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 continuing with the Kiwane Garris Region and its Round of 32. Garris was ranked the tournament’s No. 3 overall seed by our staff.
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.
Nick Anderson (3) vs. Ken Norman (14)
Name-dropping Nick Anderson to any Illini fan is sure to conjure up memories and happy thoughts of what Illinois Basketball used to be in the mid-to-late 1980’s. Anderson only played at Illinois for two seasons before leaving for the NBA, but his impact in Champaign still resonates all of these years later. Anderson was Mr. Basketball in Illinois in 1986, playing his high school ball at Simeon Career Academy in Chicago. Anderson averaged 18.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game for a 1989 Illini team that reached the Final Four.
Kenny ‘Snake’ Norman played at Illinois for three seasons after transferring from nearby Wabash Valley College. He was an Illini for three campaigns: 1984-85, 1985-86 and 1986-87. He was a consensus All-American and averaged 20.7 points and 9.8 rebounds in his senior season. He led the Big Ten in rebounds and rebounds-per-game for an Illini team that finished 4th in the Big Ten and lost in the first round to Austin Peay in the NCAA Tournament in 1986-1987.
Nick Anderson (3) or Ken Norman (14)?
This poll is closed
Nick Anderson (3)
Ken Norman (14)
Derek Harper (6) vs. Andy Phillip (11)
Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers fans will remember Derek Harper fondly. The former Illini point guard spent 11 seasons in Dallas, averaging 15 points and over six assists per game with the Mavericks. In Champaign, Harper was known as a team-first, hard-nosed guard with a great eye for making the perfect pass — he led the Big Ten in assists in his second season with the Illini in 1981-82. He was an extension of coach Lou Henson on the floor and was an intangible leader in the early stages of what would eventually grow to become the Flying Illini.
If you’ve never heard of Andy Phillip, that’s because he played a long, long time ago. The 6-foot-2 forward suited up for Illinois from 1941-43 and then again from 1946-47. He was National Player of the Year in 1943. Why the gap in play? The Granite City, Illinois native — like many young men at the time — joined the Marine Corps and fought as a First Lieutenant in World War II in Iwo Jima. Phillip would win an NBA Championship playing for Red Auerbach and the Boston Celtics in 1957. He was the Big Ten’s MVP in the 1942-43 season when he averaged 21.3 points per game and had a then-conference record with 40 in one game. He led the “Whiz Kids” Illinois offense.
Derek Harper (6) or Andy Phillip (11)?
This poll is closed
Derek Harper (6)
Andy Phillip (11)
Kenny Battle (7) vs. Frank Williams (10)
Kenny Battle (along with the aforementioned Nick Anderson) was a starter on arguably the greatest Illini basketball team ever: The 1988-89 Flying Illini. Battle was a redshirt senior and starting wing on that team. He averaged 16.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.5 steals on a team that reached the Final Four and finished second in the Big Ten Conference. His 89 steals that season is a program record that still holds today. Kenny Battle was known for his relentless effort and energy on the court. He was a force and played a lot bigger than his size because of his aggression, particularly on the defensive end.
Frank Williams has to be one of the most popular Illini of all-time, making this head-to-head matchup at the 7-10 seed the toughest call of the opening round. The 6-foot-3 guard from Peoria played for Illinois for three seasons, his best two seasons coming in 2000-01 and 2001-02. Williams won Big Ten Player of the Year his second season where he averaged 14.9 points, 3.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. Frank Williams was part of Bill Self’s first two Illini seasons. Williams led the Illini to the Elite Eight in 2000-01 and Sweet Sixteen in 2001-02. He is 13th all-time on the Big Ten steals list and the father of current Illinois player Da’Monte Williams.
Kenny Battle (7) or Frank Williams (10)?
This poll is closed
Kenny Battle (7)
Frank Williams (10)
Kiwane Garris (2) vs Chuck Carney (15)
Kiwane Garris (1993-1997) is one of the greatest Illini basketball players of all time. He averaged over 31 minutes per game over four years, a longevity that’s pretty rare these days in the college game. He was the total package: A volume scorer, a high-octane rebounder for someone was just 6-foot-2, and an unselfish passer. He was an elite free throw shooter who averaged over 80 percent from the stripe all four years he was in school. His career stat-line: 16.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.4 steals. The Illini made the NCAA Tournament three of his four years in Champaign.
Chuck Carney is one of the greatest athletes to ever attend the University of Illinois. How? He’s the first Big Ten athlete ever to be an All-American in both football and men’s basketball. As a football player, he played receiver for legendary head coach Bob Zuppke from 1918-21. As a basketball player, he was one of the conference’s top scorers from 1920-22. In addition to being part of Illinois Basketball’s All-Century Team, Chuck Carney is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
Kiwane Garris (2) Or Chuck Carney (15)?
This poll is closed
Kiwane Garris (2)
Chuck Carney (15)
Below is the entire 32-team bracket: