Top Illini pros: then & now

Top Illini pros: then & now

Twentieth-ranked Kevin Anderson has established himself as the best pro tennis player — now or ever — to come out of the University of Illinois. We asked staff writer Jeff Huth to pick the top current and all-time Illini pros in some other sports.


Now: Corey Liuget

Third-year defensive end had breakout season in 2012 for the Chargers: seven sacks, team’s Defensive Player of Year award.

All-time: Dick Butkus

Feared for his ferocious hits, linebacker was eight-time All-Pro pick with the Bears en route to Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Men’s basketball

Now: Deron Williams

Three-time All-Star point guard and two-time Olympian looking for first NBA title with going-for-broke Brooklyn Nets.

All-time: Derek Harper

Prototype point guard excelled at both ends of court, retiring in 1999 with 11th-most steals and 17th-most assists in NBA history.


Now: Tanner Roark

Lone Illini currently in MLB, right-hander off to strong start in Washington Nationals’ bullpen after recent call-up.

All-time: Lou Boudreau

Player-manager at age 25 of the Indians, eight-time All-Star and 1948 AL MVP was elected to Baseball Hall of Fame in 1970.

Men’s golf

Now: Steve Stricker

Still has game at age 46, standing 13th in world rankings and recording five top-10 finishes in 10 tournaments during highly selective 2013 schedule.

All-time: Steve Stricker

Envied by peers for his putting acumen, Stricker also has enviable career resume (12 PGA Tour wins, 13 runner-up finishes, $37.6 million in earnings).

Men’s track and field

Now: Andrew Riley

Four-time NCAA champion and 12-time All-American coming off appearance in finals of 110-meter hurdles at IAAF World Championships in Moscow.


All-time: Craig Virgin

Limiting this to the “pro era” excludes all-time Illini greats like  Bob Richards and Herb McKenley. Three-time Olympic qualifier Virgin merits nod as a two-time world champion in cross-country.

Women’s track and field

Now: Gia Lewis-Smallwood

Perseverance paying off for 34-year-old Champaign native, who made first Olympic team in 2012 and placed fifth this month in the World Championships.

All-time: Perdita Felicien

Tough choice, with three-time Olympian Tonja Buford-Bailey a worthy contender. Felicien is first and only Illini female to win gold in a World Championships individual event.


Now: Ella Masar

One of three former Illini playing in the National Women’s Soccer League, the forward has three goals and two assists in 19 matches for the Chicago Red Stars.

All-time: Ella Masar

Since concluding her award-winning UI career in 2007, the Urbana native has become a fixture on the pro scene, with stops in France, Norway and two U.S. leagues.


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IlliniMike05 wrote on August 26, 2013 at 12:08 am

Saying Derek Harper, at any point of his career, was a better pro than Deron Williams is factually incorrect. This is not a matter of opinion.