Illinois may not have a national championship to its credit, but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been plenty of great players who have worn a Fighting Illini uniform. From bygone legends such as Johnny “Red” Kerr to newly-graduated standouts such as Demetri McCamey, Champaign-Urbana has seen its share of big-time basketball talent.
Few Illini of any era have enjoyed a college or pro career to match Deron Williams. The Nets point guard already has two NBA All-Star appearances to his credit after playing a key role on Illinois’ 2005 national runner-up squad that tied the NCAA record with 37 wins in a season.
Read on for more on Kerr, McCamey, Williams and the rest of Illinois’ 50 greatest hoops stars of all time.
One of the great pure shooters in Illinois history, Rich McBride lived at the three-point line. He drained 216 treys in his college career, fifth-most for an Illini player all-time.
As sweet as his shot was, the 6’3” McBride had neither the size nor the skill to defend NBA 2-guards. He went undrafted and has never played in the pros.
One of the few big men on the guard-heavy 2005 national runners-up, Roger Powell didn’t get many chances to shoot in that lineup. He did, however, make his opportunities count, hitting 57.2 percent of his career field goals to place fifth in program history.
Powell went undrafted and spent most of his pro career in the D-League. He did get a brief call-up with the Jazz, playing three games in a Utah uniform in 2006-07.
A fine rebounder for a 6’6” SF, Jerry Hester averaged 4.6 boards a game in his Illinois career. He helped key a conference title run in 1998 to cap a career in which he scored 1,415 points (the 15th-best total for an Illini player all-time).
Undrafted out of Illinois, Hester never played in the NBA. He’s currently covering his alma mater’s games as a radio analyst.
A freshman on the Flying Illini team that made the 1989 NCAA championship game, Andy Kaufmann didn’t really get going until his junior season.
Once he found his rhythm, though, the 6’5” swingman averaged as many as 21.3 points a game, finishing with a total of 1,533 (ninth-best in program history).
Though he was a prodigious scorer, Kaufmann went undrafted by the NBA. He never played in the league.
A hard-nosed 6’8” center, Greg Jackson was a force on the inside for Illinois. He averaged as many as 17 points a game in Urbana, and his career mark of 8.3 rebounds a night ties him for eighth place on the school’s all-time list.
Tough though he was on the glass, Jackson’s scoring plummeted to 11.9 points a game as a senior. He went undrafted and never played in the NBA.
He didn’t have elite shooting range, but Donnie Freeman could get to the rim with the best.
The 6’3” guard scored 1,449 points at Illinois (the 13th-best figure in program history), capping his career by averaging a school-record 27.8 points a game as a senior.
A third-round pick of the 76ers, Freeman headed to the ABA instead, where became a star.
He helped Indiana win a championship in 1973, but his best season came three years earlier, when he made the third of his five All-Star appearances by averaging 27.4 points a game.
A legitimate power forward at 6’8”, George Bon Salle made his biggest impact on the offensive end. Bon Salle’s 17.3 points a game are the eighth-best career average in Illinois history.
Although he was drafted by the Syracuse Nationals (forerunners of the 76ers), Bon Salle couldn’t make the roster. Years later, he signed with the expansion Chicago Packers (now the Wizards), but played in just three games during his NBA career.
Nearly two decades before the famed Flying Illini, Nick Conner (left in picture) earned a reputation as one of the most extraordinary leapers in Illinois history.
The 6’6” Conner spent most of his career as an undersized center banging with the likes of UCLA’s 6’11” Bill Walton, but he still managed to grab 8.3 rebounds a game in his career to tie for eighth in school history.
Conner was drafted by the Buffalo Braves (now the Clippers), but only in Round 10. He didn’t make the roster and never played in the NBA.
The rare Illinois guard who couldn’t shoot the three—he attempted just 66 in his entire career—Rennie Clemons still made a major impact on both ends of the floor.
Clemons ranks eighth in program history with career averages of four assists and 1.4 steals per game.
Clemons made the mistake of declaring for the draft after his junior year in Champaign. He went undrafted and never played in the NBA.
One of the hyper-athletic wing players who gave the Flying Illini their nickname, 6’8” Marcus Liberty was a high-school legend who had to sit out his freshman year for academic reasons.
In the two years he did play before he jumped to the NBA, Liberty helped the Illini reach the 1989 Final Four, then averaged 17.8 points and 7.1 rebounds when coach Lou Henson dragooned him into a low-post role as a junior.
In the pros, Liberty returned to his natural spot on the perimeter, becoming a dangerous bench scorer for the Nuggets in a brief career. He averaged as many as 9.3 points and 4.3 rebounds a night, but was out of the league after four seasons.
A jack-of-all-trades 6’6” forward, Mark Smith averaged as many as 6.1 rebounds and four assists a game in an Illini uniform.
A tenacious defender who snatched 161 steals in his career (tied for eighth in school history), Smith also lit up the scoreboard to finish eighth all-time among Illini with 1,653 points.
Versatile as he was, he didn’t have any one skill that could lock down an NBA roster spot. He was drafted in Round 3 by the Bucks, but he never played in the NBA.
Although more offense-minded eras have eclipsed his totals in the record books, 6’3” Don Ohl was a first-class weapon in the Illinois backcourt. For his three-year career with the Illini, Ohl averaged 14 points per contest.
Ohl’s scoring touch translated brilliantly to the NBA, as he averaged 15.9 points a game over a 10-year pro career. In his prime with the Pistons and Bullets (now Wizards), Ohl made five consecutive All-Star teams.
A transfer from Northern Illinois, Kenny Battle became one of the signature players for the Flying Illini.
He parlayed his slashing drives into 16.6 points a game as a senior, while on the other end he used his rangy 6’6” frame to snag a school-record of 89 steals for the season.
Battle’s lack of an outside shot kept him from becoming nearly as effective in the NBA. He played four undistinguished seasons in the league, topping out at 6.1 points a game in his second year (split between Phoenix and Denver).
A prototype PF for his era, 6’7” John Wessels was on the floor for one reason: rebounding. Wessels averaged 8.7 boards a night, the seventh-best career mark in program history.
Wessels was drafted by the expansion Chicago Packers (now the Wizards), but not until Round 8. He never played in the NBA.
Although Chester Frazier never made much of a dent as a scorer (7.2 points a game in his best season), he more than made up for it with the rest of his game.
The 6’2” point guard was a fearsome defender, and his career total of 484 assists is seventh-best in program history.
Frazier’s lack of scoring punch kept him out of the NBA, but didn’t end his basketball career. He spent last season as an assistant on Bruce Weber’s staff at his alma mater, but left in November to resume his playing career overseas.
An imposing, low-post scorer who averaged 18.5 points a game in his best college season, Bill Burwell was even tougher on the glass. Burwell averaged 9.6 rebounds a game in his Illini career, ranking him sixth on the school’s all-time list.
A third-round pick of the Hawks, Burwell wasn’t exactly a threat to Bob Pettit’s starting job. He never played in the NBA.
Although he played just two years in Urbana after transferring from Duke, Jeff Dawson earned his reputation as a first-rate scorer. Dawson’s career average of 18.4 points a game is the sixth-highest in Illinois history.
Dawson was drafted by the Kings, but not until the ninth round. In the grand tradition of ninth-round picks, he didn’t make the roster and never played in the NBA.
As a freshman, Derek Harper dished out 5.4 assists a game while running the offense for Illinois’ first NCAA tournament team in 18 years.
The quick-handed point guard was even more impressive on D, where his 178 career steals rank sixth in program history.
Harper went on to a terrific NBA career spent mostly with the Mavericks. Over 16 NBA seasons, he averaged 13.3 points and 5.5 assists a night while hitting 35.4 percent of his three-point tries.
Although SG Doug Altenberger was an outstanding defender, he earns his place on this list for his offensive performance.
Altenberger ranks in Illinois’ all-time top 25 in scoring (1,271 career points) and holds the Illini record with a three-point shooting percentage of .472 over his four seasons.
Altenberger was drafted by the Hawks in the sixth round, but couldn’t crack the roster. He never played in the NBA.
A bruising 6’4”, 230-lb forward, Sergio McClain was a defensive stopper for the 2001 Big Ten champs. McClain’s 210 career steals are the fifth-highest total in Illini history, just two behind teammate Frank Williams for fourth place.
Undrafted out of school, McClain got a brief trial in the D-League. He played 20 games for Asheville, but didn’t get on the floor much and averaged more fouls than rebounds.
