Illinois Basketball: Best Fighting Illini at Every Position from Last 9 Years

Ryan CuriFeatured ColumnistMay 17, 2014

Illinois Basketball: Best Fighting Illini at Every Position from Last 9 Years

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    JOHN DIXON/Associated Press

    Illinois has not made a Sweet 16 appearance since March 2005. That 2004-05 season ended in the national championship game, a heartbreaking loss to a loaded North Carolina Tar Heel squad. That Fighting Illini squad ended the season with a 37-2 record and is the best Big Ten team in recent memory.

    It would have been too easy to come up with the "Best Fighting Illini at Every Position in Last Decade" by taking that 2004-05 team into account. The list would have featured its complete starting lineup: Deron Williams, Dee Brown, Luther Head, Roger Powell Jr. and James Augustine.

    Head and Powell graduated following that season, Bruce Weber's second as the head coach, while Deron Williams left a year early to be selected as the third pick in the 2005 NBA draft (selected after Andrew Bogut and Marvin Williams, and chosen just before Chris Paul).

    To avoid that, this list compiles the best Fighting Illini over the course of the last nine seasons, an up-and-down period since that magical run in '05. Continue on to find out who those five players are and share insight on who you think may have been snubbed.

Point Guard: Demetri McCamey

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Demetri McCamey's best collegiate season came as a junior when he averaged 15.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 7.1 assists and was a first-team All-Big Ten selection. The Illini were left off the wrong side of the bubble in 2009-10, but upon McCamey's decision to come back to school for his senior season, the team had high hopes in 2010-11.

    While McCamey nearly matched his junior season figures the following year, averaging 14.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 6.1 assists, Illini bowed out to Kansas in the round of 32, and McCamey was left undrafted in June 2011. 

    For his career, McCamey scored 1,718 points and dished out 733 assists. Since graduating from Illinois, McCamey has bounced around overseas and in the NBA Developmental League. 

Shooting Guard: Dee Brown

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    CHARLIE NEIBERGALL/Associated Press

    Daniel "Dee" Brown arrived in Champaign-Urbana as a decorated prep player. He won the prestigious Mr. Basketball in Illinois in 2002 after playing his high school ball at Proviso East. Brown was also a McDonald's All-American who finished in the top five percent of his high school graduating class.

    Brown was a four-year starter for the orange and blue, playing one season for Bill Self and three for Bruce Weber. As a freshman, Brown led the Big Ten in steals and finished second in assists (behind fellow freshman and teammate Deron Williams).

    Illinois won Big Ten titles during Brown's sophomore and junior seasons. Brown played off the ball as Williams was the team's primary ballhandler. Brown nearly left school following his junior season, but he returned upon breaking his foot at an NBA predraft camp.

    Brown moved back to the point guard slot as a senior and finished the year as a second-team All-American selection. Brown left Illinois as the school's all-time leader in wins, minutes played, games played and starts. He ranks second in three-pointers, assists and steals, and he stands third in points scored.

    While Brown's NBA career was short-lived, you can't take away the following: Sporting News College Player of the Year (2005), Big Ten Player of the Year (2005) and Bob Cousy Award (2006). Growing up as an Illini fan, I can tell you that Brown was the face of Illinois basketball and the heart and soul of those squads.

Small Forward: Brandon Paul

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    ROBERT O`DANIELL/Associated Press

    A fellow Mr. Basketball winner, Paul arrived on campus in 2009 after playing at Warren Township High School in Gurnee. Paul started 24 games during his underclassmen years at U of I before taking on a much larger role as an upperclassman.

    Paul averaged 14.7 and 16.6 points as a junior and senior, respectively, and he was a third-team All-Big Ten selection in both seasons. He finished his Illini career with 1,654 points after the team lost in March 2013 to the Miami Hurricanes in the round of 32. He is Illinois' eighth all-time leading scorer.

    Paul's individual game performances cannot easily be matched. As a junior, Paul scored 43 points in an upset win over Ohio State, connecting on eight three-point shots. He dropped 35 points at Gonzaga as a senior and assisted on Tyler Griffey's buzzer-beating layup to beat Indiana. He also knocked down his own buzzer-beater in the Big Ten tournament in 2013, securing Illinois' NCAA tournament bid.

Power Forward: James Augustine

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    PAT LITTLE/Associated Press

    Augustine came to Illinois in 2002 with fellow recruits Dee Brown and Deron Williams. While the team was known for its outstanding backcourt trio of Brown, Williams and Luther Head, Augustine racked up plenty of accolades himself.

    While more people will remember his zero points and five fouls in the national championship, fewer will remember that it was indeed Augustine who was the Most Outstanding Player in the 2005 Big Ten tournament. A four-year starter, Augustine came from Lincoln-Way Central in New Lenox, Illinois.

    After four seasons, Augustine finished as Illinois' all-time leading rebounder with 1,023 boards. He became only the 12th player in Big Ten history to score 1,000 points and grab 1,000 rebounds and also holds the Illinois record for field-goal percentage at a 61.7-percent clip. 

    The 6'10" Augustine was terrific in the pick-and-roll game and is one of the more agile and athletic big men you'll ever see play. Augustine was a second-round draft pick in 2006 and has found his niche playing abroad after a short stint with the Orlando Magic.

Center: Meyers Leonard

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    Darrell Hoemann/Associated Press

    Leonard's time in Champaign was shorter than that of the previous four players, all of whom were four-year players for the orange and blue. Leonard came to Illinois in 2010 after winning a 2A state title for Robinson High School in downstate Illinois. 

    The 7'1" Leonard played sparingly as a freshman, only averaging 2.1 points and 1.2 rebounds in 8.2 minutes per game. As a sophomore, Leonard averaged 13.6 points and 8.2 rebounds in 31.8 minutes per game and was a two-time Big Ten Player of the Week.

    Leonard, a rare breed of big man, decided to forego his final two seasons at U of I and was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers as the 11th pick in 2012. Leonard has played 109 games for Portland, starting nine times while averaging 4.4 points and 3.4 rebounds in 14.3 minutes of play.