Frank Williams is the reason I’m an Illinois fan. Plain and simple
Williams was on campus during my formative years of sports fandom. His star power and the success of Bill Self’s teams made Illini hoops my favorite sports team in the country.
The Bulls were in the toilet post-Jordan and averaging less than 20 wins per year.
The Bears had one random playoff season preceded by four losing seasons and succeeded by three more losing seasons.
A lot of the Blackhawks games weren’t even on TV.
Frank Thomas was cool, but for the most part the White Sox were doing their White Sox thing and winning 80 games a season.
Naturally, I was drawn to the team winning Big Ten titles in Champaign. Williams was simply electrifying. He could do things with the ball that 7-year-old me had never seen. The first school project I distinctly remember doing was a basketball poster board where I compared Williams’ stats to the stats of the rest of the Illinois team during a game. I obviously watched a lot of SportsCenter.
One of Williams’ most famous performances came in a top-20 matchup in Champaign. The Illini faced off against the Iowa Hawkeyes in 2002 with Dick Vitale on the call. Williams had 16 points, 9 assists, seven rebounds, four steals and only one turnover. He didn’t put up 30, or hit a game winner, but he was in complete control of the game.
Dicky V and the Orange Krush were loving every second of it:
The no-look pass at the :20 second mark is still a part of the pregame video montage at the State Farm Center to this day. These are highlighs that most of us have seen before, but never mind seeing over and over again.
While we’re watching grainy footage from 15 years ago, let’s play the hits, for old time’s sake:
Frank’s instincts and ability to take over a game could not be topped by anyone in college basketball. In the highlight tapes above you can also get a taste for his clutch shot-making. You can also see the reason so many people were so excited when his son Da’Monte decided to play at Illinois.
We saw a flash of some of that basketball IQ and passing ability his father passed down to him during his freshman year. One thing Brad Underwood has mentioned when talking about the roster makeover from a year ago is that the Illini needed much better passers. Williams was arguably the best passer on the team last year. His knowledge for the game is different than what is normally seen from an average freshman. His length also made him one of the team’s best perimeter defenders, despite lacking explosiveness after coming off an ACL surgery.
Da’Monte Williams will have a full offseason and an increased role next year. Frank left a legacy that will be nearly impossible to live up to, but there’s no reason Da’Monte can’t have a few special nights during his career like the one his dad had against the Iowa Hawkeyes.