Starting with the academic reputation of the school itself, the student/athlete will be given the tools necessary to be successful in their chosen field. The athletic department doesn't just pay lip service to academics, it produces. The latest NCAA reports show that Illinois has the highest graduation rate for basketball players in the Big 10 and one of the highest in the country.
Supplementing the classroom work is the career counseling provided by the athletic department. This effort, led by Tom Michaels, is very proactive in preparing all athletes for careers after their college or professional playing days are over. The highlight is an annual career fair in which professionals from many industries and vocations, including many former athletes, come back and discuss their professions with the student/athletes. The Academic Serviced Department also prepares a resume book that includes upperclassmen for distribution to corporate recruiters and other interested parties.
Another asset available for Illini athletes is the University of Illinois Alumni Association, which is the largest in the nation. Not only are the alumni large in numbers, but they are fanatic in their desire to cheer successful players and teams. This is highlighted by the attention given to the 2004/2005 men's basketball team. Even today, large numbers of Illinois fans turn out for Utah Jazz games around the country to see Dee Brown, Deron Williams and for the first part of the season Roger Powell. Going back further, former players like Johnny "Red" Kerr and members of the '89 Flyin' Illini remain popular in Chicago and throughout the state.
Illinois consistently has one of the nation's highest attendance figures for men's basketball. Illinois sports are regularly featured on sportscasts in the Chicago area, one of the country's three largest television markets. Illinois highlights are shown around the nation on WGN, a superstation that is carried on many cable systems nationwide. For an athlete looking to brand themselves or get exposure, that is tough to beat. And for successful teams it gets better. As reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentiment, "the
Illinois men's basketball game at Wisconsin in 2005 attracted a big national television audience on ESPN. The game was the network's seventh-most-viewed men's regular- season college basketball telecast ever. It was seen in 2.48 million television households in the United States." Later that season, when Illinois beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten tourney, CBS received a 3.4 rating which was the highest regular season rating for CBS for several years.
Quite a few former players have moved on to be successful entrepreneurs, such as former football star John Wright in financial services and former track star Cirilo McSween who was truly remarkable. After leaving the U of I, McSween joined New York Life, becoming the first Black to be employed by a major insurance company. Later he became owner of more than ten McDonalds franchises and served as President of the Black McDonalds Owners Association. His community service was reflected in his being board vice chairman of Operation Push and treasurer of Dr. Martin Luther King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Cirilo McSween served as a pall bearer at the funeral of Rev. King.
Outside of athletics, the alumni network has included some very accomplished people: Sheila Crump Johnson and Bob Johnson, founders of BET, former CEO's Jack Welch of GE, George Fisher of Kodak, Jon Corzine of Goldman Sachs, James Benson of Equitable Life and Thomas Murphy of General Motors. Marc Andreessen of Netscape and Hugh Hefner of Playboy did their undergraduate studies at the U of I in Chambana. Jerry Sanders who founded Advanced Micro Devices and is considered one of the architects of Silicon Valley is an Illinois alum. Being more relevant to today, the plasma display monitor, or what we now call "plasma tv", "was invented at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign by Donald L. Bitzer, H. Gene Slottow, and graduate student Robert Willson in 1964" according to Wilkopedia.
What all these seemingly random facts show, are a large alumni and fan base, the potential to build name recognition, a history of accomplishment by athletes after their playing days, and a large network of accomplished alumni, all there waiting to be utilized by future Illini.