A nice crowd at the Urbana Holiday Inn celebrated the 2009-10 edition of the Fighting Illini basketball team. Illinois coach Bruce Weber called the season "interesting," reminding of several special moments including beating Wisconsin on their home court, something National Champion Duke was unable to do, and a Gameday memory that will stand the test of time.
The team suffered some unexpected and hurtful losses, but it always came back according to Weber. He felt the highlight of the season was their play in the Big 10 Tournament, beating Wisconsin and taking Ohio State into two overtimes.
Weber wore his 2004-05 Final Four ring to remind his returning players their goals next year should be winning championships, raising banners and receiving rings. He has been working them hard in spring practices, and several of the more slender players are spending time in the weight room. He said if the Illini get stronger and tougher while improving their individual skills, championships are possible.
Demetri McCamey took home the top honor on the night as his teammates voted for him Most Valuable. McCamey had 16 assists in one game and became the only Illini to score 1200 points and dish out 500 assists in three years. Weber was obviously proud of McCamey but provided a moment of laughter when claiming he once told the junior point guard, "At least get in a defensive stance and fake it."
McCamey was quick to thank the players for their support.
"It's tremendous. I've enjoyed playing with my talented teammates. Getting points and assists is nice, but we are a true family. I will always cherish these moments, and my teammates will always be part of my family as well."
McCamey said all the right things about believing next year's team can do big things if everyone works hard. He also gave no hint whether he would submit his name to the NBA draft.
"I've got a tough decision to make tomorrow. Me and Coach are gonna try to make the best choice for me and my family and the program as well. We'll sit down tomorrow morning around 10:15-10:30 and come to a conclusion whether I'm gonna enter the draft or come back to school.
"Me and Coach Weber will look at the evaluations, I think they came in today, to see where things stand. I might also talk to Coach Weber right after the banquet."
However, don't be surprised if he tests the NBA waters.
"It's a rule that, even if you're just trying to get a feel whether you will stick, you can try to get some workouts to find out where you stand. But if I do enter, I won't sign with an agent."
In other awards, Mike Davis was the obvious choice for the Rebounders Award after averaging 9.2 boards a game. Mike Tisdale took home the Ralf Woods Free Throw Trophy for shooting 82.4% in Big 10 play. Weber also stated that Tisdale finished with the top 3-point shooting percentage in the country (5 of 6).
The Orange Krush, which donates $1400.00 to worthwhile charities for every three point shot made, gave D.J. Richardson their award for three-point shooting. Brandon Paul won the Lou Henson Courage Award for taking the most charges. Weber reminded the players who took no charges this year, "He's still walking, it didn't hurt him." Perhaps that will encourage them to stand their ground against overly aggressive opponents.
In the closest contest in the years it has been awarded, the MATTO play-hard award was presented to Bill Cole. He finished barely ahead of Richardson and McCamey. In a near-unanimous vote by the players, the Kenny Battle Inspirational Player award went to Andrew "Bubba" Chisholm. And Cole was named the Most Improved Player.
McCamey said encouraging things about Weber's toughness in spring practices.
"He's got the hard nails out with the tough drills to get you mentally prepared. I think it's real good. It helps the players get ready for some things. Sometimes we had problems with that this year in the games. If we keep going at it hard each day, keep competing and hitting the weight room, I believe we'll be fine."
McCamey is also buoyed by the dedication of his teammates and the entering freshmen. There are signs the team is determined to reach lofty goals for the 2010-11 season.
"Definitely, especially the young guys. They're used to winning. In their high schools, they probably lost no more than 10-15 games in their whole careers. I know Jereme (Richmond) was down here this weekend, and I've seen almost every other player on our roster this weekend at least shooting and spending some time while I was there. It was just tremendous to see, and it will play a big part this season."
Seniors Richard Semrau, Dominique Keller and Chisholm were honored in a special presentation. Each had a chance to speak about their careers, and both Keller and Chisholm had them rolling in the aisles with memories of the coaching staff.