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 Elite Eight, the round before the Final Four. We feature four matchups that include Illini legends spanning different generations of Illinois basketball.
Check out our preview of each matchup and then vote for which player you think deserves to move on in our bracket to the Final Four. Voting will be open for one day.
Deon Thomas (1) vs. Nick Weatherspoon (4)
Deon Thomas is a No. 1 seed for a reason. No Illinois player has scored more points than Deon Thomas. His accolades go back to his high school career too, where he was a McDonald’s All American, Mr. Basketball in Illinois and a Chicago legend from Simeon Career Academy. In many ways, Deon Thomas sets the standard for in-state, home-grown recruiting excellence.
In the early 1970’s, Nick Weatherspoon was one of the most dominant players in the Big Ten Conference. His Illini career spanned three seasons and he averaged over 20 points per game in 1971-1972 and 1972-1973. He was a high-volume scorer and could light it up from anywhere on the basketball court. Overall, the 1970’s were a rough patch in the history of Illini basketball — Illinois did not reach the NCAA Tournament in Nick Weatherspoon’s tenure.
Deon Thomas (1) or Nick Weatherspoon (4)
This poll is closed
Deon Thomas (1)
Nick Weatherspoon (4)
Kendall Gill (6) vs Deron Williams (2)
Kendall Gill’s name is synonymous with the Flying Illini era of the late 1980’s. Gill was a junior on the 1988-1989 team that reached the Final Four. He averaged 15.4 points, 3.8 assists and 2.1 steals that season. He was an incredible athlete too, fluid and rangy enough to throw down dunks on the fast break. In his senior year, Kendall Gill turned up his statistics to become the leading scorer in the Big Ten Conference and a First-Team All-American. Gill was a four-year player who accomplished a ton both individually and for his team under head coach Lou Henson.
Deron Williams was the best player on the best Illinois Basketball team of this millennium. Just this past week, Illini fans celebrated the 13th anniversary of the remarkable comeback victory over the Arizona Wildcats in the Elite Eight in 2005. In that game, Williams scored a team-high 22 points and had 10 assists en route to what would be a Final Four berth. More than his natural talent, Deron Williams had a feel for the game unlike any Illini we’ve ever seen. He was a great teammate and was more than willing to share the ball. Just months later, Deron Williams was drafted by the Utah Jazz with the 3rd overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft.
Kendall Gill (6) or Deron Williams (2)
This poll is closed
Kendall Gill (6)
Deron Williams (2)
Dee Brown (1) vs. Malcolm Hill (4)
If Deron Williams was the most talented player on the 2005 Illinois basketball team that went to the Final Four, there is no doubt Dee Brown was the heart and soul of that team that still captures the imagination of Illini fans everywhere. Dee Brown played with such fire and passion, he was the true leader of arguably the greatest group of Illini ever assembled on one team. Dee Brown averaged 13.2 points, 4.9 assists and 1.7 steals over the course of his four-year Illini career. In 2004-2005, Brown led the Big Ten in 3-point field goal percentage and steals per game, and ranked third in the conference in true shooting percentage – an amazing stat for a guard.
Malcolm Hill is a once-in-a-generation type of player. Hill finished his career with 1,850 points, which was good enough to surpass Dee Brown for third all-time. Unlike Dee Brown, Malcolm Hill never reached the NCAA Tournament, but it was clear how good he was by the leaps and bounds improvement he showed year after year in the Illini program. A product of Belleville, Illinois, Malcolm Hill was a four-star recruit who managed to shatter expectations to become one of the greatest Illini ever. Versatility was the name of Malcolm Hill’s game. Inside, outside, down on the block, on-ball, off-ball — his offensive game resembled that of Carmelo Anthony’s. Malcolm Hill was an excellent kid and tremendous student-athlete. If this interview on Hill’s senior night doesn’t give you chills, you might need to check your pulse.
Dee Brown (1) or Malcolm Hill (4)
This poll is closed
Dee Brown (1)
Malcolm Hill (4)
Nick Anderson (3) vs. Frank Williams (10)
Nick Anderson was Deon Thomas before Deon Thomas was Deon Thomas. Let me explain. Like Deon Thomas, Nick Anderson was a Chicago native and a Mr. Basketball in the state of Illinois from Simeon Career Academy on the city’s southside. Anderson averaged 18.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game for a 1989 Illini team that reached the Final Four. Anderson was arguably the most talented player amongst a group of teammates that included Kendall Gill, Stephen Bardo, Kenny Battle, Lowell Hamilton and Marcus Liberty. His Illini career lasted just two seasons before he was drafted 11th overall in the 1989 NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic in the franchise’s inaugural season.
The fact that a 10 seed made it all of the way to the Elite Eight proves just how popular of a player Frank Williams was and remains in the hearts of Illini fans. The father of current Illini guard Da’Monte Williams, Frank was a 3-year Illini sensation from 1999 through 2002. In 2000-2001, Frank Williams was the Big Ten’s Player of the Year. He averaged 14.9 points, 4.4 assists, 2.0 steals and 3.7 rebounds that season. The Peoria, Illinois native was a dunk master and defensive specialist under then head coach Bill Self.
Nick Anderson (3) or Frank Williams (10)
This poll is closed
Nick Anderson (3)
Frank Williams (10)