Smile Politely

Follow the bouncing beer gut

The last time Illini Basketball held a reunion, I was the bartender. Eleven years ago, new Illini coach Bill Self hosted that game at the Assembly Hall. Brian Johnson stole the show because, frankly, he was the only one in shape. Johnson’s monster jam must surely be recorded somewhere. That was before everyone carried video recorders in their pockets.

Later that night (and the previous night) I served alcohol-containing beverages to my heroes. Red Stripes and Hennessy mostly.

I bartended at a seedy nightclub in downtown Champaign. All the Illini greats were there. 1989’s entire starting five got mellow right in front of me, by my own hand.

Except one.

Kendall Gill wasn’t drinking. His teammates prodded him to join in. You could tell they already knew the answer. You could tell they all respected his teetotalism, and maybe even envied it.

Saturday evening, 43 year-old Kendall schooled his juniors. He was the best player on the court, and it wasn’t a close contest.

The game was hyped as a Deron WIlliams event. That’s reasonable. The MTV Top 100 Videos of All-Time shows always seemed to lean heavily on recent and contemporary material. And in truth, Deron ranks among the top five Illini point guards in the building Saturday.

I was happy to see Tony Wysinger. I’m always happy to watch Steve Bardo. Kiwane Garris and his sassy wife, R&B chanteuse Syleena Johnson, entertained me with their contrasting but wholly complementary styles. He’s down to earth and easy going. She’s in charge, and she will tell you as much. I appreciate both traits, especially when applied correctly.

Derek Harper, Bruce Douglas and Quinn Richardson weren’t in the building. Matt Heldman is never coming back.

But the biggest story of the day, in my opinion, is the point guard who did seem to return from the dead. Frank Williams was in the house.

Frank seemed to drop off the radar a few years back. The only news of him has been bad news: his failed career, his mother’s death, and his outstanding arrest warrants. So it’s extra weird that Frank was not only on hand, but relaxed, upbeat, and appearing to be in great shape.

That last part certainly bucked the trend. Our Illini heroes have been loitering at the trough.

I recommend alcohol. But the non-drinkers outpaced the tipplers.

I don’t remember Cory Bradford ever drinking. He still got game.

Champaign’s Liquor Commissioner enjoyed the Friday’s festivities the dinner at Bielfeldt and the after-party at a downtown licensee. “Bill Self closed down the place,” he reported.


Victor Chukwudebe’s playing days are over. Knee surgery. Rob Judson didn’t suit up either. Achilles tendon. Dave Downey claimed no injury, apart from the ravages of time. “Where’s your jersey?” I chided him.

“Up there,” he deadpanned, pointing to the collection on the catwalk.

It’s a good line. But it draws attention, again, to the silly process that determined that honor.

All of the 83 nominees selected for the ballot met at least one of the following criteria:

  • All-America Distinction (1st, 2nd, 3rd Team or Honorable Mention)
  • First Team All-Big Ten
  • Career Top 30 Scorer at the University of Illinois
  • Ranks among the Top Five in school history in one of the following categories: field goals, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks.
  • Fans are only allowed to vote once
  • They will be able to vote for 15 players, however they must vote for at least three players from each Era. The remaining six “at-large” votes can be from any Era or can be divided among Eras.
  • If fans wish to vote for a player who is not listed on the ballot, they may use their at-large votes to “write-in” players at the end of the ballot.
  • All Fighting Illini letter winners are eligible for the All-Century Team.

The DIA and the DIA’s All-Century Committee will use the votes to guide in the selection of the All-Century Team.

The criteria were too objective and not objective enough. They were too subjective and not subjective enough.

It’s weird that Jerry Colangelo’s jersey wafts among the rafters. It’s weirder that Kiwane Garris’s name doesn’t.

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