The action started when point guard Deron Williams (The Colony, Texas/The Colony H.S.) was chosen as the No. 3 overall pick by the Utah Jazz. With that selection, Williams becomes the highest drafted player in Illini history, surpassing Kendall Gill, who was taken fifth overall in 1990 by the Charlotte Hornets. With its sights clearly set on taking Williams, Utah made a trade earlier in the day with Portland to move up from sixth to the third spot. Along with being the top draftee ever to play at Illinois, Williams becomes the 13th first-round draft pick in school history and joins Gill as the second Illini to be drafted in the NBA lottery since it began in 1985.
Williams earned consensus second-team All-America honors during the 2004-05 season. He started every game and ranked third on the team in scoring, averaging 12.5 points. He reached double figures in 25 games, with five games of 20 or more points.
Williams was at his best during the NCAA Tournament, averaging 14.7 points and 8.3 assists. He was named Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Chicago Regional and earned NCAA Final Four All-Tournament Team honors.
Arguably the nation's most unselfish player, Williams led the Big Ten and ranked 11th in the nation in assists, averaging 6.8 apg, and became the first player in Big Ten history to lead the conference in assists in each of his first three years. He shattered the UI school record for assists in a season with 264 this past year, which is also the third-highest total in Big Ten history.
Williams ends his Illini career ranked No. 2 on the school's all-time assists list with 594 assists (seventh in Big Ten history). He ranks 35th on the Illini all-time scoring list with 1,111 career points and ranks eighth on the UI career 3-point field goals list with 163 treys.
Fast-forward a couple of hours and the good news continued for the Orange and Blue when the Houston Rockets selected guard Luther Head (Chicago, Ill./Manley H.S.) with the 24th overall pick in the first round, as Head became the 14th first-round pick in Illini annals.
Head was a consensus second-team All-American during his senior season and was recognized as one of the nation's most improved players. He started every game and led the Illini in scoring at 15.9 points per game. He reached double figures in 36 of 39 games, with 12 games of 20+ points. Head shined in the postseason, earning Big Ten All-Tournament Team honors and selection to the NCAA Chicago Regional and NCAA Final Four All-Tournament Teams.
Head became a sharpshooter from behind the arc, setting a school record for 3-pointers in a season with a Big Ten-leading 116 treys on 41 percent accuracy. He also showcased his all-around game, ranking second on the Illini in steals and third in assists and rebounds.
Head ends his career ranked 19th on the Illini all-time scoring list with 1,295 points, is fourth on the career 3-point field goals list with 209 treys and ranks ninth on the career steals list with 158 steals.
This marks the second time in school history that Illinois has had two players selected in the first round. The first time occurred in 1989, when Nick Anderson (11th by Orlando) and Kenny Battle (27th by Detroit) were both first round choices. This is also the third draft in the last four years where Illinois has been represented in the first round, as Williams and Head join Frank Williams (25th pick by Denver in 2002) and Brian Cook (24th pick by the Los Angeles Lakers in 2003) as recent first round selections.
"We are so proud of both Deron and Luther and all that they have achieved," Illinois Head Coach Bruce Weber said. "In the discussions I had with NBA personnel, one thing I heard from them repeatedly was how impressed they were with how Deron and Luther carried themselves in the workouts and interviews, the charisma that they showed and the poise and businesslike manner in which they approached everything. In looking at the draft, I don't know if you could have asked for better situations for them in terms of the teams they are going to. Deron is just a perfect fit to run the system at Utah, and Luther will be able to compete for time on a playoff team at Houston.
"This was a great night for our program," Weber continued. "Our coaches and players are excited and happy for Deron and Luther, and I know all the Illini fans are as well. We wish them all the best as they begin their NBA careers."