Flyin' Illini great Gill sees Illini on the verge

Flyin' Illini great Gill sees Illini on the verge

CHAMPAIGN — Kendall Gill was officially inducted into the Illinois Hall of Fame in September. But something he never thought he’d have occurred Thursday night in his return to State Farm Center.

“Never thought I’d have a bobblehead,” the former Flyin’ Illini great said during ‘Illini Pella Saturday SportsTalk’ on WDWS 1400-AM. “It’s great, and I brought some home for my kids and some guys at the station where I work. I turned out pretty good even though my kids aren’t too excited for it. It kind of hurt my feelings. They haven’t even opened up the box yet.

“(Illinois) did a good job — especially with the part in my hair I used to wear when I was in college. As long as my wife approves of it, I’m good.”

Gill was back at State Farm Center for Illinois’ Big Ten home opener against Michigan for his bobblehead giveaway. The 15-year NBA veteran turned NBC Sports Chicago analyst for Chicago Bulls pregame and postgame coverage had a front row seat next to former Illinois teammate Mark Steinberg — now Tiger Woods’ agent — as the Illini faced the second-ranked Wolverines.

“If we had a big man that was decent and a wing that could score consistently, I think we could have beat that team the other night,” Gill said. “I didn’t think that they were very good. I’m sitting there on the sidelines and I’m saying, ‘This is the second-ranked team in the country?’ Maybe I’m going back to my days, but, I mean, we would have obliterated those guys.”

Gill wasn’t overwhelmed by the current No. 1 team in the country, either, after getting his first full look at Duke when ACC play started.

“I saw Duke play for the first time — really sat down and watched them play against Clemson — and saw R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish and I said, ‘These are supposed to be two of the top three picks in the draft? Really?’ ” Gill said. “They’re freshmen and everything, but I just don’t think the talent pool of college basketball is very tough.”

Playing as a freshman now, Gill said, doesn’t compare to when he came in as a freshman at Illinois in 1987. The future first-round draft pick played just 11.1 minutes per game that season and averaged 3.7 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals.

“All of the top guys move on after one year, so it’s really not that tough at all to play as a freshman,” Gill said. “When I came in and my group came in, we had to battle Ken Norman, Tony Wysinger (and) Doug Altenberger — guys that had been in school for three or four years. No way were we going to take those guys’ position. Now, when you come in as a heralded freshman, you’re virtually given a spot. You really don’t have to battle anybody to earn it.”

Illinois has one of those top freshmen this season in Ayo Dosunmu. The 6-foot-5 guard’s performance against Michigan — 23 points, seven rebounds, two blocks, two steals and two assists — certainly stood out to Gill.

“It was a consensus to me that Ayo is the best player on the team as a freshman,” Gill said. “Thank God his jump shot isn’t deadly right now because I think he’d be one-and-done. He has all the intangibles you need to be a really good player. He has the length, the height and the basketball IQ.

“I was watching the way that he shot the ball in warmups and everything. He needs a little work on his form and his technique, but I tell you what, he’s going to be a heck of a player two or three years down the line if he stays in school that long. Hopefully he will. I definitely don’t believe that he should leave school after this season. I know a lot of kids in this one-and-done era think that they should, but he needs, I believe, a couple more years of work. But I tell you what, man, he’s a talented guy.”

Gill said Illinois could turn the corner with the addition of a dominant big man and a wing scorer. The Illini have a commitment for the former in five-star center Kofi Cockburn and are still pursuing the latter in the 2019 class while also trying to develop freshmen Tevian Jones and Alan Griffin.

“They played the No. 2 team in the country pretty well in the first half, but in the second half you could see where the talent difference separated the two teams,” Gill said. “I don’t think we’re too far away. We’re just two players away. We need to get two players that can go with Ayo, and I think the future looks bright if that can happen.”