We’ve reached the end of what has been a long and painful decade of Illinois Basketball. In the last ten seasons, the Illini had three different head coaches and only managed to reach the NCAA tournament twice. Let’s rank the ten best players of this glorious stretch of Illini hoops.
This is my post so I get to make up the rules. In order to be considered, the player must have played at least two seasons at Illinois between the 2009-10 and 2018-19 seasons. That means there is no Ayo Dosunmu or Giorgi Bezhanishvili in this list.
The criteria is fuzzy, arbitrary and mostly came down to my own opinion. A wholistic approach was attempted by accounting for a player’s consistency and the overall numbers they collected, while also acknowledging incredible peak seasons. Individual raw talent, or “the eye test”, is also taken into account. Team success is considered but with an underachieving decade on the whole, it didn’t factor in much. But the most important question is, “Can you tell the story of this decade without this player?”
10. Tracy Abrams (2012-17)
Started 115 of 138 games played during the decade. Abrams was a four-year starter and the point guard of the last Illini team to make it to the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, he will be remembered for suffering season ending injuries during back-to-back offseasons. The Chicago natives spent six seasons on the Illini roster this decade.
Stats: 1,174 points (8.6 PPG), 422 rebounds (3.1 RPG), 374 assists (2.7 APG), 142 steals (1.0 SPG)
9. Leron Black (2015-18)
Started 70 of 102 games played in Champaign. Black transformed himself from a rugged, hard-nosed, undersized four to the primary offensive option and an all-around talent. Black’s final season on campus was his masterpiece. He led the Illini in scoring and rebounding and became a near-impossible cover for Big Ten defenses at all three levels of the floor.
Stats: 921 points (9.0 PPG), 529 rebounds (5.2 RPG), 50% FG% and 40% 3P%.
8. Mike Davis (2010-11)
Started 65 of 70 games played during the decade. Davis was a long, athletic, traditional power forward. Davis earned All-Big Ten Honors his sophomore season and is one of the unsung heroes of the Demetri McCamey-led tournament team. Davis has the second most career rebounds at Illinois with 909.
Decade Stats: 809 points (11.6 PPG), 573 rebounds (8.2 RPG), 49 blocks, 49 steals and 50% FG%
7. Meyers Leonard (2011-12)
Started 30 of 65 games played after sitting behind Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis as a freshman. Leonard may have the most raw talent on this entire list, and that’s the reason he is on it. With only one real productive season in Champaign, his numbers won’t stack up against some of the others. However, it would be negligent to not include the only Illinois NBA Draft pick of the decade. He averaged 13 and eight in his sophomore season while flashing athleticism most of us had never seen at Assembly Hall. His 60 blocks in his sophomore year are the third most in a season in Illini history.
Stats: 502 points (7.7 PPG), 303 rebounds (4.7 RPG), 73 blocks (1.1 BPG) on 57% FG%.
6. Trent Frazier (2018-19)
Started 46 of 64 games played in his first two seasons. Frazier burst onto the scene with a long-awaited jolt of offense from the point guard position. He earned All-Big Ten Freshman Team honors, and followed it up with a sophomore season comprised of improved numbers almost across the board.
Stats: 838 points (13.1 PPG), 181 assists (2.8 APG), 131 rebounds (2.0 RPG), 98 steals (1.5 SPG)
5. Rayvonte Rice (2014-15)
Started 54 of 59 games played at Illinois. The Champaign native transferred home after playing his first two seasons at Drake University. The burly 6-foot-4 shooting guard quickly became the No. 1 scoring option after the departure of Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson. Rice hit an iconic stepback game-winning three-pointer as time expired in the Braggin’ Rights game against Mizzou, and it’s those kind of moments that curry favor with arbitrary list-makers.
Stats: 951 points (16.1 PPG), 365 rebounds (6.2 RPG), 97 assists (1.6 APG) and 101 steals (1.7 SPG)
4. D.J. Richardson (2010-13)
Started 129 of 138 games played. Richardson was the last in line of a long-running Peoria pipeline to Champaign before Da’Monte Williams brought the tradition back. Richardson was a four-year starter and was honored as Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2010. Richardson was a prolific three-point shooter and a dependent and tenacious defender. He currently resides as the 14th-leading scorer in program history. Only Dee Brown and Cory Bradford have made more three-point field goals.
Stats: 1,477 points (10.7 PPG), 393 rebounds (2.8 RPG), 251 assists (1.8 APG), 122 steals (0.9 SPG)
3. Demetri McCamey (2010-11)
McCamey started 65 of the 70 games he played in during his junior and senior seasons. McCamey was outstanding his junior year, putting up 15 points and seven assists per game on his way to All-Big Ten Honors. He followed that up with an NCAA Tournament appearance in his senior season. McCamey is No. 2 all-time on the career assists leaderboard, and No. 7 in scoring. Kiwane Garris is the only other Illini to reside in the top 10 on both leaderboards.
Decade Stats: 1,040 points (14.9 PPG), 462 assists (6.6 APG), 244 rebounds (3.5 APG), 138 steals (1.0 SPG)
2. Malcolm Hill (2013-17)
Started 112 of 137 games played in Champaign. Malcolm Hill was personally my favorite player to watch during this decade. His combination of size, strength and skill is rare to see at the college level. Malcolm averaged over 17 points per game in his last two seasons at Illinois and graduated as the third-leading scorer in program history. Hill played with very little talent around him, had a roster full of injuries and turmoil, and played for the worst coach in program history. All of these factors were too much for Hill to overcome. Malcolm Hill failing to reach the NCAA Tournament is one of the most tragic tales in Illinois Basketball lore.
Stats: 1,846 points (13.5 PPG), 647 rebounds (4.7 RPG), 281 assists (2.1 APG), 122 steals (0.9 SPG)
1. Brandon Paul (2010-13)
Started 87 of 138 games played. Paul took over the Illini team once McCamey departed. The former Illinois Mr. Basketball led his state school in scoring during his junior and senior seasons. Paul is the ninth-leading scorer in program history and led the team back to the NCAA Tournament in 2013 under first-year head coach John Groce. His signature moment is undoubtedly his 43-point performance against Ohio State at Assembly Hall. His senior year was full of highlights including dominating a top-10 Gonzaga team on the road, throwing the inbound to Griffey to beat Indiana, and the buzzer beater against Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament to clinch a spot in the big dance.
Stats: 1,654 points (12.0 PPG), 524 rebounds (3.8 RPG), 310 assists (2.2 APG), 155 steals (1.1 SPG)
Honorable Mentions: Nnanna Egwu, Kendrick Nunn, Mike Tisdale, Tyler Griffey, Ayo Dosunmu
I can 100 percent guarantee that this list incorrect. #EmbraceDebate and let us know who got snubbed and where the list went awry.