Deron Williams' time at the University of Illinois, from 2002-2005 will go down as one of the most successful three year runs in the history of the basketball program.
- 2005 NCAA National Runner-Up
- 2005 NCAA Midwest Regional Champion
- One Final Four Appearance
- Final Four All Tournament Team
- Three NCAA Tournament Appearances
- 2005 Chicago Regional Most Outstanding Player
- Two Big Ten Tournament Titles
- 2004 Big Ten All-Tournament Team
- Two Big Ten Regular Season Titles
- Two-Time First Team All-Big Ten Selection
- Ranks 35th on the Illinois All-Time Scoring List (1,111 points)
- Ranks 8th on the Illinois Career 3-Point Field Goals List (163 treys)
- 1st in Big Ten History To Lead Conference in Assists in First 3 Seasons
- Ranks 2nd on Illini Career Assists List (594 assists)
- Illinois' Career Assists Leader in NCAA Tournament (78 assists)
- Highest NBA Draft Pick in Illinois History
D-Will went to Illinois looking to prove himself after being overshadowed in the recruiting process. He chose Champaign because he felt it was a place he was wanted and needed as well as a place he could excel on the court and in the classroom. During his three-year tenure at Illinois, Deron took the nation by storm leading the Illini to two outright Big Ten titles, two Big Ten tournament titles, three NCAA tournament appearances and an NCAA Championship Game.
He ranks at or near the top of the Illinois record books in most major categories despite playing only three years in Champaign and left a lasting impact on the Illini that is still felt long after he was selected with the third pick in the 2005 NBA Draft.
- Started 30 of 32 Games
- Ranked 2nd on Illinois in Assists Per Game
- Ranked 3rd in The Big Ten in Assists Per Game
- Ranked 2nd in The Big Ten in Assist-Turnover Ratio
- Ranked 2nd on Illinois in Steals (46)
- Led The Big Ten in Assists during Conference Play (77)
- Named to the College Insider.com All Freshman Team
- Selected to USA Basketball Men's Junior National Team
Deron arrived at The University of Illinois as a Top 50 recruit in the nation and the heir apparent at point guard to 2001 Big Ten Player of the Year Frank Williams, who graduated from Illinois in 2002 after a four year run which included two Big Ten titles and three NCAA tournament appearances.
Williams' shoes would be large ones to fill for D-Will, but as a freshman Deron quickly established that he would be more than capable of doing so on both ends of the floor. In his first college game, against Lehigh, D-Will got the start and made 5-of-7 shots for 12 points while handing out four assists in a 90-56 Illini win.
Deron started seven of the next eight games for Illinois as the Illini booked out to an 8-0 start that included big wins over No. 14 UNC and No. 10 Missouri. By Christmas, Illinois was ranked No. 7 in the nation. A loss to Memphis on 12/28 only served to push the Illini as they finished non-conference play with a record of 10-1. D-Will finished non-conference play averaging 7.3 points and 4.6 assists per game.
The Illini got off to a good start in conference play, with wins over Minnesota and Wisconsin, but hit a speed bump in Mid-January with consecutive losses to Iowa and Indiana. They would however be the only back-to-back losses by Illinois during the 01-02 season.
Over their final 12 Big Ten games of the regular season, the Illini went 9-3 to take second place in the league and the second seed in the conference tournament. In conference play, D-Will averaged 4.8 assists per game, tops in the conference during conference play along with 5.3 points per conference contest.
The Illini breezed through the quarterfinals with a 94-65 win over Northwestern behind eight points, four assists and three rebounds from D-Will. They took everything Indiana had to offer in the semifinals, but held off the Hoosiers 73-72 to reach the finals. In the final they cruised to a 72-59 victory to claim Big Ten supremacy for a third straight year.
Illinois took a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament and faced off against No. 13 Western Kentucky in the opening game of the West Regional. With 11 points, include three triples, four assists and three steals from Deron, the Illini advanced to the next round.
"The one thing that probably surprised me was Deron Williams going three-for-three from 3-point range," Western Kentucky coach Dennis Felton said. "That made things a little more difficult for us."
Each of those threes was crucial in a 65-60 win, which pushed the Illini into a second round matchup with No. 5 seed Notre Dame. It was there that Deron's freshman season would come to and end in a 68-60 loss. He finished with five points, three assists, three steals and two rebounds.
