The Greatest Illinois Basketball Players Of All Time

When we talk about elite college basketball programs, rarely are the Fighting Illini of Illinois mentioned. It’s not because they aren’t a great program, it’s because they got overshadowed by flashier programs and blue bloods. But Illinois can hold its own as a successful Big Ten program that is sometimes among the best schools in the nation.

They’ve gone to nine Elite Eights and five Final Fours and was the national runners-up in 2005. In the process, they also have produced some great basketball stars.

These 10 players shaped this program over the years. Some may be familiar and some might be better known for their NBA careers. But all of them made an indelible mark on the program.

Here are the top 10 Fighting Illini players of all time.

10. Kenny Battle, small forward

Kenny Battle’s nickname was the Flyin’ Illini while he was a player in Champagne and was known for his dunks and hustle on the court. He helped lead the team to the Final Four in 1989 before losing to Michigan. The Illini awards the Kenny Battle Inspirational Award to the player who demonstrates the most hustle during the season.

9. Derek Harper, point guard

Derek Harper may be more known for his professional NBA career but he was first a star for the Illini. In the 1982-83 season, Harper led Illinois in scoring with 15.4 points per game. Harper was named first-team All-Big Ten and second-team All-American. He averaged 4.7 assists per game for his collegiate career and led the Big Ten in assists in the 1981–1982 season.

8. Bruce Douglas, guard

Bruce Douglas started all four years for the Illini and not only led them to a Big Ten title in the 1983-84 season but also to the Elite Eight. He still holds the Illini record for career steals (324) and assists (765). He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in 1984, second-team in ’85 and ’86, and was a third-team All-American in 1984. Illinois fans also voted him as one of the 20 best Fighting Illini basketball players in the 100-year history of the program.

7. Brian Cook, power forward

Some basketball fans may have forgotten but Brian Cook played a huge part in Fighting Illini history. Cook was Big Ten Player of the Year in 2003, Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2000, and Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player. He was a two-time All-American (second and third team). Cook left Illinois as the school’s third all-time leading scorer with 1,748 total points, at an average of 13.2 points per game, and averaged 20 points per game his senior season.

6. Eddie Johnson, small forward

Eddie Johnson will always be beloved among Fighting Illini fans for defeating Magic Johnson and the Michigan State Spartans on a last-second shot to end their undefeated season. Johnson finished his Illinois career as the school’s all-time leader in scoring (1,692 points) and rebounds (831). He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in 1981, second-team recognition in 1980, and honorable mention in 1979 while earning team MVP honors in 1980 and 1981. Johnson ended his career at Illinois averaging almost 14 points and seven rebounds per game.

5. Frank Williams, point guard

Frank Williams was part of the 2001 Illini that made a run to the Elite Eight as the then-No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Williams was a second-team All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year. He averaged 14 points, four rebounds, and four assists per game during his college career.

4. Dee Brown, point guard

The 2005 season was a big year for Dee Brown and the Fighting Illini. First of all, Brown was an All-American, he was also named Sporting News National Player of the Year, and Big Ten Player of the Year, leading his team to the national title game. He was also Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year for good measure. Brown was third on the Illini all-time scoring chart with 1,812 career points and second in school history in career 3-pointers (299), career assists (674) and career steals (231). He is also Illinois’ record holder in the NCAA Tournament for career points (179) and career field goals (64).

3. Nick Anderson, shooting guard

For many young basketball fans, Nick Anderson may be more associated with the Orlando Magic, but he was a great player for Illinois. Anderson earned first-team All-Big Ten honors after helping lead the famed “Flying Illini” team to the 1989 Final Four. He averaged 17 points per game during his Illini career and his 35-foot buzzer-beating jump shot to defeat Indiana is considered one of the iconic plays in the school’s basketball history.

2. Kendall Gill, shooting guard

Like Nick Anderson, Kendall Gill was part of the 1989 “Flying Illini” who went to the Final Four. As a senior, Gill earned consensus second-team All-America honors, as well as first-team All-Big Ten honors. Gill averaged 20.0 points per game to lead the Big Ten in scoring in 1990. He was the first 20-points-per-game scorer in 16 years at Illinois. Gill also ranks third in school history in steals with 218. He was elected to the “Illini Men’s Basketball All-Century Team” in 2004.

1. Deron Williams, point guard

Deron Williams was the catalyst for the Fighting Illini’s run to the 2005 national championship game against the North Carolina Tar Heels. That season the team only lost two games, one to Ohio State at the end of the regular season and then in the title game. Williams also received several accolades that year, including being named a second-team All-American, as well as being named first-team All-Big Ten. He was also named to the Big Ten All-Tournament Team and All-Final Four team. Following the season, Williams was named the University of Illinois Athlete of the Year. Williams went on to skip his senior season to be the third-overall draft pick by the Utah Jazz where he played most of his NBA career.

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