Listen to this article

If it seems too soon to choose the Illini's 20th century basketball all-stars, well ... consider this like getting a jump on New Year's Eve. It's so much fun, why not whoop it up early?

The rules for this celebration are simple: nobody before 1940.

If comparisons between Dike Eddleman and Kenny Battle are a stretch, comparisons between 1922 All-American Chuck Carney and 1990s star Deon Thomas are impossible. So Andy Phillip and the Whiz Kids are in. Lou Boudreau and Pick Dehner are out.

And no current squadmen are considered, even if Cleotis Brown is one of the five best juco transfers ever.

Here we go.

All-Time Illini Five (with apologies to Eddie Johnson and Kendall Gill):

F–Don Freeman, explosive scorer

F–Ken Norman, shot 60.9 for career

C–John Kerr, MVP in Big Ten

G–Andy Phillip, 1943 All-American

G–Derek Harper, dominant on floor

Second Illini Five (apologies to Eddleman and top scorer Deon Thomas):

F–Nick Weatherspoon, glass wiper

F–Dave Downey, led '63 co-champs

C–Skip Thoren, all-time rebounder

G–Nick Anderson, Mr. Everything

G–Kenny Battle, nonstop hero

Best in one year (apologies to Flyin' Illini Anderson (1989) and Gill (1990).

Don Freeman, 27.8 ppg. in '66

Ken Norman, all-league in '87

John Kerr, scored 25.3 ppg. in '54

Skip Thoren, 14.5 boards in '65

Derek Harper, put points with D in '83

Now let's have some more fun

Most popular Illini (apologies to Paul Judson and Manny Jackson):

Kenny Battle, dunker deluxe

Dike Eddleman, bigger than life

Doug Altenberger, still a star

Gene Vance, athlete's athlete

Kendall Gill, caught fans' eye

All-time best on defense (apologies to Randy Crews and Steve Bardo):

F–Mike Price, NBA first-rounder

F–Preston Pearson, tough as nails

C–Derek Holcomb, 174 UI blocks

G–Bruce Douglas, had 324 steals

G–Derek Harper, octopus arms

Sixth man–Jack Smiley, whiz on D

All-time best out-of-staters (apologies to Texan James Griffin):

F-Nick Weatherspoon, slim Ohioan

F-Mike Price, infrequent Hoosier

C-Bill Burwell, no Brooklyn bum

G-Tal Brody, Israeli-Jersey pickup

G-Derek Harper, Florida flash

All-time best playmakers (apologies to Bill Erickson and Steve Bardo):

Don Sunderlage, led two Final Fours

Tal Brody, sparked 100-point fever

Derek Harper, broke up the press

Kiwane Garris, always in control

Bruce Douglas, started 117, won 95

We're hot, let's keep going

All-time most improved (apologies to Quinn Richardson and Don Ohl):

Perry Range, talent harnessed speed

Kendall Gill, overcame soph slump

Derek Harper, learned to shoot

Kevin Turner, caught fire in '98

Chris Gandy, emerged as senior

All-time most overlooked (apologies to Rick Schmidt and Jim Dawson):

Irv Bemoras, in two Final Fours

Wally Oskerkorn, led scoring in '50

Rod Fletcher, '52 All-American

Dave Scholz, 20.5 career average

Mark Smith, versatile four years

All-time Mr. Tenacity (apologies to spin-driver Andy Kaufmann):

Fred Miller, Harv's whirlwind

Kenny Battle, award is for him

Neil Bresnahan, backboard demon

Doug Altenberger, relentless

Nick Anderson, rugged in clutch

All-time best from area (no, Otho and Dick, it's 60 miles to Paris):

Ted Beach, Champaign deadeye

Rod Fletcher, Maroon baseliner

Rick Schmidt, Royal piledriver

Deon Flessner, St. Joseph-Ogden ace

Gene Vance, Clinton's Whiz Kid

Some played, even showing flashes of greatness, but crashed and burned. No apologies here:

Rich Jones, in "slush" scandal

George Bon Salle, grades cost title

Bill Morris, returned to St. Louis

Alvin O'Neal, Peorian didn't last

Rennie Clemons, failed in classroom

There they are, my purely arbitrary picks. If you want nonarbitrary, you can have five single-game scoring leaders: Downey 53, Kaufmann 46, Scholz 42, Phillip 40 and Thomas 39. But, shucks, what's the fun in that?

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette.