes)
  • 2%
    Richard Keene (16)
    (11 votes)
403 votes total Vote Now

Cory Bradford (8) vs. Luther Head (9)

Cory Bradford is still playing professional basketball today, even 16 years after leaving Illinois. Currently a pro for KK Bosna Royal in Bosnia, Bradford was once part of Illinois’ back-to-back Big Ten championships under Bill Self. Bradford scored 1,735 career points and had 275 assists and 108 steals. He held the NCAA record for consecutive games with a three-point field goal at 88 games. A sharp shooter, Bradford’s best season was as a redshirt freshman when the Illini went 14-18.

Playing behind Frank Williams and suffering a few injuries early on, it took Head a while to get his Illini career going, but once he saw increased playing time, his impact did not go unnoticed. Head became a consistent started during his junior season and scored double digits in 14 games. One of his shining moments include his half-court pass versus Purdue to Roger Powell, and then putting in the outback with 0.9 seconds remaining to help the Illini clinch the Big Ten. Head’s best season was his senior campaign when the Illini made it to the National Championship, and Head was the team’s leading scorer and led the Big Ten with 116 made three-pointers. He set the record for career games played by an Illini in the NCAA Tournament at 14.


Cory Bradford (8) or Luther Head (9)?

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    Cory Bradford (8)
    (152 votes)
  • 62%
    Luther Head (9)
    (248 votes)
400 votes total Vote Now

Dave Downey (5) vs. Ray Woods (12)

Dave Downey holds the Illinois single-game scoring record, which he set when he scored 53 points at Indiana on Feb. 16, 1963. He has the fourth-highest average in Illinois history for points per game (18.9) and grabbed 11 rebounds per game throughout his career. Drafted by the San Francisco Warriors in 1963, Downey earned the 1963 Big Ten Conference Medal of Honor for excellence in academics and athletics. Click here for a feature story on Dave Downey from 2016 by The Daily Illini’s Charlotte Carroll.

Don’t know about Ray Woods? Not surprised. Woods led Illinois to Big Ten championships in 1915 and 1917 and helped the Illini go 16-0 in 1915, a season that Illinois claims itself to be national champion. He was named All-American for his three season with Illinois, the first Illini ever to get that honor. Essentially, Woods, a native of Evanston, Illinois, was the best player during Illinois’ first good seasons.


Dave Downey (5) or Ray Woods (12)?

This poll is closed

  • 78%
    Dave Downey (5)
    (286 votes)
  • 21%
    Ray Woods (12)
    (80 votes)
366 votes total Vote Now

Nick Weatherspoon (4) vs. Dave Scholz (13)

Nick Weatherspoon scored nearly 1,500 points in three season with Illinois — impressive numbers. He averaged 25 points per game — third-highest in Illinois history — as a junior in the 1972-73 season and played almost 37 minutes per game. Called Spoon, he was named to Illinois’ All-Century team in 2004 before passing away in 2008. He spent seven seasons in the NBA, including one season with the Chicago Bulls.

Dave Scholz was a two-time, first-team All-Big Ten selection while at Illinois in the late 1960s, and he earned one AP All-American third team selection. When he graduated, Scholz was Illinois’ all-time leading scorer. Scholz almost had his own Moonlight Graham moment, appearing in one NBA game and scoring two career points.


Nick Weatherspoon (4) or Dave Scholz (13)?

This poll is closed

  • 94%
    Nick Weatherspoon (4)
    (351 votes)
  • 5%
    Dave Scholz (13)
    (20 votes)
371 votes total Vote Now

Below is the entire bracket prior to the start of the Round of 32.

Let us know how or why you voted the way you did in the comments!