Illinois has reconnected with its past several times in recent years. The 100th year celebration four years ago was a major highlight. So was the Night Of Legends reunion game between the 1989 Flying Illini squad and the 2005 NCAA Finalists. And now, they approach another memorable moment.
Some members of the 1984 squad have not been back for a visit since graduation. That is especially true for Chicago King star Efrem Winters. The 6'-8" jumping jack joined with all-time point guard Bruce Douglas and sharpshooter Doug Altenberger in one of Lou Henson's greatest recruiting classes. They are all expected to attend Saturday's game, along with big George Montgomery, Tony Wysinger, Quinn Richardson, Scott Meents and others.
Long-time NBA star Derek Harper would have been a senior on the 1983-84 team had he not turned pro before his final season. He wasn't able to unveil his jersey with other honorees at the Night Of Legends, so he is expected to carry out that pleasure Saturday.
Illinois coach Bruce Weber believes such reunions are vital for a sound college program.
"We're excited about the weekend. Not only getting back into Big 10 play and playing Indiana at home, but having the reunion weekend. Two of the most inspirational and famous teams in Illinois basketball history, the 1949 Big 10 champs and Final Four team, and the 1984 team with a lot of players back.
"If the guys come back we've communicated with, we'll have some guys on campus who haven't been here in 20 or more years. We're excited about that. We've been so fortunate through the work of Mr. Guenther, the I Fund, Kent (Brown), Derrick (Burson) and everybody.
"The Night Of Legends was a great event. We've had some other nice events we do for Coaches vs. Cancer, and this reaches back to the tradition of Illinois basketball. Also Derek Harper, who couldn't be here the Night Of Legends, looks like he's gonna be here to unveil his jersey. Again, somebody who hasn't been back a whole lot. We're excited about having Derek back.
"Derek had an unbelieveable NBA career and was one of the best players to play here. In later games, Eddie Johnson and a few other players will be coming back to have their jerseys honored during the games. We'll continue doing that throughout the season."
Weber remembers Harper well.
"I know he was unbelieveably athletic and so talented. He had blow-by speed and could get to the basket. Those are the things I remember. That '83 team was so talented. '84 was talented, but ('83) had height, size, athletic ability and scorers.
"Earlier, Derek played with Eddie Johnson, Mark Smith and all those guys. At that time, it seemed every team in the league had one or two NBA guys. It was a time when there were a lot of really good players in our league."
Weber is hoping the aura of winning present with Coach Henson, Derek Harper and the reunion teams will have a positive influence on his present team.
"There's no doubt we'll make sure those guys are around us. Coach Henson comes to our practices all the time. You have Coach (Dick) Nagy coming back, Coach (Bob) Hull, some of the better players. We're gonna try to get the guys over, make them aware and talk about it. I know our guys still talk about the 100th year reunion in 2005. It's a nice driving force to be part of that."