Can John “Red” Kerr find Assembly Hall?



By Jeff LaBelle

While John “Red” Kerr was in Champaign last year for a football game, something about the University he attended 54 years ago stood out to him.

“It’s just so big now,” the current Chicago Bulls announcer, longtime NBA player and coach said Thursday. “I almost need to pull out my GPS to get around. But I always love coming back.”

Roughly 50 returning alumni, Kerr included, will either participate or be honored in two events Saturday to celebrate their careers – the “Night of Legends” alumni game and a jersey ceremony afterwards, which have sold upwards of 11,000 tickets.

Not all returning alumni will be unfamiliar with campus, though.

The “legends” of 2005 – Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head – only three years removed from an NCAA Final Four appearance, will likely be the biggest draw, if not the most agile during the game. The trio, joined by Roger Powell, will be facing off against six members of the 1989 Final Four team, “The Flyin’ Illini,” including Kendall Gill, Nick Anderson, Marcus Liberty and Kenny Battle. The game will start at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on Big Ten Network Tuesday, Sept. 16 at 6:30 p.m.

“This is all real big, to get our fans back, we’re going to have a good alumni game,” Illini guard Demetri McCamey said. “Dee, Deron, the old guys, Cook, Frank get to play in front of the crowd again, it is going to be a good experience for us and them. It’s going to be real good for the fans.”

Illinois assistant coach Jerrance Howard, Brian Cook, Frank Williams, Cory Bradford, Sergio McClain and former walk-on Chris Hicks will also suit up for the game. James Augustine, who was contacted to play in the alumni game, was unavailable to return because of a commitment to a professional league in Spain.

Illinois head coach Bruce Weber, while excited for the weekend’s events, warned fans during a teleconference earlier in the week not to get too excited about the brand of basketball that will no doubt be on display.

“If you’re expecting a competitive basketball game, I think that’s not going to be there,” Weber said. “I think you’ll see guys have some fun. Hopefully no one gets hurt and they all survive it and enjoy the evening.”

Thirty Illini basketball jerseys will be honored, including those of Jerry Colangelo, Skip Thoren, Jim Dawson and Kerr.

Bruce Weber and the Illinois marketing staff originally toyed with the idea of celebrating only a few jerseys every couple years, a more traditional approach. But then the weekend Illinois hosts a home football game against Louisianna-Lafayette became the opportune time to reunite decades of Illini.

“I think, with the feedback we got … we kind of saw it was important to get as many guys as possible in that first class,” Weber said. “It’s a special moment. I hope those players are honored. It just doesn’t happen all the time and to have their jerseys up there forever, at Assembly Hall. As long as it’s standing, their jerseys will be there.

“Their kids and grandkids, on and on, can always come back and see that player had a lot to do with the great tradition of Illinois basketball.”