A graduate of Chicago Crane Tech High School, Ken Norman came to Illinois after a one year stint at junior college. In his three years on campus, he helped lead the Illini to 26-9, 22-10, and 23-8 seasons. They ended up ranked #12 in the country by the Associated Press in 1985, and they were #11 in 1987.
Norman is listed among the highest ranked former Illini in a number of categories. He is 16th in career scoring with 1393 points. His 20.7 senior scoring average ranks 11th best all-time. In addition, he ranks second in field goal percentage at .641, which he set in 1986. And he is fourth in field goals in a season with 256 in 1987. He is 2nd in career field goal percentage at a lofty .609.
The 6'-7" star wasn't just a scorer. He is also ranked fourth in season rebounding with 303 in 1987. And he is fifth in both season and career blocks. His career block total of 89 ranks 8th all-time.
Ken has enjoyed many accolades in his career, but getting to unfurl his jersey number before a packed house at the Assembly Hall was special.
"Nothing compares with this moment. Ever since I was a kid, I've watched athletes at the high school level, college level and pro level have their jerseys hung up. I thought that must be really nice. I never anticipated having mine up there. Obviously, my number isn't retired, but I still get the same satisfaction for it. This is a special moment for me."
Norman played a reserve role his first year after transferring from junior college. That team was loaded with stars Efrem Winters, Bruce Douglas, Doug Altenberger and several other top performers. But he didn't feel the transition was difficult for him.
"It wasn't that big a transition because I knew I was gonna come after junior college."
Ken was driven to excel in basketball.
"To be honest, since I was 11 years old I had one goal in mind, and that was to go to college and put my mother in a good enough position so she wouldn't have to struggle. And I thought the best way I could do that was to work as hard as I could to become a professional basketball player. The first thing I did when I got into the pros was to buy my mother a home."
Norman is keeping busy these days.
"I'm doing anything and everything in real estate. I'm a 12" softball player. I love it for the all-around athleticism. That's how I keep myself physically fit. I also have three children, so that helps keep me in shape."
Surprisingly, basketball is no longer part of his life.
"Not at all. Whenever I do something, I put my heart and soul into it. And I don't see myself working hard and not getting something out of it."
As has been true of other honorees, Ken Norman is enamored with the Assembly Hall.
"It's still the greatest arena in the Big 10. There weren't as many fans on the floor when I played, but it was still an amazing place to play in."