Robert Archibald only got one season as an Illinois starter, but he made it count. The 6’11” center from Scotland set an Illini record by shooting .659 from the field for the year, averaging 10.6 points along with 5.5 rebounds.
A second-round pick of the Grizzlies, Archibald couldn’t find a niche in the NBA. He played a total of 44 games with four different teams, but was out of the league after two seasons.
Bouncing in and out of Illinois’ starting lineup, James Griffin’s biggest asset was his physical presence. The 6’10” center averaged as many as seven rebounds a game with the Illini, and his 156 career blocks place fourth on the school’s all-time list.
Griffin was drafted by the Nets, but the 1980s were not kind to that franchise’s draft picks. He joined the long list of busts (albeit as a fourth-rounder), never playing in the NBA.
A dangerous scorer from the center position—he posted two 20 point-per-game seasons—Duane “Skip” Thoren was even tougher on the glass.
Thoren holds the two highest single-season rebounding averages in Illinois history (14.5 and 13.8 boards a game) and his 830 career boards stood as a school record for 15 years.
Although Thoren couldn’t make an NBA roster out of school, he landed in the ABA a few seasons later.
He played just three seasons in the league, but did make an All-Star appearance when he averaged 17.8 points and 14.2 rebounds a night for the 1968-69 Miami Floridians.
As a senior, athletic swingman Eddie Johnson (far left) led the Illini to their first NCAA tournament in 18 years. Johnson’s forte was scoring, as he poured in a then-record 1,692 points in his career—still the seventh-best total in program history.
A second-round steal for the Kings, Johnson became an outstanding NBA forward.
He was at his best coming off the bench, becoming one of the NBA’s premier instant-offense reserves and winning Sixth Man of the Year honors with the Suns in 1988-89.
After two years of junior college, Marcus Griffin transferred to Illinois, where he joined high-school teammates Frank Williams and Sergio McClain.
The 6’9” Griffin became a key defensive presence for the 2001 Elight Eight squad, finishing third in school history with 1.4 blocks per game for his career.
Griffin had a respectable shooting touch, but his post-up game wasn’t up to NBA standards. He went undrafted and never played in the league.
A leader on Illinois’ first-ever NCAA tournament team in 1942, Andy Phillip was one of the first dominant scorers for the Illini. His 40-point game as a sophomore would stand a school record for two decades.
Joining the fledgling NBA with the now-defunct Chicago Stags, Phillip developed into an elite point guard. He led the league in assists three straight seasons with the Stags and Warriors on his way to the Hall of Fame.
Indiana transfer Derek Holcomb would have put the career blocks record out of reach altogether if he had gotten to play four years for the Illini.
As it is, his single-season record of three blocks per game hasn’t been approached, and he stands third on the school’s all-time list with 174 rejections for his career.
Holcomb’s offensive game didn’t match his prodigious defense. Though he became a third-round pick of the Blazers, he never played in the NBA.
A first-class distributor who dished out 459 career assists (eighth in Illinois history), Richard Keene was even more dangerous taking his own shots.
The 6’6” guard drained 237 career three-pointers, a school record when he graduated and still good for third on the all-time list.
Despite his impressive offensive skill set, Keene went undrafted by the NBA. He never played in the league.
The 1988-89 Flying Illini earned their nickname with dazzling dunks, but the team also had plenty of outside shooting thanks to guards like Stephen Bardo.
The 6’5” Bardo hit 45.5 percent from long range for his college career, the second-best mark in Illini history.
Bardo was drafted by the Hawks in the second round, but never played for the team. He bounced around the NBA briefly, appearing in 33 total games for the Spurs, Mavericks and Pistons but playing only sparingly and scoring less.
A bona fide center at 7’1”, 245 lbs, Mike Tisdale got the most use out of his length on the defensive end. Tisdale blocked 176 shots in his Illinois career, one shy of Deon Thomas’ school record.
Undrafted out of school, Tisdale is off to a roller-coaster start in the D-League.
He was released by Maine after eight games, but has averaged 11.6 points and 6.4 boards a night (along with 1.6 blocks) for Fort Wayne in five appearances since signing with them.
The leading scorer on the 2005 team that racked up 37 wins and reached the national championship game, Luther Head was the best perimeter sniper on a roster loaded with them.
