Former Illini point guard Frank Williams was instrumental to the program's rise in the early 2000s, and now his son - four-star 2017 guard Da'Monte Williams - is a key piece for John Groce to recapture that success.
Friday was a big night in Champaign, as the father-son combo was in town. Groce and assistant coach Paris Parham sat courtside at Centennial High School to watch one of their top targets
Da'Monte Williams showcased his athleticism and smooth offensive game on his way to scoring 16 points in a 84-54 win for Peoria Manual. The Illini offered him a scholarship back in April, and he has been labeled as a must-get ever since.
There is an obvious pull for Da'Monte Williams to follow in his father's footsteps, and he said that being recruited by his home-state school and the program that his dad played for is not something he takes lightly.
"Getting an offer from a place where my dad went and played ball at - doing his business there and going to the league," he said. "It means a lot."
It carries considerable weight for Frank Williams as well. He said he enjoys seeing Illinois pursue his son, and the Illini coaches aren't the only ones who want to see him land in Champaign.
"It's fun seeing them watching him," Frank Williams said. "Illinois is recruiting him, and I'm recruiting him to go to Illinois too. Don't nobody know that. It's a little underground, and a thing between me and him. We have fun with it."
Illinois has been coming on strong with their sell, but Frank Williams said he doesn't need any convincing.
"I'm here. This is home for me," he said. "So there's nothing I can second guess about anybody."
The Illini hosted Da'Monte Williams for an unofficial visit in September, and they're hoping that he'll make a return trip to campus soon.
"They've just been trying to get me down to one of the games," Da'Monte Williams said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to make one of the games - me and my parents and my little brother - to see the experience down there."
Da'Monte Williams has been to games at the State Farm Center in the past, and while he hasn't caught an Illini game yet this season, he said he follows them as much as he can.
"I look it up on the internet all the time," he said. "I watch Big Ten Network when the games come on and try to see how our games are similar and different."
For now, Da'Monte Williams is taking it all in stride. He listed offers from Illinois, Indiana, Cincinnati, Bradley, Illinois State and UIC. He said he is also hearing from St. Louis and Xavier.
What would the feeling be like for Frank Williams to see his son put on the same orange and blue uniform?
"I don't know how it would feel," he said. "But just watching him now and watching him make his own decisions, as long as he makes his own decision and is happy with it, I'm happy with it."
Going next level
Recruiting is important, but it is undoubtedly a secondary focus for Da'Monte Williams. He is far more concerned with developing his skill set and continuing to raise the bar for his game.
The junior guard made huge strides from the end of his sophomore season into AAU play. He took to the court with the Mac Irvin Fire over the summer and claimed his place as one of the most promising 2017 prospects in the country.
According to the Scout.com rankings, Da'Monte Williams is ranked as the No. 37 player in the class, and he is considered a top-10 point guard as well. That was a product of grinding in the gym back in Peoria.
"I was in the gym with Coach David Williams. We were just in the gym nonstop putting in work," Da'Monte Williams said. "And it's time to show it off."
Shot-making and athletic ability have never been concerns. One of the big keys for him has been to stay aggressive from start to finish.
"Just staying in attack mode - getting that motor up," Da'Monte Williams said. "Trying to lead my team, whether it be rebounding, assists or whatever it may be."
Frank Williams said this past summer was a huge turning point for his son.
"I just saw him getting hungry," he said. "He went to a couple camps and worked out with a couple guys. Once you get out of the city that you're in and you see other guys playing, and how hard they have to play constantly, I think it's kind of rubbed off on him. And I think he's learned from it and he's progressing from it."
"From this year to last year, it's been a total 360. He's more mature out there. His game has elevated. He's more mindful of the game and he's showing a lot more passion."
How does Da'Monte Williams' game compare to his old man's? Many fans see the same smooth moves off the dribble. Frank Williams said he sees some similarities as well.
"A little bit. I see flashes here and there," he said. "He's more advanced than I was at that age just from his IQ, as far as his body and how he takes care of himself. He's way farther advanced than I was at that age."
Dad knows best
Da'Monte Williams has a great luxury of picking his dad's brain along the way. Only a handful of hoopers have a father who played at an elite level in college basketball and reached the NBA.
That is especially important for Da'Monte Williams as he progresses in the lead guard role.
"Oh yeah. He tells me always to keep my head up when I'm dribbling because you never know who's open at any time," he said. "So you've got to be able to pass off the dribble with either hand."
"He says a lot from a point guard stance and as a father. He just tells me to always do the right thing at the right time."
The 2001 Big Ten Player of the Year has embraced the role of the teacher, and one that isn't afraid to give tough love.
"I think I'm his worst critic," Frank Williams said. "Everything he does, I'm like: 'I've already seen it. It's nothing to me'. Just trying to give him the hard love. It's all love though. He's taking it in and running with it. He's enjoying it and he's a good kid. He's doing nothing but getting better."
The two have gone toe-to-toe in the gym a few times.
"We did a couple times over the summer," Frank Williams said. "But they run too much for me man."
It's been more than 13 years since Frank Williams was selected in the first round (No. 25) of the 2002 NBA Draft. Now, he enjoys following his son on a new journey as a basketball mentor and father.
"Just being in his presence and the way he is, he just has great character about his self and it rubs off on a lot of people," he said.
Having the presence of Da'Monte Williams in their 2017 class could change the game for the Illini and this staff.