Bill Cole might be one of my favorite Illini of all time.
Not because he put up crazy numbers, or was a big-time recruit, but as a kid I remember watching him go off in one game and it was the most excited I can remember myself being while watching basketball since the Illini had made the Final Four. Also, as someone who delights in being incredibly average at pick-up basketball, Bill Cole seemed to do exactly what guys like me try to do: hustle and shoot threes.
Except he’s like 9 1⁄2 inches taller than me.
Anyway, this isn’t about my subpar athleticism, but about how I remember Bill Cole in his four years in the Orange and Blue.
Cole was a Peoria native, and attended Richwoods High School. He was a part of the 2007 recruiting class, and averaged 19 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks as a senior. He was ranked as a three-star recruit, but named to the All-State team that year by several state newspapers.
Cole didn’t exactly rack up a ton of stats while at Illinois. During his freshman campaign he played in just 12 games, averaging 2.3 points and 1.4 rebounds. His stats gradually increased during his tenure, and by senior year he started 24 of the 34 games, averaging 4.9 points and 2.5 rebounds. The low production was probably a result of Meyers Leonard and Mike Tisdale both being on the roster.
In a game versus Minnesota during his junior year (2009-10), Cole had a career-high 15 points. Unfortunately, it was a 62-60 loss to the Gophers, but a second-half comeback sparked by Cole nearly brought the Illini to a victory. Cole was 5-for-5 from the beyond the arc before fouling out of the game. He also showed his hustle down the court, but it wasn’t enough to earn the victory. (NOTE: I could not find the highlights from this game. But let me assure you, it was electric.)
Ultimately, this was a damper on the Illini’s resume and they missed the NCAA Tournament.
Cole signed to play professional basketball in England after graduating from Illinois in 2011. He played for the Cheshire Jets in the British Basketball League and eventually moved back to Peoria where, legend has it, he is a pick-up basketball star.