The 6’3” guard, who averaged 15.9 points a game as a senior, set a school record with 116 three-pointers that season en route to a career total of 209 (sixth in school history).
Head is playing overseas in 2011-12, but he’s been an effective NBA reserve in his career to date. He’s averaged as many as 10.9 points a game for the Rockets while shooting an eye-popping .388 from beyond the arc.
Part of the intimidating front line that won the 1963 Big Ten title (the school’s first in a decade), Dave Downey was a devastating weapon in the post.
He graduated as Illinois’ all-time leading scorer (he’s now 20th on that list), and his career average of 11 rebounds a game is the third-best for an Illini player all-time.
A fourth-round draft pick of the Warriors, Downey couldn’t crack a star-studded frontcourt boasting Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain and Nate Thurmond. He never played in the NBA.
Ken Norman, standing at 6'8", was a valuable rebounder who topped out at 9.8 boards a game in his final season on campus, but his scoring was an even bigger asset to Illinois.
Norman averaged as many as 20.7 points a game while finishing second in school history with a .609 field goal percentage for his career.
A first-round pick of the Clippers, Norman didn’t turn out to be nearly the bust that so many other L.A. first-rounders were. He averaged as many as 18.1 points and 8.3 rebounds a game for the Clips in the prime of a solid 10-year pro career.
Although Mike Davis had a soft touch around the basket that let him pile up nearly 1,300 career points, his real gift was rebounding. Davis’ 909 career boards are the second-best total in Illini history.
Undrafted out of school, Davis is currently playing in the Ukraine. At 6’9”, he’s not an impossible long-shot to make it to the NBA at some point, but the odds aren’t in his favor either.
A standout for Illinois’ 1952 Final Four team as a sophomore, Johnny “Red” Kerr was (at 6'9") the first overpowering big man in Illini history.
He became the program’s first 1,000 point scorer, and his senior-year average of 25.3 points a night is still the second-best all-time at the school.
At the NBA level, Kerr ‘s scoring slowed down but he was still a dominant rebounder. He posted eight consecutive seasons of double-double averages and made three All-Star games for the 76ers franchise.
Frank Williams developed into a dangerous scorer who averaged 16.2 points a game as a junior, but he was a first-rate point guard from day one.
Williams averaged 4.3 assists (tied for sixth in school history) and 2.1 steals (third) in a career that saw him lead three consecutive Big Ten regular-season champions.
The draft-night trade that made Nene Hilario a Nugget sent Williams to the Knicks. Even in limited minutes off the bench, Williams averaged 1.9 assists a game, but he lasted just three seasons in the NBA.
A punishing 6’8” PF, Dave Scholz ranks 12 on the Illini charts with 1,459 career points. In three seasons at Illinois, Scholz averaged 9.7 boards a night (fifth-best in school history) and 20.5 points (second).
Despite his success in the Big Ten, Scholz couldn’t cut it at the NBA level. He was drafted by the Sixers but played just one minute in his pro career.
As impressive as Demetri McCamey was as a scorer—his 1,718 points are sixth-most in school history—his legacy will be as one of the best distributors the Illini have ever had.
McCamey’s career average of 5.3 assists a night is third-best all-time at Illinois, and as a junior he tied a school record with 16 assists in a game while setting another one with 7.1 assists per contest for the season.
Despite his flashy college numbers, McCamey wasn’t drafted by the NBA. He’s currently playing in Turkey.
6’10” center Efrem Winters did everything a top-notch pivot man is supposed to do. Winters ranks in Illinois’ all-time top 10 in points (1,487), rebounds (853) and blocks (103).
Brilliant as Winters was in college, his talents didn’t translate to the next level. He was drafted by the Hawks but never played in the NBA.
The co-captain and co-point guard for the winningest team in Illini history, Deron Williams dished out 6.8 assists a game for the 2005 national runners-up.
That 37-win campaign capped a career in which Williams tied Bruce Douglas’ record with 5.9 assists per contest and drained 163 treys for good measure.
Despite being stuck in purgatory on the woeful Nets, Williams is averaging 20.2 points and 8.8 assists a game in 2011-12.
Even that’s a letdown after four straight seasons of double-digit assists and back-to-back All-Star appearances in a Jazz uniform.
