Thursday, November 12, 2009

All-Decade Illini Teams

The 2009-2010 Illini Basketball season gets under way tomorrow evening against SIU-Edwardsville, bringing another decade of Illinois basketball to a close. Looking back, it was one of the most successful decades in Illinois history. These are the players that made it happen.

The All-Decade Team

Deron Williams G, 2002-05

Already the most successful Illini ever in the NBA. Will be immortalized for "the Shot" against Arizona, but his most important contribution of the tourney run was his defense against Salim Stoudamire of Arizona, and Francisco Garcia of Louisville, to get the Illini to the championship game.
Also, in a extremely classy move, Deron took out a full-page ad in the New-Gazette when he left the U of I thanking the fans for their support.

Frank "Nitty" Williams G, 1999-2002

The most clutch player on this list, Frankie was hyped from the beginning and had his ups and downs (I'll never forgive Billy Packer for trashing Frank). Through it all, he was the best player for the Illini for all three of the years he played, and won a Big Ten Championship in two of those years. Provided the most highlight reel plays (at about the 0.25 mark is the best pass I have seen on the college level). My favorite Illini, Frank was truly unique in the way he played the game. There will never be another.

Luther Head G-F, 2001-05

Persevered through a tough stretch, and was almost kicked off the team his junior year. Worked on his game and became a dead-eye shooter. Luther was best when it mattered the most, and holds the Illini tournament career records for points, games, and 3-pointers.

Brian Cook F, 1999-2003

A solid player and a great scorer, Cook is the answer to two great trivia questions.
Who was the last Illini to average 20 points in a season?
What former Laker was nicknamed "Columbine" (way too soon) by his teammates because of his tendency to "flip out and start yelling and shoving people" - this isn't a joke, in a ESPN the mag feature circa 2007, they asked Kwame Brown if any of his teammates had interesting nicknames, and I still can't believe they printed it.
My other favorite Cook story is on the Illini Century DVD, Deron talks about how when he came in as a freshman they called Cook "Top-5" because they knew that he was going to be a top-5 pick in the NBA.
It's ironic, just like rain on your wedding day. Or a free ride when you've already paid.

James Augustine F, 2002-06

A consistent player that gave the Illini four good years, and along with Dee Brown has the most wins of any Illini player ever. Also is the school's career leading rebounder. I can't go without mentioning the goose-egg that he laid against UNC in the championship, when he was woefully outmatched by Sean May & Co.
Augustine benefited from having a great cast of players around him, and was very effective in his role.

The Nate Mast All-Stars
(or the Anti-Shawn Pruitt All-Stars)

The players that may not have been elite, but made you glad to be an Illini fan.

Chester Frazier G, 2005-09

Really never played well until his senior year, but was always grinding. Played through a massive amount of injuries displaying an unmatched toughness.
In an era of soft, under-achieving, unlikeable Illini players, Chet stands out. If the TV show "the Wire" was personified in a basketball player, that player would be Chester.

Sergio McClain G, 1997-2001

Just sneaks into the decade.  Recorded a triple-double (aka droppin' an Ice Cube) against Michigan his senior year.

Lucas Johnson F, 1998-2002

Possibly the most beloved Illini of all-time. Lucas was the epitome of the 'White guy who takes charges, hits the occasional three, and fires up the team with his hustle' type player. Also earns bonus points for having Lute Olson actively hate him. Here is a quote from Bill Self "Lucas isn't dirty, Lucas is annoying, and I mean that as a compliment. He gets under people's skin by playing the game the way it is supposed to be played".

Damir Krupalia F, 1998-2002

A rebounding machine that had his career derailed by injury. Damir was a great high energy player as a big man off the bench. Rocked the Richard Keene-style hair, which gets you an automatic entry on this list.

Jack Ingram F, 2003-2005

Had an important deflection and screen in the Arizona win. The walk-on followed Self from Tulsa, but was left holding the bag when Self went to Kansas. Ingram stayed on, and was vital to the 2004-05 team due to the lack of depth in the front court.

Honourable Mention:

Nick Smith C, 2000-05

Chain - saw, Chainnn - saw, Chaainnnn - saw

Defensive Player of the Decade:

Sergio McClain

What, were you expecting Dee? Dee Brown is the worst defender ever to win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. That is a fact.

Serg guarded everyone on the floor from Tractor Traylor of Michigan to shifty point guard Andre Barret of Seton Hall. Just a great defensive player. 6'3 240 pound players with the quicks to stay with point guards don't come around very often.

Player of the Decade:

Luther Head

This is a tough call, you could make an argument for anyone on the All-Decade team (except for James). I am going with Luther because he was the best player on the best Illini team of all-time in 2004-05. Deron gets the NBA glory, Dee gets the press, Roger gets to go to heaven (kidding), James gets to hook up with Brittany Ward, but Luther was the MVP of that team and of the decade.

A complete player, Luther lead the team in scoring that year, played great defense, and rebounded well as a guard playing in the small forward slot. He played 4 years at the U of I which helps his case against Deron and Frank.
It is just my opinion, and it is a great debate between Deron, Cook, Frank, and Luther of who is the best player of the 00's.

1 comment:

  1. I respect the call on Luther for "Player of the Decade." It's interesting, and he does get overshadowed by Dee and Deron. But with D-Will's passing, scoring, and defense, it's hard for me not to pick him. Like you said, though, Luther staying for all four gives him a big edge.


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