As NBA Draft day quickly approaches, it’s always interesting to reflect on the history of each Big Ten team in the draft. For some teams, having a player selected in the draft is a milestone. For others, it’s merely a mark on a long list.
Though the last player to be drafted from Illinois was Meyers Leonard (the 11th overall pick by Portland back in 2012), the Illini have a rich past in the the NBA Draft.
Leonard was the 74th player to be drafted into the NBA from Illinois. The only team in the Big Ten that has had more players selected in the draft is Indiana with 88.
In the early 2000s, thanks to an NCAA Championship run, the Illini had a barrage of players drafted. Four out of Illinois’ five starters during the 2004-2005 season, in which the Illini went 37-2 and lost 75-70 to North Carolina in the NCAA Championship, ended up being drafted. Deron Williams and Luther Head were both drafted immediately following the 2004-’05 season. James Augustine and Dee Brown were then drafted the following year.
Unfortunately for Augustine and Brown, after each being selected in the second round of the 2006 draft, their NBA careers didn’t really pan out. However, Head saw a little success at the NBA level while Williams has become a well-known NBA player.
Head was selected 24th overall by the Houston Rockets and was a member of the All-NBA Rookie Second team the next season when he averaged 8.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. Head scored 10.9 points per game the following season before regressing majorly in terms of production.
Williams, on the other hand, has a long list of NBA achievements. Williams was drafted third overall by the Utah Jazz, making him the earliest drafted Illinois player in history. Since being drafted, Williams has been a member of the All-NBA Rookie First Team and three different All-Star teams. Williams also notched a gold medal in the US Olympics in 2008 and 2012.
Though Williams is the only Illini alumni to pan-out in the NBA recently, there are a number of former Illinois players to do so further in the past.
Four Illini players have won an NBA championship. Two of which did so as members of the same Syracuse Nationals team in 1955. One of the players, Wally Osterkorn, was originally drafted by the Chicago Stags in the second round of the 1950 NBA Draft after playing in the NBPL out of college for one season. The forward averaged seven points and six rebounds over five NBA seasons.
Center Johnny Kerr was the other Illini player on the ‘55 Nationals squad. Kerr was selected 6th overall in the 1954 NBA Draft by the Nationals. Kerr also filled his resume with three-time NBA All-Star honors and NBA Coach of the Year for the Chicago Bulls in 1967.
Andy Phillip was another notable Illini alumni to take home an NBA title. Phillip was drafted by the Chicago Stags in 1947 and won the championship 10 years later as a member of the Boston Celtics. The guard was also a five-time NBA All-Star and two-time NBA assist leader. Phillip was an All-American at Illinois as a freshman and sophomore.
The most recent former Illinois player to win an NBA championship was Steve Kuberski in 1974 and 1976 as a member of the Celtics as well. The 6-foot-8-inch forward began his college career at Illinois before transferring to Bradley for his final two collegiate seasons. Kuberski was selected 52nd overall in the 4th round by the Boston Celtics.
There have also been two other players, other than the ones previously mentioned, to have made an NBA All-Star Team roster. Notably, Don Ohl did so five consecutive years from 1963-1967. The Philadelphia 76ers drafted Ohl out of Illinois in 1958 with the 36th overall pick. Ohl was a quick, high-scoring guard that averaged 15.9 points per game in an 11-year NBA career.
The list goes on for former Illinois basketball player achievements in the NBA. Though Malcolm Hill is the only player from last year’s team that has a somewhat decent chance at getting drafted, history proves that it won’t be long before an Illini’s name is called on draft day.