Following his freshman season, D-Will was selected to the USA Basketball Men's National Junior Team. He started all eight games that the team played in Greece as they went 7-1. Deron led the team in assists with 38 and was fourth in scoring at 8.4 points per game.
- First-Team All Big Ten Selection
- Big Ten All-Tournament Team Selection
- USBWA All-District 5 Selection
- Second Team NABC All-District 11 Selection
- Led Illinois in Scoring (14.0 ppg)
- Ranked 8th in The Big Ten in Scoring
- 3rd Player in Big Ten history to lead league in assists in first two seasons
- Broke Illinois NCAA Tournament Single Game Scoring Record (31 vs. Cin.)
- 6.17 Assists per Game ranked 3rd in Illinois history
- 2nd in The Big Ten in Assist-Turnover Ratio (2.47)
- 6th in The Big Ten in Three-Point Shooting Percentage (39.4)
Fresh off a strong freshman campaign and a successful showing with Team USA, Deron entered his sophomore year looking to make an even bigger impression at Illinois. But he would be doing so under a new coaching staff. Just months after the man, who recruited him to Champaign, Illinois assistant coach Billy Gillespie left to take the head coaching job at UTEP, Illini Head Coach Bill Self was also on his way out the door to take the head job at Kansas.
Illinois brought in Southern Illinois coach Bruce Weber to take Self's place and Deron immediately took to the new Illini chief. Illinois opened the season with three straight wins with D-Will recording double-digits points and at least five assists in each game.
On December 2nd, the No. 11 Illini traveled to Chapel Hill for one of their biggest games of the season against No. 10 North Carolina. Deron, who had been recruited by UNC won the point guard battle with Raymond Felton by scoring 22 points and dishing eight assists, but North Carolina claimed an 88-81 win. Four days later, a red-hot D-Will recorded his first career double-double with 17 points and 10 assists to lead Illinois to an 84-61 romp over Arkansas.
Less than a week later, with the Illini, still fighting through a tough non-conference schedule, Deron was knocked out of a game against Maryland-Eastern Shore with a broken jaw. Somehow, Deron only missed three games and came back on January 3rd to score 20 points in 34 minutes with his jaw still wired shut. It was one of the most inspiring performances of the college season as he pushed Illinois to an 80-73 win over Illinois State. The Illini finished non-conference play with a 9-2 record and in the eight games he played, D-Will averaged 13.8 points and 6.1 assists per game.
Illinois entered conference play hot and started their Big Ten schedule strong with a won over Ohio State, but they hit the speed bump in their schedule three days later in a loss to Purdue and lost again in their next game against Northwestern. Through three Big Ten games, the Illini were sitting near the bottom of the conference, but they would rely on D-Will to pull them back up.
Over the next four weeks, Illinois went 6-1 in conference play including a big win over Michigan State. Deron averaged 14 points and 6.1 assists per game over the stretch. The season came to a tipping point on February 18th in Champaign where the unranked Illini hosted No. 12 Wisconsin, who had beaten them by 20 in January.
As they had over the torrid stretch that pushed them back into the conference title picture, Illinois leaned on D-Will against Wisconsin and No. 5 delivered. He pulled out all the stops, with a career-high 31 points on 9-of-18 from the field to lead Illinois to a 65-57 win.
"After I hit the first couple, I was feeling good, so I just let them fly," Deron said. "We owed them one. They just kicked our butt. We just wanted to get back at them right now, and we hope to play them again. We hope to in the Big Ten tournament."
The win over Wisconsin propelled Illinois through the rest of their conference schedule and they won their next five straight to capture the regular season Big 10 title. D-Will finished conference play with an average of 13.9 points and 6.1 assists per game.
In the conference tournament, Illinois cruised to a 71-59 win over Indiana in the semifinals behind 20 points and seven assists from D-Will. They then rolled through Michigan in the semifinal, but fell in the tournament championship game as Wisconsin got revenge with a 7-53 win despite 14 points an three assists from Deron.
Despite not capturing another conference tournament crown, the Illini were an easy bid to the NCAA tournament and made some noise in the 64-team bracket. As a No. 5 seed they opened with a mid-major trap matchup against Murray State. But Illinois did not take their opponent for granted and cruised to a 72-53 win with the help of eight points and eight assists from D-Will. It wasn't until the next round however, against No. 4 Cincinnati that Deron would host his tournament coming out party. In the 92-68 win, which sent the Illini flying into the Sweet 16, D-Will matched his season-high with 31 points on 10-for-13 from the field, including 6-of-8 from downtown. He added seven assists and impressed even his own coach.
"We played at another level," Bruce Weber said. "We talked about playing at a magical level, and some guys were magical tonight."
Unfortunately the magic wore off in time for their Sweet 16 game against No. 1 Duke as the Illini, despite seven points and six dimes from D-Will, bowed out of the tournament in a 72-62 loss.
- Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year
- Preseason First-Team All-Big Ten Selection
- Preseason Playboy All-American
- Consensus Second-Team All-American
- Wooden Award All-America Team
- NABC Second-Team All-American
- Sporting News Second-Team All-American
- CBS Sportsline.com Second-Team All-American
- Associated Press Third-Team All-American
- Sports Illustrated.com Third-Team All-American
- College Insider.com All-American
- Led The Big Ten in Assists Per Game (6.8 apg)
- 11th in the Nation in Assists Per Game
- First-Team All-Big Ten Selection
- Broke University of Illinois Record for Assists in a Season (264)
- Wooden Award Finalist
- Oscar Robertson (USBWA) Player of the Year Finalist
- Bob Cousy College Point Guard of the Year Finalist
- Midseason Naismith Award Candidate
- USBWA All-District
- NABC First-Team All-District
- NCAA Final Four All-Tournament Team Selection
- Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Chicago Regional
- 2nd on Illinois in assist/turnover ratio (2.42)
- Ranked 4th in The Big Ten in assist/turnover ratio
- Third on the Illini in three-pointers (68)
- Las Vegas Holiday Classic All-Tournament Team
Following his stellar sophomore campaign, Deron had the option to enter the NBA Draft, but he chose instead to continue his career and education at Illinois.
Big things were expected of the Illini after a strong finish to their 2003-2004 campaign and Deron, selected as the Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year, was not about to let them disappoint.
From the outset of the season, Illinois looked and played like a team of destiny. They won two of their first three games by 31 points and the other by 20. Next came a tough stretch of non-conference games, but they were unfazed. D-Will scored 20 points to lead them to a 17-point win over Gonzaga, then passed out 11 assists to win the head-to-head match up with Chris Paul in a 18-point Illini victory over No. 1 Wake Forest.
After a dominant win over Arkansas on November 4th, Illinois rose to the top spot in the AP poll for the first time since 1989 and only the third time in school history. Illinois finished non-conference play a perfect 14-0, including dominant wins over Georgetown (74-59), Oregon (83-66) and Cincinnati (84-65) and entered conference play unbeaten for the first time. Through those 14 games, D-Will was as good as he'd ever been in his college career. He posted double-digit points in 11 of the 14 games and averaged 14.6 points and 6.5 assists per game.
As conference play began, Deron kept up the high-octane pace despite loging even more minutes. In the conference opener against Ohio State, he played 39 of the 40 game minutes and dropped 14 points and eight assists in a 84-65 Illinois win. In the previous two years, Illinois generally hit a two-game speed bump at some point during conference play, but in 2004-2005, it never happened. They just kept winning and doing so with style points.
Of their first nine Big Ten games, Illinois won seven by double-digits. D-Will was routinely putting up 10 points a night while hanging near the top of the nation in assists. The Illini met their first big test of the young season on February 8th in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The test would force Deron to play the entire game to help Illinois escape with a 57-51 win. Just a few days later, they rolled to a 70-59 win over No. 20 Wisconsin, their 25th victory of the season.
They rolled to double-digit wins in their next four games, setting up a Big Ten regular season finale at Ohio State with a chance to finish the regular season undefeated for just the second time in school history and 10th time in Big Ten history. But it wasn't to be as Ohio State ended the prefect season dream with a late three and a 65-64 win.
Still Illinois easily wrapped up the outright Big Ten title for the second time in D-Will's three years and once again clinched the top-seed in the Big 10 tournament. Deron finished conference play averaging 6.7 assists and 10.6 points per game.
