This is for Deron Williams: the best Illini in the NBA to come down the pike in quite a long while. This goes out to the man who represented the country this summer on Team USA and is coming off a season which garnered him a second team All-NBA spot.
Keep it up Deron.
Keep it up, because you are the immediate hope of all Illini/NBA fans who have been waiting years and years (decades and decades) to see a former Illini in the All-Star game. It’s been far too long and far too overdue, and it seems as though former Illini have to overcome some type of curse to play in the NBAs All-Star game.
You’d have to be aged deep into your forties or early fifties, at least, to be able to remember the last time an Illini suited up in February for the big game.
Yes, it’s been forty one years and counting since Don Ohl, a member of the Baltimore Bullets at the time participated in the All-Star game. It was the last of five consecutive All-star appearances for Ohl, and with 17 points that night, his best.
Sadly though, I’d wager three fourths of current Illini fans couldn’t pick Don Ohl out of a five man lineup.
Sadder yet, is that there have been plenty of worthy Illini who were exceptional pros since Ohl, and for whatever circumstances never got a chance to play in the All-Star game.
First on the list, chronologically after Ohl, would be Skip Thoren. Thoren was a great interior player for Illinois in the early 60s who did end up as an All-star after leaving the U of I — in the ABA. Thoren turned down an offer from the Bullets and went to play in Europe, and later played several seasons in the former pro league. One of Illinois’ all time greats simply never got the chance to prove himself in the NBA.
The same goes for another Illini great, Don Freeman, who like Thoren spurned the NBA for the wild wild ABA. Freeman had a relatively long and very productive career, too. In four consecutive seasons he averaged at least 20 points per game, with his best season in ‘71–’72 when he averaged over 26 ppg. He was chosen for the ABA All-star game five times and after eight years in the ABA he played one final season in the NBA, where he averaged 16.8 points for the Lakers.
After Thoren and Freeman, one has to look forward a decade or so into heart of the 80s before the next great Illini players came into the NBA and put up impressive numbers. The two who epitomize the curse of the Illini would be Eddie Johnson and Derek Harper. Both came into the league in the early 80s and had long and very productive careers.
Johnson ended his career in the NBA with 19,202 points. This is the most points scored (ever) by a player who never appeared in an All-Star game. That is a very impressive career output; in fact, of the 115 players currently enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, only 22 of them have more career points than Johnson.
If Eddie Johnson ranks as the highest non-All-Star in career points, you might wonder who ranks second. Well it just happens to be fellow former Illini Derek Harper. Harper was good for over 16,000 career points, which puts him higher on the scoring list than HOFers like Pete Maravich, Walt Frazier and Nate Thurmond.
After Harper and Johnson the next batch of scorned Illini came from the great, late 80s Flying Illini team. Nick Anderson and Kendall Gill came into the the league a year apart in ‘89 and ‘90, respectively, and both put up All-star numbers during their careers.
Gill averaged 21.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 4 apg and 1.9 spg in ‘96-’97 yet failed to get an invitation to the big game. Two years later he led the NBA in steals per game with 2.7, and still holds the NBA record for steals in a game with 11.
Anderson averaged 19.9 points per game and over 6 rebounds per game over two consecutive seasons, but like Gill was on the short list of players on the outside looking in.
It seems too many times since Don Ohl former Illini have come up just short from being an NBA All-star or went the ABA route. Is there a curse? Maybe, maybe not.
Out of any of these players though, the one that seems to have the best chance is Deron Williams in his current situation; what with being a member of Team USA and a second team All-NBA player. Yet he hasn’t been called up for an All-Star game.
All Deron has to do is put up numbers relatively similar to the past couple of seasons for the first half of the next season and he’s as good as gold for an All-Star spot.
Right? Or will the curse continue?
The Western Conference has so much talent at the PG spot with guys like Chris Paul, Baron Davis, Steve Nash, Tony Parker, Allen Iverson, and Jason Kidd, so you never know what can happen, but damn does Deron deserve an All Star spot.
And Illini fans are long overdue.