By Samantha Vanis, Contributing Writer
The Illini Athletic Department spent this past weekend honoring the greats of the basketball program. The attendees ranged from recent graduates Demetri McCamey and Mike Davis to great names of the past like Dee Brown and Deron Williams of the 2005 Final Four Team, and Kendall Gill from the 1989 Flyin’ Illini.
It was a great weekend for Illini basketball fans, even if the absence of air conditioning left the Assembly Hall hotter than the 90-degree weather outside. Regardless of the heat, the crowd was excited for the event and fans overflowed from the A and B section of the Hall.
The festivities on Saturday began with this year’s basketball team playing a scrimmage that served as their last practice before heading off to Italy. The scrimmage followed FIBA rules to prepare them for the trip, such as a 24-second shot clock and an 8-second time limit to get the ball over half court.
Each quarter acted as its own game and players rotated. Everyone looked sloppy at one point or another, but what can really expect from a scrimmage this early in the year? There were some promising moments, and one highlight was a follow-up dunk put in by Crandall Head after a Tyler Griffey miss. Head jumped over 7-foot Myers Leonard to make that dunk possible.
Another standout was incoming freshman Nnanna Egwu. He is 6’11 and 245 pounds, but can run the floor and beat his man out to follow through with a strong dunk. He isn’t the typical player that the Illini have had in the past few years, making him a welcome sight for Illini fans. Egwu led all scorers with 16 points in the scrimmage, while Joseph Bertrand had 12, and Head had 11 points.
The main event of the night was undoubtedly the Alumni game. First came the introductions of each of the alumni in attendance, and a few of them paused to say a few words. Most kept their time at the mic short and sweet, thanking the Illini fans for the fandom and support. Williams was welcomed with a standing ovation, and Gill had the most unique words giving a shot out to all of the 40-year-olds in attendance and got a good chuckle.
The Blue team’s big name players consisted of Gill, Williams, Brown, Brian Cook, Mike Tisdale, Briand Randle, and current assistant coach Jerrance Howard. The Blue team was coached by Kenny Battle and Levi Cobb. The White team’s big name players were James Augustine, Roger Powell, Cory Bradford, Robert Archibald, Demetri McCamey, Chester Frazier, and Jack Ingram. Lon Kruger, who coached the Illini from 1996-2000 and currently coaches Oklahoma, served as the coach for the White team.
The game was made up of four 8-minute quarters. The Blue team started strong with Gill scoring a quick 7 points and the team lead 14-0. However, McCamey broke that streak and put the White team on the board with a big 3. Williams originally told his honorary coaches Battle and Cobb that he did not want to come off the floor of the Assembly Hall once, but he sat to start the second quarter to give all the alumni a chance to be play at the Hall again.
At halftime, the 2001 and 2002 Big Ten Championship teams were honored and a highlight video was played that put a tear in many of the eyes in the audience and on the court. Bradford was choked up as he addressed the crowd and commented that to this day he is still great friends with many of these players.
To start the third quarter, the 2005 Final Four players Williams, Brown, Powell, Augustine, and Ingram took the floor together. Brown hit back-to-back threes, and the crowd responded with shouts of “Dee for three!” After the quarter ended, Brown addressed the crowd with a follow-up from Coach Bruce Weber, who once again thanked all the fans for coming out.
The alumni game ended with the Blue team winning, 70 to 64. Gill led all scorers with 13 points and 5 rebounds, and Williams ended up with 11 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. D-Will also had the highlight of the night when he bounce passed alley-oop to himself:
The event put on by the Athletic Department was a great experience for all who attended, giving them a chance to see their favorite players of all time. Fans were also treated to a glimpse of how next season’s team is shaping up. Here’s hoping that this event will be a staple for years to come in the Illini basketball program.
Watch more higlights of the game here: