More than 700 people filled the Holiday Inn for the 87th annual Champaign-Urbana Kiwanis Club banquet honoring the Illinois basketball team. Chester Frazier was named the team's MVP while also winning the Matt Heldman "Matto" Award and the Kenny Battle Most Inspirational Player Award.
"I feel great, man," Frazier stated afterward. "It's a pleasure to be out in front of this many people to celebrate the last time with my teammates."
Chester showed his leadership and compassion for his teammates by presenting his Kenny Battle award to walkon Bubba Chisholm, who assistant coach Wayne McClain said would run into a wall if not careful. Frazier explained.
"The awards were unexpected. I gave one away. I didn't want to save them all. Bubba deserved the award I gave him."
Head coach Bruce Weber pointed out how important Frazier was to the team by the way they missed him when he sat out the last few games with a broken hand. Referring to the MVP award Weber added, "Sorry Bubba, I don't think he's giving that one out."
Chester finished ninth in career minutes played and sixth in career assists. And he was named to the Big 10 All-Defensive Team. He literally went from being a whipping boy with the fans in his early years to receiving a standing ovation for his leadership and overall play.
Mike Davis was given the Illini Rebounders Award for most rebounds and named Most Improved Player. Mike Tisdale earned the Ralf Woods Free Throw Trophy for best free throw shooting percentage in Big 10 play. Calvin Brock was rewarded with the 6th Man Award, and Trent Meacham won the Lou Henson Courage Award.
McClain had some humorous moments. Referring to Alex Legion, he said, "We're still looking for him to make his first shot." Frazier drew laughter when he complimented Jerrance Howard by thanking Coach Bruce Weber for "bringing youth back, we needed that."
Weber felt the three words that most exemplified this season's team were "improvement," "selfless," and "defense." Illinois finished third in the nation in scoring defense. Their nine wins against teams in the top 50 in RPI was also third nationally. And they were a national leader by providing assists on 70% of their made baskets.
Weber also felt the Illini earned a special honor by being selected to appear four consecutive Sundays on CBS's nationally televised game. This set a new national record. They won three of four.
Speaking after the banquet, Coach Weber summarized this year's team and what must be improved in the future.
"I think it was a good year. A little unexpected, and yet close enough that we coulda, shoulda done even better. When Michigan State got to the Final Four, we realized how close we were. But that is a big step. We made a huge step, and now we've got to make another huge step.
"I challenged the young guys. We're gonna miss Chester's toughness, Trent's competitive nature and Calvin. Right now, you can just see it's missing in our workouts at practice. Somehow, we're gonna have to figure that all out. Or everybody's gonna be saying, 'I can't wait for next year.'
Frazier admitted he called Weber this week after his teammates weren't as dedicated in their workouts as is needed. Chester will most likely become a student assistant next year, which may help motivate his friends to work harder. But he can't get out on the floor and do it for them any more. Weber discussed what is needed for next year.
"Energy, leadership, personality. We need a guy that comes every day. It's Dee Brown who comes every day and gives his all. He brings his energy and brings everybody with him. It's Chester, and Trent got to that point, Calvin played hard every day and competed.
"We've got to have that happen with these young guys. They're obviously talented, but that drive and determination, competitive nature, we don't have that. The passion to practice hard and love it has got to come out here.
"It's only been a week, so I'm not panicking yet. At the same time, if we're gonna have a chance to make some strides next year...I hope it doesn't have to come from the freshmen. I hope it comes from these guys."
Tuesday night was created to celebrate the 2008-09 season rather than to worry about the future. Illinois did better than expected, and the large crowd was obviously pleased with that accomplishment.