The Illini opened the Big Ten Tournament with a quarterfinal drubbing of Northwestern, 68-51 behind eight points and eight assists from D-Will. Then they disposed of Minnesota 64-56 with the help of 12 points and five dimes from Deron. Finally it was on to the final, where they Wisconsin for the second straight year and evened the score with a 54-43 win to clinch the Big Ten tournament title.
The Big Ten Tournament run clinched a No. 1 seed for Illinois, who entered the tournament with a target on their backs and would face a challenge at every turn once the NCAA's got underway. In the opening round, they survived a stiff test from Fairleigh Dickinson as Deron finished with eight points and six assists in the 67-55. Things didn't get much easier in the next round as Nevada pushed Illinois to the limit, but D-Will his second double-double of the season with 15 points and 10 assists to secure another 12-point victory.
The win propelled Illinois into the Sweet 16 for the second straight year, but their story was far from over. They put an end to Cinderella's run in the Sweet 16, knocking out 12th seeded Wisconsin-Milwaukee 77-63 behind 21 points and eight assists from D-Will.
The Illini called on D-Will again in the Elite Eight against Arizona and he delivered as only he could. Illinois trailed by 15 with four minutes left in the game, but staged a torrid 20-5 run, capped by a trey from Deron to tie the game at 80. That forced overtime where No. 5 took over. He hit two more treys in overtime to push the Illini up by four and his defense helped them hold off one last push from Arizona to secure the victory.
"Deron Williams, the best guard in America, came through, made a lot of great plays," teammate Dee Brown said. "In the huddle we just said we aren't going to lose this game."
The win sent Illinois to St. Louis for the Final Four where they would face off with Louisville. In the penultimate game of the college season, D-Will handed out nine assists and played lock down defense on Louisville's as Illinois cruised into the National Championship Game with a 72-57.
"I told Coach I wanted [Garcia] right after the Arizona game. I always want the best player on the other team," D-Will said. "I knew he was such a big part of their offense that stopping him was taking a big chunk out of their offense."
In the title game, Deron and the Illini were faced with one of the toughest teams in college basketball, the University of North Carolina. The teams had played twice in D-Will tenure at Illinois, splitting a home-and-home, but never with these kind of stakes.
The game was a back and forth battle and the Illini fought hard to the end. With the national spotlight upon him, D-Will excelled. He finished second on the team in scoring, tied for first in assists and matched Carolina's Raymond Felton play-for-play. But it was Felton and UNC who would raise the trophy. Still Illini coach Bruce Weber was proud of what his team had accomplished.
"It goes down in history," Weber said. "Not only Illinois history, NCAA history. Tied the most wins ever, No. 1 for all the time. You get to the championship game. You know, I mean, if you're not happy with this, I feel sorry for you, because life ain't getting better."
For Deron, the game would be his last in college. He finished the NCAA Tournament with an average of 12.6 points and 7.1 assists per game, a slight uptick over his full season numbers of 12.5 and 6.8 respectively. He was named to the All-Tournament team in addition to receiving the Most Outstanding Player award for the Chicago Regional.
D-Will ended his Illini career 2nd on the school's All-Time assist list with 594 and in the top 40 in points with 1,111. He still holds the Illinois single season record for assists with 264 in his final season and also ranks eighth in school history in three-pointers made with 163. He helped push the team to two outright Big Ten titles, two Big Ten Tournament titles, three NCAA tournaments and a National Championship game. He entered the 2005 NBA Draft and was selected with the No. 3 pick by the Utah Jazz, the highest an Illinois player has ever gone in the draft.
Now Deron represents Illinois in his career through his work on the court as one of the NBA's elite point guards a two-time NBA All-Star and Olympic Champion. But he also embodies Illinois through his work off the court with his Point of Hope Foundation, which puts on several charity events a year in an effort to help young children and their families.
He returns to Champaign every summer to put on the Deron Williams Illini Hoop Legends Charity Event and participate in alumni basketball games. Illinois is and always will be a big part of what makes Deron who he is.
"It's great to come back to Champaign, and I have a lot of fond memories of my time here," Deron said after this year's alumni game. "We just had a great group of guys when I was here. It was fun team to be around, a tight knit group. We did everything together as a team and tried to include everybody. I think that's what made us so successful. We had such great chemistry off the court that it translated on the court. It's one of the best teams in Illinois history."