Jones III back in Champaign wearing crimson and cream

By Jeremy Werner

Verdell Jones III has been to a countless number of Illinois basketball games since he was a child. The Champaign native grew up a big fan of the Illini, idolizing former Illinois stars Frank Williams and Luther Head.

But on Sunday, Jones entered the Assembly Hall as the Indiana Hoosiers starting point guard and enemy of his hometown university.

Unlike most Indiana players, though, the Central High School grad received a slight applause as the freshman’s name was announced as the Indiana Hoosiers starting point guard. Jones, who gathered almost 50 tickets for family and close friends, scored 10 points and dished out a team-high three assists but turned the ball over six times as the Hoosiers fell to Illinois 76-45.

“Getting the chance to come back home among family and friends, it was really a blessing,” Verdell Jones II, Jones III’s father, said. “We’re glad he was able to come back. This is a great learning and growing process for him as a player and for the team.”

Jones II runs the Champaign-based AAU team Ft. Sooy Limit, which produced former Illini Brian Randle and Rich McBride. He said he had a close relationship with former Illinois coaches Lon Kruger and Bill

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    Self. Bruce Weber and the Illinois coaching staff recruited Jones III but never extended a scholarship offer.

    Jones III delayed longer than most recruits, waiting to commit until May when scholarships opened up at Indiana. All but two Hoosiers departed after former coach Kelvin Sampson resign amid recruiting

    violation allegations. The Hoosiers have struggled to a 5-10 record so far this season.

    Indiana has never lost more than 17 games in a season.

    “Everything about this is good,” Jones II said. “Adversity is good. The way you get from good to great is through adversity, so we’re excited about him to get the chance to play at such a great university

    like Indiana.”

    Though Jones II has been an Illinois fan for most of his life, don’t expect him to wear orange and blue anytime soon.

    “There will be no question as on what side my allegiance is on while my son is wearing a uniform,” he said.

    Illinois celebrate 1984, 1949 teams

    Illinois paid homage to the 1984 Illini men’s basketball team on the 25th anniversary of the Lou Henson-coached club’s co-Big Ten Championship. Henson was joined by almost the entire 1984 team – coaches and players – including Bruce Douglas, Efrem Winters, George Montgomery, Quinn Richardson and Doug Altenberger.

    “This is great,” Altenberger said. “It’s great to see everybody. We got out of school and all went our separate ways and had families. It’s just great to see everybody. I haven’t seen everybody since we went to college.”

    Altenberger compared the 2008-09 Illini to the 1984 Elite Eight team that finished the season 25-6.

    “We were a little bit like these guys,” Altenberger said. “Not a lot of people expected a lot from us. We were sort of young. We just kept getting better during the year, and just had a great year.”

    The Illini also celebrated the 60th anniversary of the 1949 Final Four team. Teammates Van Anderson, Ted Beach and Dick Foley were in attendance, along with family members of several deceased players.

    Fans coming back

    Selling out the Assembly Hall had been a forgone conclusion for most of the last four years – 60 consecutive games – heading into this season. But many Illini fans opted to stay home through the first few months of the season following a disappointing 16-19 during the 2007-08 campaign.

    But 16,618 Illinois fans finally packed the Assembly Hall on Sunday as the Illini dominated Indiana in a 76-45 win. It was the first sellout since March 8, 2008 when Illinois hosted Minnesota.

    “I always said we have the best fans in America,” Illinois sophomore forward Mike Davis said. “It got loud a couple times today, real loud.

    “It’s great to have the fans back. It was packed, sold out. We’re happy. In the Big Ten we’re going to need it. It’s going to be a tough place to play again in the Big Ten.”