Kiwane Garris Wants To Coach At Alma Mater

It's always good to see former Illini basketball players return for games at the Assembly Hall. They get to relive old memories, and the Illini Nation gets to reconnect with their former heroes. Illini point guard Kiwane Garris attended the Wisconsin game last Sunday. He must be considered the best former Illini player to not see his jersey honored at the Hall.

Kiwane Garris is the second leading scorer in Illinois history with 1948 points, a 16.8 career scoring average. He holds the all-time Illini freshman scoring record, averaging 15.9 points a game in 1994.

Despite being remembered for missing overtime free throws in a thriller with Missouri as a freshman, Garris is 1st in single season free throws with 204 and 1st in career freebies with 615. He is second all-time in made free throws in a game, depositing 17 each against Ohio State in 1997 and California in 1996. He was 17 for 17 against Cal. Garris is also the all-time leader in consecutive free throws with 39.

Garris was a scoring point guard who could also distribute. Known for his ability to penetrate and make circus shots or get fouled trying, he often sacrificed scoring to set up teammates for crisp passes. While he tended to either score or distribute as a younger player, he learned to combine them by the time he was an upperclassman.

Thus, he was also among the career assist leaders. He is ranked 8th best for a season at 180 in 1997. He averaged a lofty 5.63 assists per game that year. He is also 4th in career assists with 502.

While Garris agrees he should be among those honored with his jersey hanging from the rafters of the Assembly Hall, he understands why he was omitted. After all, fans are more supportive of players who also win big.

"When I was here we had good teams, but we weren't real noticeable like the teams after us. Nick Anderson, Kendall Gill came before us. My years, it was me and some other guys. We just had good teams at that time."

He is humble about his ranking among career scorers. He didn't even expect to be a starter as a freshman. But an ineligibility to the starting point guard gave him an opening.

"I was just glad to come here and contribute and play right away. I thought I was gonna be playing for Rennie Clemons. So I was pleased to play on a big stage like this."

Garris played briefly in the NBA with the Denver Nuggets and Orlando Magic. But at a mere 6'-0" tall and lacking super athleticism, he found a better calling in Europe.

"I've been playing for four or five teams in Italy for the last nine years."

He has had great success there, but an unfortunate circumstance allowed him a chance to visit the states during the season.

"This year, we're not doing too good. I broke my hand, so I'm out for the season. That's why I'm here today."

Despite being 35 years old, Garris hopes to continue his playing career for awhile.

"Right now, I'm looking to play another 2-3 years."

Garris has been communicating with Tommy Michaels, head of the academic staff for the U of I, to determine what he needs to complete his undergraduate degree. He would like to someday work for the university, and a degree is necessary.

"When I retire, I hope that I'll be able to be an assistant coach or a coach. Right now, I'm trying to move quickly to get my degree so I can come back and be a part of the basketball coaching staff."

Once a vast, quiet arena with few fans close to the action, Garris agrees there has been much improvement in the Assembly Hall since he left to pursue a basketball career.

"There's been a lot of changes here. There's been a huge change."

He was asked about junior point guard Demetri McCamey and whether he was pro material. At the least, Garris wishes he was born with McCamey's physique.

"You never know what teams are looking for. With his size and strength, I think his chances are pretty good. I don't think he's thinking about the draft right now."

Of course, there is always one proviso. A great deal depends on how many point guards are in the draft this year.

"If there were no point guards in the draft, and I had a chance to go, I'd go."

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