CHAMPAIGN — Seven long years after his college career came to a close, All-World point guard Deron Williams is still the source of basketball daydreaming at Illinois.
His reign hasn't been forgotten by Illini fans. That's also true with some high school prospects who are considering Illinois as an option.
The "D-Will Effect" is particularly influential with Xavier Rathan-Mayes, a 6-foot-4 combo guard out of Huntington (W.Va.) Prep. Rathan-Mayes has scheduled an official visit — his first official visit — to D-Will's former school this weekend.
And Williams' history with Illinois is one reason why Rathan-Mayes has the Illini among his three finalists.
"D-Will and Kobe are my favorite players. I pattern my game after D-Will a lot — big, scoring guard, physical," said Rathan-Mayes, a 2013 prospect. "A lot of people say I play like him. Being compared to him is pretty special. That's just an honor for me. I have a long way to go. It's a lot of work left to do. But it's somebody I look up to."
Rathan-Mayes, who also is considering Connecticut and Florida State, hasn't met his basketball hero. He watched the gold medalist with USA Basketball in July in Las Vegas.
As Illinois prepares to host Rathan-Mayes, the "D-Will Effect" figures prominently into the Illini's recruiting pitch. John Groce's coaching staff has pitched him on the idea of being the next Deron Williams and helping rebuild the program into a Big Ten contender.
The focus of Illinois' recruiting efforts has been to improve the team's ball handling. Having multiple ball handlers is key to Groce's system on offense, and Rathan-Mayes is considered a true combo guard, a scorer who can play both guard positions.
"When you can do more, you stay on the floor longer and you're more of an asset to your team," Rathan-Mayes said.
Illinois has a shot with Rathan-Mayes but remains the outlier on his finalists. Connecticut makes sense because his father lives there. Florida State makes sense because his father played there. Illinois is a factor because, well, it has recruited the heck out of him. The staff earlier this week visited his mother, who lives in the Toronto area.
Rathan-Mayes took an unofficial visit to Florida State in early September. He said he's scheduled to make an official visit to UConn beginning Sept. 28.
"The one thing I really love (about Illinois) is their fan base. Oh, my God. It's crazy," Rathan-Mayes said. "The fan base, the fans, it's unbelievable. That's definitely special, the fans they have over there."