URBANA — About midway through the 91st annual Champaign-Urbana Kiwanis Club Illinois men’s basketball banquet, Brandon Paul took the stage at the Holiday Inn and performed an impersonation of John Groce before speaking on behalf of the senior class that included D.J. Richardson, Tyler Griffey, Kevin Berardini and Sam McLaurin.
The performance drew laughs and applause from the 700 attendees. The response was a familiar one for Paul, who dazzled Illinois fans throughout his four years, including a senior season that saw him average a career-best 16.6 points, leading the Illini to 23 wins and into the NCAA tournament’s round of 32.
Paul got one more round of applause from Illinois fans when he was named the team’s Most Outstanding Player at Saturday’s banquet.
“It’s truly humbling,” Paul said. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates, without the support of my friends and family. It’s just been a great ride.”
After the banquet, Darius Paul announced on Twitter than he committed to Illinois, following his older brother's college path. Paul is coming off a solid freshman season at Western Michigan.
The MOP award was one of 10 awards handed out to individuals by the Illinois coaching staff on Saturday, but the theme of the night was “team,” and Groce emphasized that throughout the two-hour program.
“This year we weathered that adversity because we were a team and that trumps any individual award,” said Groce, who choked up at times speaking about his first Illinois team.
A list of the awards presented at Saturday night’s season-ending Illinois men’s basketball banquet:
Illini Rebounders Award — Nnanna Egwu
Ralf Woods Free Throw Award — D.J. Richardson
Orange Krush Three-Point Shooting — Tyler Griffey
Sixth-Man Award — Joseph Bertrand
Most-Improved Player Award — Tracy Abrams, Nnanna Egwu, Rayvonte Rice
Lou Henson Courage Award — Kevin Berardini
Kenny Battle Leadership Award — D.J. Richardson
Matt Heldman Matto Award — Sam McLaurin
TNT Defensive Award — D.J. Richardson, Nnanna Egwu, Sam McLaurin
Most Outstanding Player — Brandon Paul