We all talk from time to time about who was the greatest Illini of all time and that's certainly debatable, but no one can ever match Kenny Battle's heart and determination on the court or his willingness to win. The other Illini player that maybe caught more hearts of Illini fans could be Dee Brown. They, as Coach Bruce Weber calls it, "have it".
Currently Battle is the Coach and General Manager of an ABA team in Hammond, Indiana and loves his job. "I love Illinois; the fans and alumni have been great to me. I get down there when I can. I'll always try to help them out because they have done a lot for me."
Just last weekend Battle was in Champaign because Bruce Weber brought in the nation's best PG in Chicago Simeon's Derrick Rose. Weber wanted to make sure that Rose knew how important he was to his program. "I just talked to him and told him that the fans here love you. Right now it's a scrimmage but once the students get in here and start yelling and screaming, it's an unbelievable atmosphere. I also told him that everyone here will have one goal and that's to get a win for Illinois. I think he liked it, I really do," Battle said.
Battle is not totally shocked when some kids leave the state but believes it could take just one person to get the ball rolling. "When we played back in ‘89 we all were from the state. We knew being from Illinois we were going to win. Back then we had myself, Nick Anderson, Kendall Gill, Ervin Small, Marcus Liberty, Steve Bardo and Lowell Hamilton. We had other basketball outside of AAU. We had the Prairie State games and Nike events. So when we played against each other we would just say, ‘Hey, I'm going to Illinois, what do you think about that?' We all followed and you saw the success," Battle added.
Another advantage Battle felt was having the state tournament in Champaign. "That was very nice. We packed the gyms then and it was nice to be playing on that floor. I can remember back in 1984 being apart of that."
Battle loves the game of basketball and he loves his Illini. "Hey man, I grew up watching them play all the time. I just fell in love with them, so I knew what they were about back then too," he added.
For all those current Illini fans that don't remember Battle, I'd suggest you find a videotape of the three over-time game against Georgia Tech in Assembly Hall. Or the Syracuse game when he had one hell of a performance coming off a knee injury warming up to play Louisville. I can see that 360 behind the head lay-up just like it was yesterday. That year so many opposing coaches all loved Battle's work ethic and his love for the game. Now he just wants his alma mater to keep doing what they do best – keep the kids home and win basketball games just like they did.