The prototype of a tweener guard, 6’2” Kiwane Garris was a great distributor and a great scorer by turns. He dished out 502 career assists, the fifth-most in program history, while also scoring 1,948 points to come within 80 of Deon Thomas’ school record.
Garris’ lack of length doomed him in the NBA, where he caught on only briefly as an undrafted free agent with the Nuggets. He played 28 of his 31 career games in Denver, but averaged just eight minutes a night.
After running the point for the 1988-89 Flying Illini, Kendall Gill became a primary scorer the next season and averaged 20 points a game. For his career, the tenacious guard totaled 1,409 points (16th in school history) and 218 steals (third).
A lottery pick of the Hornets, Gill went on to a terrific NBA career that also featured successful stints in Seattle and New Jersey. Over 15 seasons, he averaged 13.4 points and 1.6 steals a game, leading the league in the latter category in 1998-99.
A sophomore standout on Illinois’ 2001 Elite Eight team, Brian Cook blossomed into a big-time star as a senior.
Cook averaged 20 points and 7.6 rebounds a night that season, capping a career in which he racked up 815 boards (sixth-best in school history) and 1,748 points (fourth).
The agile Cook has never done enough rebounding to merit more than a bench role in the NBA, but he’s still hanging on in that capacity after eight-plus seasons.
Now a little-used Clipper, Cook put up his best numbers off the bench with the cross-town Lakers, who burned a first-round pick on him.
Cory Bradford didn’t bring a lot to the table besides his shooting stroke, but what a shooter he was.
The 6’3” guard scored the fifth-most points in Illini history (1,735), thanks in large measure to an NCAA-record streak of 88 consecutive games hitting at least one three-point shot.
The undersized Bradford didn’t have the defensive chops to succeed at SG in the pros. He went undrafted and never played in the NBA.
Although Deon Thomas put up the kind of rebounding numbers expected of a 6’9” college PF—7.2 boards a night for his career—they paled in comparison to his other stats.
Thomas blocked more shots (177) than any Illini player ever, and his total of 2,129 points crushed Illinois’ previous career record by nearly 500.
Thomas became a second-round pick of the Mavericks, but headed to Europe instead. He never played in the NBA.
The interior anchor of the national runners-up in 2005, center James Augustine was an underrated scorer who made his name on the glass.
Augustine shattered the school record for rebounding, becoming the first Illini player in history to break the 1,000-board mark in his career.
A second-round pick of the Magic, Augustine rarely left the bench in his brief pro career. He averaged all of 5.8 minutes a game in 27 NBA appearances.
Illini basketball has seen some extraordinary point guards, but none who could match the college numbers of Bruce Douglas.
The 6’3” Douglas holds the school records for assists (765) and steals (324), and as a sophomore he helped take Illinois to its first Elite Eight since 1963.
In spite of his sensational collegiate performance, Douglas was a wash out in the NBA. He played just eight games as a Kings rookie, the sum total of his career in the league.
The leader of the Flying Illini Final Four squad, Nick Anderson slashed and slammed his way to 18 points a game that season (along with 7.9 rebounds a night).
The 6’6” swingman posted a career average of 17 points per contest, the ninth-best mark in school history.
The first-ever draft pick of the expansion Magic, Anderson developed a lethal three-point shot as a pro. He played 10 terrific seasons in Orlando, averaging as many as 19.9 points a game and shooting .415 from long range in his best season.
A tremendous rebounder as a 6’7” forward, Nick Weatherspoon was equally devastating as a scorer. His career averages of 20.9 points and 11.3 boards per game have both stood as Illinois records for 40 years.
Weatherspoon became a productive NBA reserve who averaged nine points and 4.9 rebounds a game while (mostly) coming off the bench.
He was drafted by the Wizards franchise, but played his best ball with the Sonics and (at the end of his career) the Clippers.
He couldn't match Deron Williams for NBA stardom, but Dee Brown turned in the greatest college career in Illinois history.
A co-captain of the 2005 squad that won 37 games and played for the national title, Brown was unstoppable as a scorer (1,812 points, third in school history), passer (674 assists, also third) and defender (231 steals, second).
A second-round pick of the Jazz, Brown never found a role for himself in the NBA. He played a total of 68 games over two seasons split among Utah, Washington and Phoenix.