The University of Illinois Fighting Illini men’s basketball team has been a powerhouse in college basketball since the program’s inception in 1906. Throughout its storied history, the team has produced many talented athletes that have gone on to become NBA stars. As we look back on the Illinois Fighting Illini’s impressive legacy, it is only natural to ask the question: who are the top 10 greatest players of all time? In this blog post, we’ll take a look at some of the most impressive Illinois Fighting Illini men’s basketball players to ever grace the court.
1) Ken Norman
Ken Norman, who played for the University of Illinois from 1984-1987, is widely considered to be one of the greatest Illinois Fighting Illini men’s basketball players of all time. During his time with the team, Norman was named the Big Ten Player of the Year in 1987, and he was a three-time All-Big Ten selection.
Norman was a dominating force in the paint during his college career. He set an Illini record with 1,466 points during his senior season, which was good enough to rank third in the Big Ten that year. He also led the Illini to two NCAA tournament appearances, including a Sweet Sixteen appearance in 1986.
Ken Norman’s legacy at the University of Illinois is undeniable. He currently ranks sixth all-time in scoring, sixth in rebounding, and third in field goal percentage. He was also inducted into the University of Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame in 2006. Ken Norman’s hard work and dedication will always make him one of the greatest Fighting Illini men’s basketball players of all time.
2) Deon Thomas
Deon Thomas is one of the greatest Illinois Fighting Illini men’s basketball players of all time. He is the second all-time leading scorer in Illini history with 2,129 points and still holds numerous team records. During his college career, he was a three-time All-Big Ten selection and was also named Big Ten Player of the Year in 1994. He averaged 20.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game during his four-year career and led the Illini to two NCAA Tournament appearances, including a run to the Sweet Sixteen in 1989. After leaving Illinois, he played professionally for four seasons in the NBA and two seasons in Europe before retiring in 1999. He remains one of the most beloved figures in Illini basketball history and will be remembered for his incredible play on the court for years to come.
3) Kiwane Garris
Kiwane Garris is an all-time great for the University of Illinois Men’s Basketball Team. Garris attended Illinois from 1995-1998 and had a phenomenal collegiate career. He holds the record for most points scored in a single season at the school with 890.
Garris was an exceptional shooter, scorer, and playmaker for the Illini during his time in Champaign. He was the team’s leader and lead them to the Sweet Sixteen in 1997 and the Elite Eight in 1998. Garris was named to the All Big Ten First Team three times in his four years and earned Big Ten Player of the Year in 1997-1998. He was also a consensus All-American that season.
Garris finished his career as the school’s all-time leader in assists (557) and steals (220). His 890 points in 1997-1998 season rank as the second most in a single season in Big Ten History.
Kiwane Garris is without a doubt one of the greatest Illinois Fighting Illini men’s basketball players of all time. He brought a winning spirit to the team and his presence is still felt today.
4) Nick Anderson
When you think of the greatest Illinois Fighting Illini men’s basketball players of all time, one name stands out above the rest: Nick Anderson. Anderson, a 6-foot-6 guard, was a star at Illinois from 1987 to 1989 and is considered one of the greatest Illini players ever.
Anderson was a three-time All-Big Ten selection and two-time Big Ten Player of the Year in 1988 and 1989. He was also named the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament in 1989, leading the Illini to their first-ever Final Four appearance. He finished his collegiate career with 1,788 points, 822 rebounds, and 350 assists, and still ranks fourth on the Illini’s all-time scoring list.
After his college career ended, Anderson was drafted 11th overall by the Orlando Magic in the 1989 NBA Draft and went on to have an impressive professional career. He was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team in 1990 and was a member of the All-NBA Third Team in 1996. He played 14 seasons in the NBA, averaging 13.0 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
It’s no wonder why Nick Anderson is considered one of the greatest Illinois Fighting Illini men’s basketball players of all time. His accolades speak for themselves, but it’s his tenacity and passion for the game that made him one of the best ever.
5) Derek Harper
Derek Harper is one of the greatest Illinois Fighting Illini men’s basketball players of all time. A native of Chicago, Harper played for the Fighting Illini from 1981 to 1983 and was an integral part of the team’s success during those years. He averaged 16.1 points per game and 5.2 assists per game while at Illinois and was a two-time All-Big Ten selection.
Harper was known for his hard-nosed style of play and his tenacity on defense. He helped lead the Illini to back-to-back Big Ten titles in 1981 and 1982 and led the Illini to the Final Four in 1982. After college, Harper went on to have a long and successful career in the NBA, playing for the Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks, and Los Angeles Lakers.
