As the NBA Draft rapidly approaches, BTPowerhouse continues to look at the draft histories of Big Ten programs. Today we take a look at the Fighting Illini who seem to have some NBA-level fire power coming into the program in 2015...just not so much right now.
Fighting Illini Currently in the NBA:
|Meyers Leonard||2012||Portland Trailblazers||164||4.89|
|Deron Williams||2005||Utah Jazz||716||17.02|
Love 'em or hate 'em, Deron Williams is not only still "getting them checks" in the NBA, he's also still putting up Eastern Conference All-Star worthy numbers. Allow me to repeat, EASTERN Conference All-Star numbers.
While his total fan outlook took somewhat of a weird nosedive after being traded to the Brooklyn Nets (which came at the end of an odd situation with former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan), the leader of the 2005 NCAA Tournament runner-up is the best NBA product the Fighting Illini have produced in their schools history; some went as far as heralding D-Will as the best pure point guard in the NBA (here's to you Billy King).
Williams was drafted with the third overall pick in 2005, making him the highest drafted player since Kendall Gill in 1990 and Red Kerr in 1954.
Meyers Leonard is a different case. After being selected with the 11th pick in the 2012 draft, Leonard's path in the NBA has been tedious. While he began to see more minutes in part to injuries this past season, Blazers coach Terry Stotts, has been erratic with the playing time. If the seven footer continues to work on his defensive and rebounding abilities, a more steady onslaught of rotational minutes are definitely on the horizon, assuming LeMarcus Aldridge stays put. But if the NBA Free Agent books it for another franchise, Meyers could be in the running for a starting position as early as this season.
One last note: Leonard's per-36 numbers from last year are kind of eye opening at 13.9 points, 10.6 rebounds and .6 blocks.
Fighting Illini in the NBA Draft
The Illini have had 27 players drafted in the first and second rounds of the NBA Draft (and 62 total players when you include the ridiculous umpteen rounds back in the infancy of the league).
First Round Picks:
|George Bon Salle||1957||7|
Never forget...EVER (insert all the sad faced emoji's):
Second Round Picks:
As an impressionable young sophomore at an Illinois high school during the crazy Illini run, I have a semi-truck sized soft spot in my heart for Deron Williams, Luther Head, Roger Powell Jr., James Augustine and Dee Brown. So much so that I almost put on my CHIEF hat permanently when it came time to decide between Iowa and Illinois and who will be collecting 80% of my paychecks for the first 5-10 years of my adult life.
I was completely absorbed by that team. I remember going numb in the last three minutes of the Arizona game in front of a stadium of current, former and adopted members of the Orange Krush. I still don't know how Dee Brown grabbed that Luther Head miss with a little over two minutes left. I still don't understand how Arizona could just let Head dive in for a steal at the top of the key and then let him glide in for a fast break lay in? Then of course there was the Head three pointer that was taken from all the way back in Champagne only to be followed up by the Brown steal on Hassan Adams...OH, and then...
Phew. I'm sorry. That was getting a little out of control. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that while the NBA didn't work out as well as my adolescent mind wanted it to for these guys, that core of Williams, Head, Augustene and Brown were absolute NBA talents (no matter if it was star-in-training or a fringe bench player) and their successes should have been the ground work for a new gold standard for a school only two hours south of Chicago.
As you can tell from the draft picks since their departure, that ground work collapsed.
Hope for the future?
I'm sorry Illini fans, but not yet. We can look at the 2015 incoming recruiting class together and talk about how John Groce is definitely getting closer. But at the same time, we could also go to the nearest 7/11 and get a lottery ticket that could be worth 8.2 million dollars.
The fact is we just don't know yet, but the new toys are looking more shiny.
But as far as this weeks NBA Draft goes...it looks meek.
Nnanna Egwu is the only player to have a chance (albeit small) to hear his name called from the 2014-15 Fighting Illini roster. While he's got all of the right adjectives attached to his name ("coachability", "mobility", "great character", "does the little things", "intangibles"), it looks like Egwu's best chance at an NBA roster will be in Free Agency.
With that said, don't be shocked if Egwu surprises some people in the NBA Summer League. His offensive game isn't going to make scouts throw their paper and pencil's in the air in a fit of excitement, but his willingness to set screens, run the floor and defend will. There are always spots in the NBA for a 6'11", 250 pound centers with Jeff VanGundy "verticality" and a knack for blocking shots (201 blocked shots in his Illini career, a school record).