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 Sweet 16 for the left side of our bracket, which includes the Deon Thomas and Deron Williams regions. Thomas was the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, as ranked by our staff, and Williams came in fourth overall.
Check out our preview of each matchup and then vote for which player you think deserves to move on in our bracket to the Elite 8. Voting will be open for one day.
Player’s seeding is in parentheses. Entire bracket is below.
Deon Thomas (1) vs. Luther Head (9)
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.
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.
Deon Thomas (1) or Luther Head (9)?
This poll is closed
Deon Thomas (1)
Luther Head (9)
Dave Downey (5) vs. Nick Weatherspoon (4)
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.
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 Downey (5) or Nick Weatherspoon (4)?
This poll is closed
Dave Downey (5)
Nick Weatherspoon (4)
Bruce Douglas (3) vs. Kendall Gill (6)
Douglas, an Illinois Mr. Basketball coming out of high school, had a successful career as an Illini, leading the team to four straight NCAA tournament appearances. His sophomore campaign saw averages of almost 13 points, 5.7 assists, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.4 steals. This is the same year in which the Illini took home a Big Ten Championship and fell just short of a Final Four appearance. Douglas was a multiple All-Big Ten Team selection, back-to-back Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year (‘85 & ‘86) and still holds the Illini career records in assists (765) and steals (264).
Another member of the Flying Illini squad, Kendall Gill averaged 15 points, four assists, three rebounds, and two steals en route to a Final Four. As a senior, increased those numbers to 20 points, five rebounds, three assists, and two steals. Gill led the Big Ten in scoring his senior year and was a First-Team All-American. Gill’s success in college landed him at the number five slot in the 1990 NBA Draft. Gill had an impressive 15-year stint in the league and left with over 12,000 points, 4,000 rebounds, and over 1,500 steals.
Bruce Douglas (3) or Kendall Gill (6)?
This poll is closed
Bruce Douglas (3)
Kendall Gill (6)
Brian Cook (7) vs. Deron Williams (2)
Former McDonald’s All-American and Illinois Mr. Basketball, Cook had one of the most decorated careers of an Illini ever. He brought home Big Ten Player of the Year, First Team All-Big Ten, Second Team All-American, Co-Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and left as the third-leading scorer in Illinois history. He was part of a 2001 team that earned a number one seed in the NCAA tournament, which made it to the Elite Eight before getting upset by Arizona. Illinois would get revenge a few years later. I’m looking at you, Deron Williams. Cook ended his college career with a 20-point, 7.6-rebound, and two assist senior season. He played on a few teams in the NBA, but didn’t contribute more than 7.9 points per game in any given year.
The 2-seed and namesake of this region, Deron Williams played three seasons at the University of Illinois before foregoing his senior season and being drafted by the Jazz third overall. He boasted averages of 11 points, six assists, and three rebounds during his three years at Illinois. Williams was selected as a Consensus Second-Team All-American, First-Team All-Big Ten twice, Big Ten All-Tournament Team, All-Final Four Team. He had a tremendous career at the next level. Williams made three NBA All-Star teams, All-NBA Second Team twice, NBA All-Rookie First Team, and he brought home two gold medals. One of Bill Self’s top recruits, Williams was part of a star-studded 2004-05 Illinois team that had an almost perfect regular season and reached the NCAA Championship. He hit this memorable shot to get them there:
Brian Cook (7) or Deron Williams (2)?
This poll is closed
Brian Cook (7)
Deron Williams (2)
Below is the entire bracket as we enter the Sweet 16.