Illini Legends, Lists and Lore: April 7, 2019

Illini Legends, Lists and Lore: April 7, 2019

Thirty-nine years ago today, at the 58th annual men's basketball Banquet, junior forward Eddie Johnson was named Most Valuable Player of the Illini.

Of the 39 players who preceded him as MVPs, he was only the 15th underclassman to be honored. Johnson's 610 points during the 1979-80 campaign were the second highest ever by an Illinois player and his 310 rebounds were third highest. He was a repeat MVP the following season (1980-81) as a senior.

Other trivia about Illini men's basketball MVPs:

UI's first official basketball MVP was senior Bob Richmond in 1941.

Seniors James Griffin and Perry Range were the first to share the award (1982). The prize has been shared just six other times.

The only time the MVP was given to three different players was in 2005 when juniors Dee Brown and Deron Williams, and senior Luther Head won the honor for UI's 37-2 national runner-up.

Cory Bradford (1999) and Tracy Abrams (2012) are the only two freshmen to have won MVP awards. Bradford was also the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Abrams is the last UI MVP who didn't also lead the team in scoring.

Neither Andy Kpedi nor Larry Smith, co-MVPs in 1991, won Illinois's scoring title that season. Andy Kaufmann was UI's top scorer.

Andy Phillip was Illini MVP in 1942 and '43, but did not earn that honor as a senior in 1947 when he returned from service in World War II.

The first three-time Illini MVP was Dave Downey. He captured the prize in 1961, '62 and '63. Deon Thomas (1992-93-94) and Kiwane Garris (1995-96-97) are Illinois's only other players to be honored three years in a row.

1984 co-MVP Quinn Richardson (with Bruce Douglas) finished as Illinois's fifth-leading scorer that season (7.7 ppg).

Current NBA pro, Meyers Leonard of the Portland Trail Blazers, did not win Illini MVP laurels.

UI's 1967 MVP, Jim Dawson, also was the Big Ten MVP. As a team, the Illini tied for seventh in the Big Ten standings.

Only one Illini MVP — Rod Fletcher in 1952 — is a native of Champaign-Urbana. He attended Champaign High School.

Only one former Illini Most Valuable Player — Harv Schmidt in 1957 — eventually returned to become Illinois' head coach. (Note: Doug Mills and Harry Combes likely would have also joined Schmidt in this category, but the award wasn't officially in place when they competed.)

No MVP award was given in either 2008 or 2018.

Illini Birthdays

Today: Jackie Guy, softball

Monday: Andy Small, baseball (50)

Tuesday: Chase McLaughlin, football (23)

Wednesday: Phil & Paul Judson, basketball (85)

Thursday: Virginia "Veegee" Elsen, track & field

Friday: Will Brewster, track & field (25)

Saturday: Aliina Weykamp, soccer

By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore (Third Edition now available in stores). Get more Illini birthdays, trivia and historical tidbits daily on Twitter@B1GLLL. His website is www.SportsLLL.com.

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