Garris'' name, game near the top in Illinois history

CHAMPAIGN – Four years, 1,865 points and 477 assists later, they're still butchering his name.

Why, just a few weeks ago, Illinois' All-Big Ten senior was welcomed to Minnesota's Williams Arena as "a 6-foot-2 guard from Chicago ... Ki-WAYNE Garris."

And how many times have you heard Ki-WAHNEY?

"I'm always telling people the 'e' is silent," Kiwane (proper pronunciation: KEY-wahn) Garris said. "But they don't listen."

Jim Sheppard, who's had four years of practice, will call out the name one last time tonight at the Assembly Hall. It's Senior Night, your last chance to watch Garris, Chris Gandy and Herb Caldwell on their home turf.

But it won't be the last you'll hear of Garris, whose name will keep popping up in bars and barbershops for years to come, whenever they're debating who's the greatest Illini of them all.

The Whiz Kids. Deon. Dike. Derek. Kendall. The Judson twins. "Red." Andy Phillip. Eddie.

Kiwane.

"I'm real happy with my career," Garris said the other day. "I'm second in a couple of categories, third in a couple of categories. I think I did a good job developing as a basketball player and a point guard. Had some hard times as far as injuries, but otherwise, I worked real hard to get where I am today."

And where is that?

Way up there, say a few former Illini:

– Fred Green, who's been watching UI games since the 1933-34 season: "I think he'll go down as one of the great ones. He's done more for this team than almost anybody did for any of the other teams."

– Doug Altenberger, No. 13 on the UI's all-time scoring charts: "When you look back at the history of Illinois point guards, I don't think there's anybody better than Kiwane. And I've seen them all."

– Ted Beach, a member of the 1951 Final Four team: "What are we going to do without him next year?"

Good question.

Who's going to hit the game-winning free throws as Garris, Illinois' all-time best at the line, has done so often throughout his career?

"That's what you want out of your point guard – somebody that can drill it under pressure," Iowa coach Tom Davis said.

And that's what Illinois has been getting from Garris, one of the coolest customers in college basketball when the clock's winding down and the game's on the line.

"I love to take on a challenge," Garris said. "It's fun to me."

Thirty seconds left, Illinois up one?

Bring it.

"You can't ever feel comfortable in a close game at the end, but with him out there you always felt like the game's in pretty good hands," Beach said.

The hands that hit 13 of 14 free throws in an upset of Minnesota this year, a school-record 39 in a row during one sophomore stretch and 105 of 123 (85.4 percent) this Big Ten season.

"The last two minutes are what I like to call Kiwane time," Altenberger said. "He knows that. The other team knows that. He gets the ball and makes them do what they don't want to do, which is foul him, and he makes the free throws.

"His whole career, if Illinois had the lead and they got the ball in Kiwane's hands, 99 percent of the time they came away with a 'W.' Steve Alford was the same way at Indiana. They just take over at the end and win the game."

Garris hasn't won as often as some of the elite point guards in Illini history, but his resume could match anyone's.

Beach's list begins with Don Sunderlage, who became the second of three UI Big Ten MVPs in 1951. Then you've got Bill Ridley, Tal Brody, Big Ten MVP Jim Dawson, Derek Harper, Bruce Douglas and Stephen Bardo.

Garris vs. Sunderlage is a tough call. In Sunderlage's day, they didn't even call them point guards. No point guard on the Whiz Kids, either.

"I'd certainly compare Kiwane favorably with (Sunderlage), but the game's completely different now in terms of speed and quickness and jumping ability," Beach said. "Go back the last 25 years instead."

For point guards, that'd leave Harper, Douglas, Bardo and Garris.

Douglas still ranks No. 1 on Illinois' career assists, steals and minutes lists, and Bardo started on three NCAA tournament teams, including the Final Four bunch of 1988-89.

But the biggest debate seems to pit Harper (1980-83) against Garris.

Garris has him beat in scoring (16.6 career average to 10.9), but Harper's got him in assists (4.7 to 4.3) and rebounds (3.6 to 3.4).

Harper shot better from the field (47.8 percent to 41.3), but Garris was more accurate at the line (82.5 percent to 70.1).

Harper played for teams that won 67 percent of their games (60-30), and Garris has been a winner 63 percent of the time (74-44).

The case for Harper:

Green: "Garris is not a Harper, but he does about as good as anyone since him. The thing with Harper was his magnificent physique, and he was so quick. He could play with anybody, anytime, anywhere."

Bennie Louis, the UI's 1967 captain: "I think Harper proved himself a little bit more than Kiwane, but Kiwane's right up there. Derek could react to the basketball. When other players would make mistakes, he'd cover them up because of his quickness."

The case for Garris:

Altenberger: "Derek, offensively, was not nearly as good as Kiwane is. Derek was a little bit more physically bigger and stronger, but fundamentally, I don't think there's been anybody better than Kiwane. Derek was a great defensive player, Douglas was a great assist man and Bardo was Mr. Consistency.

"But if you were to grade out all those guys, Kiwane would be the best point guard Illinois has ever had. He's the complete package."

One thing Garris hasn't done is take his team anywhere in March – until now, anyway. He's got the Illini up to 15th in the country and awaiting their third NCAA tournament invitation of the Garris Era.

Garris' mission before he's through at Illinois: "Win a tournament game, do something I never did."

If Garris' career has lacked anything, it's postseason wins (0-3). Sunderlage, Douglas and Bardo each won five, Harper two, Brody one.

"Maybe you're playing with a different set of five people on the floor, though," Louis said. "I don't think that anybody's had the same kind of role that Garris has had. Maybe they had more support."

On the other hand ...

"The flip side of that is, well, then everybody can key on Kiwane," Altenberger said. "Since there's not that big supporting cast, we can throw two guys at him. The first thing that Gene Keady and Bob Knight say is, 'We gotta stop this guy.'

"They're throwing the kitchen sink at the kid, and they still can't stop him."

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