Derek Harper will always be remembered as one of the top players in Illinois Fighting Illini history and his legacy lives on today.
6) Kenny Battle
Kenny Battle was a four-year starter for the Illinois Fighting Illini men’s basketball team from 1987-91. During his tenure, he was one of the most productive and dynamic players to ever don the orange and blue.
In his senior year, Battle averaged 23 points per game and helped the Illini reach the Final Four. He finished his college career as the school’s second all-time leading scorer with 2,193 points and was named the 1991 Big Ten Player of the Year.
Off the court, Battle was just as impressive. He was a two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection and a member of the prestigious Silver Anniversary team in 1996, an honor bestowed on select athletes who excel both academically and athletically.
In 2015, Battle was inducted into the Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame, solidifying his legacy as one of the greatest players to ever don an Illinois uniform.
7) Marcus Liberty
No list of the top 10 greatest Illinois Fighting Illini men’s basketball players of all time would be complete without mentioning Marcus Liberty. The 6’8 forward was a four-year starter and three-time All-Big Ten selection during his time in Champaign, becoming the first Illini player to ever receive that honor.
Liberty was also named an All-American in his senior season and was the first freshman to ever start for Illinois. His 1,943 career points ranks seventh all-time in school history, while his 866 rebounds are sixth all-time. He also posted 107 blocks and 99 steals during his tenure with the team, helping lead the Illini to a Big Ten title and the 1989 Final Four.
Off the court, Liberty received his degree from Illinois and remains one of the most revered players in school history. His #4 jersey has since been retired by the university, cementing his legacy as one of the best players to ever wear an Illini uniform.
8) Eddie Johnson
When talking about the greatest Illinois Fighting Illini Men’s Basketball players of all time, one name that must be included is Eddie Johnson. The 6-foot-7 forward was a two-time All-American at Illinois and was the first consensus All-American in school history.
Johnson was a force on the court, averaging 16.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game over his four years in Champaign. He led the team in rebounding during his junior and senior seasons and set a single-season record for most free throws made. Johnson was a key contributor to the Illini’s 1979 Final Four run and was named the MVP of the NCAA Midwest Regional that year.
After college, Johnson played in the NBA for twelve seasons, including stints with the Chicago Bulls, Phoenix Suns, and Houston Rockets. He was a two-time All-Star and scored over 13,000 career points.
For his contributions to Illinois basketball, Johnson was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017. He will forever be remembered as one of the greatest Fighting Illini of all time.
9) Deron Williams
When discussing the greatest Illinois Fighting Illini men’s basketball players of all time, Deron Williams is a name that often comes up. The 6-foot-3 point guard was an absolute force for the Illini from 2002-2005, leading them to two Big Ten regular-season championships and two Big Ten Tournament titles.
Williams was a three-time All-Big Ten selection and earned First Team honors in 2005. He also made the All-American Second Team that same year after averaging 15.5 points, 6.8 assists, and 3.2 rebounds per game.
In addition to being one of the most decorated players in Illinois history, Williams is one of the best ever at his position. He led the Illini to their first Final Four appearance since 1989, and he left with career averages of 14.3 points, 7.2 assists, and 4.3 rebounds per game.
When it comes to the greatest Illinois Fighting Illini men’s basketball players of all time, there’s no denying the impact that Deron Williams had on the program. He helped turn the Illini into one of the top teams in the country during his time at the school, and his legacy still lives on today.
10) A.J. Guyton
A.J. Guyton was one of the greatest players to ever wear an Illinois Fighting Illini uniform. The 6’2 guard from Peoria, Illinois was a member of the 2000 national championship team and was a two-time first-team All-Big Ten selection.
Guyton was a four-year standout at Illinois from 1996 to 2000. During his college career, he set several school records, including most career points (2,172) and most points in a single season (852). He was named Big Ten Player of the Year in 2000 and was a finalist for the John R. Wooden Award as the nation’s top player that same year.
Guyton led the Illini to three straight NCAA Tournament appearances and two Big Ten regular-season championships during his time at Illinois. He scored 30 or more points on five occasions, including a career-high 41 against Purdue in 1998.
After college, Guyton went on to play professionally in Europe and the NBA Development League. In 2002, he signed a free-agent contract with the Indiana Pacers and played with them for two seasons before being released in 2004.
A.J. Guyton will forever be remembered as one of the top Fighting Illini basketball players of all time. His contribution to the program will always be remembered and cherished by fans of the University of Illinois.