Former Illinois point guard Dee Brown is one of the most revered athletes in Illini history from both a popularity and athletic standpoint. His iconic headband, mouthguard, and "one man fast break" ability were the calling card of the 2004-2005 Illini team that ended up 37-2 on the season and finished as National Runner-Up.
But now in 2015, Brown, after a long international career, will trade in his basketball uniform for a slightly different, and more formal, uniform with his new position in the Illinois athletic department.
Fans have long hoped that Brown would return to his alma mater, and his time spent on campus this summer as a special assistant to the Athletic Director is likely what sold him on returning on a full-time basis.
"It just lit a fire under me, man," Brown said. "Meeting people and seeing the passion and pride they have for the University. With everything that's going on, I'm trying to keep it positive. It was a good experience for me this summer."
In an offseason immersed in turmoil for Illinois, both atletically and administratively, Brown said his goal is to help people see the good in the University of Illinois and not dwell on the issues that have plagued the school recently.
"I'm getting out there and making sure people understand the positivity of what we have going on here," he said, "so I'm going to be the voice and I couldn't be more excited."
A great ambassador for the school as a whole, many have hoped that Brown would have a strong involvement with the basketball program. While it won't be his primary area of responsibility in his new role, Brown will be around the basketball program, especially in selling the program to potential recruits.
"I'll be involved a little bit," Brown said of the hoops program. "Those guys have been working really hard. Groce and his staff. I'll be doing mostly on-campus recruiting and spending time with guys when they come down and sell them the University."
Brown was last on campus during the 2005-2006 season before his overseas hoops career, and over the past few years, Brown has noticed some substantial changes in Champaign-Urbana. He also slipped in a message for in-state recruits, like he was at Proviso East in Maywood, IL, about taking pride in playing at home.
"Campus has grown since then," Brown said. "The facility is basically brand new over there, an unbelievable State Farm Center. Academically, it's a great institution. If you're an in-state guy, it's only right to stay and play for your state university and represent it."
And while new buildings have popped up and the identity of the Assembly Hall has changed, Brown said that one thing about the University of Illinois is constant, and he strives to be a representative of that every single day.
"A lot of high rises and skyscrapers here now," Brown pointed out, "but one thing that hasn't changed is the people. We have great people, a great community, and an awesome fan base."
Since his arrival, Brown has been busy traveling the state, speaking to different groups and representing his alma mater. But he has made time to spend with the basketball program, and has faith in fourth-year Illinois head coach John Groce and his future at Illinois.
"(Coach Groce has) a lot of energy," he said. "Groce has a lot of energy and passion. "In Groce we trust". I really believe in him. He's a point guard coach. He's going to do a good job for us."
Brown is extremely passionate about his school, but he is also passionate about basketball, and said he does hope to get into coaching at some point in his career.
"Definitely in the future," he said of the opportunity to eventually be a coach. "I'm an open book right now trying to learn the administration side, which will only help me on the basketball side. I've been a coach on the court for nine years professionally, though. So it almost feels natural."