Basketball alumni return to campus

Dee Brown and James Augustine attend basketball practice Friday at Ubben Basketball Facility. Beck Diefenbach The Daily Illini

Dee Brown and James Augustine attend basketball practice Friday at Ubben Basketball Facility. Beck Diefenbach The Daily Illini

By Courtney Linehan

Two years ago, Champaign’s Dream Team walked the Quad, partied on Green Street and worked their way to Illinois’ first-ever NCAA Championship bid.

This weekend, they came back.

James Augustine, Dee Brown, Luther Head and Deron Williams visited campus this weekend, shooting hoops at the Ubben basketball complex, attending the Ludacris concert on Friday and stepping onto Zupke Field for a standing ovation at Saturday’s football game.

“You’ve got to come back,” Brown said Friday before practicing with the current Illini. “Illinois’ done nothing but nice things for myself and these other guys, so you’ve got to come back, you’ve got to show love.”

The four former Illini are now in the NBA; the Orlando Magic drafted Augustine in June, Head is headed for his second season with the Houston Rockets and Brown and Williams are teammates on the Utah Jazz.

Roger Powell, Jr., who rounded out the legendary starting lineup, is also on the Jazz roster. Brown said Powell stayed in Salt Lake City to continue his workouts in preparation for the upcoming preseason camps, when teams whittle down their lineups.

“He’s out there working hard, representing this community, this family in a good way,” Brown said. “He wanted to come back so bad, but he wanted to stay down there, get more workouts in, get more familiar with Utah.”

Forward Warren Carter said having the alumni back gave current and former players a chance to catch up before both groups head into the rigorous schedule of basketball season. Carter said he talks to Augustine regularly and worked out with Williams in Texas this summer, but nothing compares to having the group together.

In practice Friday, Carter could see how his teammates’ games had matured.

“They’ve all been legit players anyway since they’ve been here, that’s why we went to the Final Four that year,” Carter said. “But since going to the league all they do is work on their game, so they’re definitely showing some improvement.”

Their games may have improved, but little else had changed. Head quietly went to work, showing consistency and skill. Augustine almost growled as he hung from the hoop, having completed a successful dunk. Brown attempted a showboat lay-up and laughed as the ball bounced off the backboard without touching the hoop.

Carter said the Illini benefit from the challenge of facing NBA-caliber talent, but just staying in contact helps him prepare for eventually attempting an NBA career. And with each player taking a different route to the professional ranks, the current players get to see several routes to success.

“Deron was a top pick, Lu went first round, Dee and James went second round, then Roger’s had to ease his way in there,” Carter said. “Having so many guys who’ve gone so many routes, It’s good because you can hear different stories, answer different questions you might have.”

With camp starting in the next few weeks and each team hoping to play long into the spring, Brown acknowledged this could be the last time for a long time that they get the chance to come back to campus. But he said he will always make a point to return to Champaign.

“I’ve got nothing but love for the people in Champaign, they have nothing but love for me,” Brown said. “You’ve got to go places where you’re loved, so I’ll always be back.”