When looking at the 21st century of Illinois Fighting Illini basketball, it's easy to go straight to the 2004-2005 team to start any analysis. Final record of 37-2. Big Ten champions. National runner-up. However, were those starting five individually the best to don the orange and blue in the past fifteen years?
Let's take a look at the best Illini players since the year 2000. Using the first, second and third team All-Team format, I'm ranking the best to play at each position during this time period. Also, as a note, the player had to have started their tenure at Illinois during the 2000's, so guys like Frank Williams are ineligible. Without further ado, here's the first team All-Century at University of Illinois.
First Team All-Century
PG- Dee Brown Brown is generally viewed as the greatest collegiate player of the decade at U of I. A product of Proviso East in Maywood, IL, Brown was selected to the 2005 first team All-America as well as named Sporting News Collegiate Player of the Year. While he may not have had the draft stock of a Deron Williams, Dee's hustle for loose balls and tough defense made him a fan favorite among the Orange Krush. In his career at Illinois, he averaged 13.2 PPG, 4.9 APG and shot 36% from three.
SG- Deron Williams The best pro the university has produced in the last two decades was a stud in his Illini tenure. D-Will is often remembered for his stellar performance in Illinois' 2005 Elite Eight comeback win over Arizona, more specifically his game-tying three with 36.0 seconds to go (see below). Williams' big body allowed him to take on the best in the business, including guys like Chris Paul when he led the Illini to an upset 91-73 win over then #1 Wake Forest in the 2004 Big Ten/ACC Challenge. His jersey hangs in the Illini rafters for a reason.
SG- Luther Head Ok, so maybe the 2004-2005 team was pretty great. Luther Head, while at times in the shadows of Brown and Williams, was the Illini's leading scorer during that special season. Rounding out the guard trifecta, he averaged 15.9 PPG while shooting 41.0% from beyond the arc. He and fellow senior Roger Powell provided strong leadership over a run that would land the boys in the national title game.
F- Brian Cook Cook may have been the best big man the Illini have had in the 21st century. In his 2002-2003 season, he averaged 20.0 PPG and 7.6 RPG. A future Los Angeles Laker, Cook was named Big Ten Player of the Year in 2003 as well as second team All-America by the Associated Press. He still plays internationally for the club team Aguada in Uruguay.
C- Meyers Leonard This one is the toughest to call, but Leonard gets the slight edge. Coming out of high school as a five-star recruit according to Scout, Meyers only played two seasons in Champaign before being picked 11th overall in the 2012 NBA draft by the Portland Trailblazers. In his sophomore season, he averaged 13.6 PPG and 8.2 RPG while earning an Honorable mention for All-Big Ten. His 7-1 frame was a tough matchup for anybody on the court.
Second Team All-Century
PG- Demetri McCamey Despite his many flaws, McCamey still ranks as the second best Illini point guard of the 2000's on. A product of St. Joseph's High School, the basketball powerhouse that's produced Isaiah Thomas and Evan Turner, McCamey was once rated as the second best high school player in the state behind Derrick Rose. Although he did not completely live up to the hype, he was named first team All-Big Ten in 2010 after averaging 15.1 PPG and a conference leading 7.1 APG.
SG- Brandon Paul BP3, as he is more commonly referred to, was a progressively solid shooting guard for all four years as an Illini. The 2009 Illinois Mr. Basketball formed a tandem with D.J. Richardson as the two led the team in their senior years into the second round of the NCAA tournament. Paul's younger brother, Darius, will finally enter the Illini program this coming season.
SG- D.J. Richardson Threeeee! D! J! Richarddddsooonnnn! During his four years in an Illini uniform, Assembly Hall heard a lot of this. A career 35.5% three-point shooter, D.J. was also a scrappy defender, averaging 1.3 steals during his senior season. Who doesn't remember his buzzer-beater three to knock off Hawaii in the 2012? Much love for #1.
F- Roger Powell Now a preacher by profession, Powell was the heart and soul behind that legendary Illini team. Though only 6-6, Powell used his 235 pound body to work and score from inside. Just getting into Big Ten basketball? Think of a Branden Dawson who can shoot from the outside. His missed three-point shot followed by big jam capped off a huge Illini victory over Louisville in the 2005 Final Four. Check it out at 0:35.
C- James Augustine Without King James, the Illini don't get to the Final Four. Over the course of his junior season, he averaged 10.1 PPG and 7.6 RPG, locking down the post for Bruce Weber and Co. Can't help but love the bald man.
Third Team All-Century
PG- Chester Frazier Filling the shoes of Dee Brown is hard, but Frazier was able to fend for himself. Although not a great scorer, Chester succeeded at distributing the ball, dishing out 5.5 APG during his senior season in 2008-2009.
SG- Rayvonte Rice Although he only spent two years playing in an Illini uniform, Rice will go down as one of the great scorers in Illinois history. After cutting 40 pounds following his transfer from Drake, Rice averaged 16.2 PPG while shooting 43.6% from downtown and grabbing 6.5 RPG in his senior year. Also, this happened:
SF/G- Malcom Hill The only active player on this list, Hill looks to become the best small forward the Illini have had in years. His sophomore season saw him up his points per game from 4.4 to 14.4. This landed him a third team all-Big Ten nomination, the only Illini on the team to receive that award. Look out, Malcom's primed for a stellar junior year this fall.
F- Mike Davis Part of the Bruce Weber recruiting class that also featured McCamey and seven-footer Mike Tisdale, Davis put together a solid run during his upper class seasons. As a junior he pulled down 9.2 rebounds per game while averaging 10.7 points. Although at one point he seemed to generate interest from NBA scouts, his inability to perform on a consistent basis drew its fair share of criticism. He currently plays overseas in Turkey.
C- Nnanna Egwu Nnanna was all heart in his four years as an Illini. The 6-11 Nigeria native hold the record for all-time blocks at Illinois and was a beast defensively. His hardworking and humble personality has drawn high praise from coach John Groce, who called Egwu's character one he hopes his son will emanate. While at times his play was frustrating, it's hard not to love Nnanna.
PG- Trent Meacham
F- Shaun Pruitt
C- Mike Tisdale
G- Sean Harrington
What are your thoughts? Who deserves to be where? Comment down below with your picks!