Deron Williams is one of the greatest basketball players in Illinois basketball history. The star of the Utah Jazz, who also is a member of the gold-medal winning USA basketball squad, continues his charitable work by hosting a dinner, auction and golf outing this weekend to benefit U of I athletics and numerous charitable organizations through his Point Of Hope Foundation.
The Friday evening dinner and auction will take place at the I Hotel and Conference Center in Champaign. It will feature a number of big-time Illini basketball stars. In addition, former Illini Mannie Jackson and Dave Downey will receive lifetime achievement awards named after former Illini and business wizard Jerry Colangelo. The Saturday golf outing will be held at Stone Creek in Urbana.
Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber and Williams spoke about the upcoming weekend via teleconference. Weber is grateful Williams continues to give back to his university and help those in need.
"We couldn't be more pleased that Deron has continued to come back and support our Illini basketball program. As a coach and maybe a little bit of a father figure, we couldn't be more proud that, not only has Deron become an NBA star and Olympian, he also sees the big picture and has been very involved and supportive of his Point Of Hope Foundation.
"To me, the name is really cool. As a point guard, he always gives you hope as a coach. And now he's doing things that give other people hope. The Point Of Hope Foundation supports causes like cancer research and diabetes. I know they had a big thing in Salt Lake City earlier in the summer and raised quite a bit of money. Also, he has given back to our university athletic department and community charities. We're excited about it."
Williams knows the importance of helping those less fortunate.
"Charity work is always important for me. I do my golf tournament as well. In Salt Lake, I do things throughout the year like helping single moms and kids. I feel like I'm able to help people. People know me, and I have an influence on people. So maybe they want to help out and jump in to raise money for great causes. That's really what it's about."
Williams is always looking for new ways of raising funs for his foundation, and he uses his competitive nature to aid the cause. Golf has become important to him in recent years.
"My golf game's ok. I haven't played much lately. I've been working out, so I haven't been playing much. I've only played about three times in the last three weeks. Earlier I was playing about 4-5 times a week.
"I have a golf simulator in my home. I started about five years ago. But coach will tell you when I do anything, I do it full force."
The golf outing is just one of several profitable ideas he has incorporated into his charity work.
"Floyd Landis was the guy who won the Tour de France. Our (Jazz) owner is a big bike racer, and he has a track about 45 minutes outside Salt Lake. We (he and Landis) had a raceoff in a time trial. It was only two and a half miles, but it seemed like 32 miles to me. I got a minute head start around the track, and we did half the track.
"By the end of the race, he had almost caught me. I felt real bad after that. I never trained for it, but I wish I would have. I like it. I'm gonna buy a bike when I get back. Then we went to an outdoor court out there to have a shootoff. It was no contest. I don't think he made a shot. It was to support the Tour of Utah, the race they do.
"Charity Dodge Ball is coming up. Me and Kyle (Korver) are doing it. We had nine teams sign up the first day. We had to cut it off at 32 teams. We'll have to expand it."
When Weber got the head coaching job at the U of I, he needed to make sure then freshman Williams didn't transfer. They have now developed a great relationship.
"When I first got the job, there was a lot of scuttlebutt about he and maybe Dee (Brown) transferring," Weber remembers. "I talked to Dee on the phone, and after talking to him I knew he wasn't going anywhere because of being from Chicago. But I was really worried about making sure Deron stayed.
"We took a trip down to Texas and got to meet with his mom and brother. Obviously, it's turned out to be a pretty good story for us and hopefully for him too. We couldn't be more pleased, and he's been very loyal to us. Hopefully, we can continue that relationship."
Williams understands how the past, present and future are connected. He looks forward to getting together with past Illini greats.
"It's always fun to see those guys, guys that paved the way for me and other Illini athletes. I try to pay homage to them. I probably won't get to play against them because they're run down as they showed in the Alumni Game.
"But those guys have so many stories for us. You always learn things from those guys. Mannie Jackson is a great man, a great business man. You can learn a lot from him."
Weber and his Illini program continue to benefit from Williams' assistance and participation.
"Last year, we were fortunate to tie in with it with the Alumni Game, a game we'd tried to put together for many years. It seems the players are able to get former players back easier than the coaches or administration.
"The Night of Legends was in part in support of Deron and his Foundation, and it ended up being a special night. And then the event last year in Chicago and now giving Champaign a try. I know he wants to continue being involved."
Weber says Williams also did his part to help with Weber's summer recruiting effort. Williams is a recognizable face for impressionable young basketball stars.
"We were out in Vegas this summer recruiting, and Deron was there not only with his USA basketball ties but also watching games with Jerrance and I. A lot of guys wouldn't do that."
Present Illinois players will also benefit from Williams this weekend. He plans to play pickup games with them.
"Most definitely. I've been looking for Demetri (McCamey). He's been talking a little noise."
Among the former Illini players, managers and coaches planning to attend this weekend's festivities are Luther Head, Roger Powell, Nick Anderson, Kenny Battle, Marcus Liberty, Larry Smith, Deon Thomas, Jerry Hester, Jimmy Collins, Mark Coomes, Brian O'Connell, Tyler Cottingham, Mark Shapland, EJ Manzke, and Ryan Baker.