Deron Williams leads Jazz vs. Bulls in C-U

Illini basketball fans get a rare treat Friday evening as the Assembly Hall hosts an exhibition game between the Utah Jazz and Chicago Bulls. Many Illini fans are also Bulls fans, and all Illini are fans of Utah's Deron Williams. Deron is just as happy to be back playing for his college fans as they are having him back.

"It's gonna be exciting. The crowd should be pumped up, there will probably be a lot of Bulls fans here, and we won't hold it against them."

Williams was the leader of Illinois' famed 2004-2005 quintet that played in the finals for the National Championship, but he says he doesn't feel strange wearing a Jazz uniform in Assembly Hall.

"Not really. I've known about it for about a year now. It was something we were trying to do. It's gonna be fun for me and fun for the team to be back here for an exhibition game.

"A lot of teams try to play games where their players can go back to their colleges and countries. It's good for the fans, it's good for us. It's just a little change, something different."

Does he feel any special need to put on a show for his fans?

"A little bit, but it's our job to put on a show whenever we're on the court. Come out here and have fun and get better. We use the preseason to get better."

The Utah Jazz have been one of the more improved teams in the NBA the last couple years, and Deron has played a major role in that turnaround. He feels this year's team can continue to progress.

"Hopefully, we'll be better. We have pretty much the same team back. Another year together, which is always a positive. We're a couple steps ahead starting out this year as opposed to last year. There's not alot of teaching going on. We know the offense, so we're just trying to get sharper and on the same page.

"We're definitely right there. We've had successful seasons the last two years. The playoffs, Western Conference finals one of the years. We've just got to make the extra leap, and this is a great year to do it."

As the team's point guard, leadership is falling increasingly on Williams. He fits that role well, but he knows a successful team requires input from everyone.

"I'm a leader on this team, so a lot of that goes on my shoulders. But it can't be just one guy. Everybody has to be on the same page."

Deron brought back more than just a gold medal upon his recent return from a triumphant trip to the Olympics in Beijing, China.

"It definitely has helped me to become a better player. Winning a championship and gold medal definitely helps confidence, something that you can take back and spread to your team."

Williams continues to support the University of Illinois and its basketball team. Among other things, he occasionally offers pointers to sophomore point guard Demetri McCamey.

"I saw Demetri last night. I talk to him a little bit throughout the season, try to get his confidence up. He's a guy who struggled at the beginning of the season but came a long way towards the end. He could be a great player for this university.

"Freshman year is a learning process. You don't know what to expect coming in from high school. There's a lot of ups and downs you go through, similar to rookie year in the NBA. He learned and progressed as the year went along, and he'll be a lot better this year."

Six weeks ago, Deron was in Champaign-Urbana for a glorious basketball reunion game. Fans are still bubbling about getting to see so many former stars suit up again for the UI. Deron was one of the biggest drawing cards, and his memories of the event are just positive as his fans.

"It was a great weekend. My dinner in Chicago for my Foundation and local charities was a great success. The game was definitely fun. A lot of guys who hadn't been back for awhile come back, and it was just fun for the fans to get to see us play."

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