CHAMPAIGN – Cutting hard off an imaginary screen, the new guy at the Illinois practice facility lofts a gentle jumper that swishes through the net.
Wait, that guy isn't new. That's Deron Williams, working up a sweat like he's trying to make the roster.
"I watched him when he went to the (NCAA) tournament and to the championship, and that's pretty much when I decided I wanted to come here," freshman Brandon Paul said after the workout.
Coach Bruce Weber added, "If they see Deron working out and playing hard, it's good for everybody. It's good for them (because) they realize what it takes."
An Olympic gold medalist and franchise player with the Utah Jazz, Williams showed the young bucks how it's done by joining them in team workouts Friday. He also competed in a series of pickup games – "We lost the first game, and then he came on and we won like eight straight," senior Dominique Keller said – as the Illini contingent smiled like it was 2005.
"Even in practice he doesn't like to lose," junior Demetri McCamey said. "He's just a warrior. He's trying to win every game and have everybody know he's the best player in the gym that day."
But there are gyms in Salt Lake City, so Williams wasn't in town simply for a workout. (Though he did put on a show.) Later Friday, Williams hosted the second Illini Hoops Legends for Charity at Champaign's I Hotel and Conference Center. The event raised money for the I Fund and various area charities.
The Hoops Legends event continues today with an outing at Stone Creek Golf Club in Urbana. An organizer said the event likely will move back to Chicago next season. In about two years, Williams' foundation – Point of Hope – has raised nearly $500,000, according to event organizer Kevin Kaplan.
"I think Deron, he gets it," said Flyin' Illini alum Marcus Liberty, one of several former Illini to attend the charity event. "A lot of NBA players, it takes them a while. He got it at an early age. He's got great people around him. The sky's the limit for that kid."
"The university obviously meant a lot to Deron for him to come back," said 1998 team co-MVP Jerry Hester. "For somebody that grew up out-of-state, that grew up in Texas, to come back to the university and still show a lot of love and come back and have an event like this, it means a lot."
The dinner and auction was highlighted by the presentation of the first Jerry Colangelo Award. Dave Downey and Mannie Jackson accepted the inaugural honor, given to former Illini who were successful after their playing careers.
"Two close friends in Mannie Jackson and Dave Downey," Colangelo said. "So that makes it a very special honor."
Weber, who spent much of the afternoon chatting with his former point guard, said Williams' impact on the program is "endless." The current players – and UI recruit Meyers Leonard, who watched the workouts Friday – clearly enjoyed their time with the former Illini.
"When he's in the gym, guys' competitive spirit goes up. He raises the bar. Guys respect him," said assistant coach Jerrance Howard, a close friend of Williams. "It's just surreal for all those guys to be in love with that (2004-05) team and now you worked out with him and spent time with him in the gym."