Illini great Bon Salle dies

Illini great Bon Salle dies

Illinois basketball great George Bon Salle has died.

He was 80.

According to an obituary that appeared in the Miami Herald, BonSalle passed away Monday at his home in South Miami.

A three-year starter at center, the Chicago big man led Illinois to a Top 10 national ranking in 1955-56, averaging 19.5 points en route to first-team All-Big Ten honors. In 1956-57 — when he was a senior — Bon Salle was declared ineligible midway through the season, derailing a Big Ten title quest for a team that also featured Harv Schmidt, Roger Taylor and Don Ohl. Bon Salle played 14 games that season, averaging 19.8 points.

When asked for the highlights of his stay at the UI, BonSalle told The News-Gazette in 2004: “Winning 16 games in a row (in 1955-56), with 10 Big Ten wins and being ranked No. 2 in the nation ranks right up there with beating San Francisco at Huff Gym and stopping their 60-game winning streak.” 

Former Illini basketball coach Harv Schmidt played seven straight years alongside Bon Salle, four at the UI and three with the Denver Truckers.

"George was a great friend and an exceptional low-post center," said Schmidt, in Kansas City on Thursday to see his grandson play in an AAU tournament.

Illinois was ranked No. 7 with an 18-4 team in 1956, and was again No. 7 after 14 games in 1957 when BonSalle was declared ineligible for failing to pass a sociology class.

"George was a prodigious reader but he didn't read the book required for that class," Schmidt said. "We had a good team. But Johnny Green became eligible at the semester, just when we lost George, and Green ate us alive in East Lansing (102-89). The Spartans went to the Final Four.

"After he left the Truckers, George entered the insurance business with Ruck Steger. He became an authority on group-related products, and was renowned in the industry."

Bon Salle sudden and unexpected ineligibility in 1957 marked the end to a decade-long run of successes under coach Harry Combes. Over a six-year period, the Illini went 39-45 in the Big Ten before sharing the conference title with Ohio State in 1963.