D-Will returns to Champaign for charity

Deron Williams is looking forward seeing old faces at Champaign this weekend. Icon SMI

New Jersey Nets point guard Deron Williams will return to Illinois for an alumni game and charity fundraiser this weekend.

Williams is one of nearly 40 former Illinois players expected to play in Saturday's alumni game at Assembly Hall. The current Illinois team will scrimmage at 5 p.m. on Saturday and will be followed by the alumni game at 6 p.m.

"It's going to be good to get back to Champaign," said Williams, who starred for the Illini from 2002-05. "I think it's going to be a fun event. It's always good to catch up with the former players and coaches and hang out with the guys and beat them up on the court, too."

Illinois coach Bruce Weber was elated to have Williams returning.

"Obviously, we're excited because he's kind of our star power, kind of the pied piper with the recognition and the success he's had," Weber said. "He can get guys to come back that we can't."

Other players expected to attend Saturday's game are Kendall Gill, Demetri McCamey, James Augustine, Dee Brown, Luther Head, Roger Powell, Brian Cook, Cory Bradford, Kiwane Garris, Sergio McClain, Marcus Griffin, among others. Former Illinois coaches Bill Self and Lon Kruger are also expected to make appearances during the weekend.

Williams will be leaving for Turkey not long after his weekend at Illinois. Williams had little to say about heading overseas to play.

"It's already been documented that I'm going," Williams said. "I'm supposed to be there Sept. 1."

Williams was more open to talk about the past and present of the Illini. He thought the program was on its way up again after a lull since he and his teammates took Illinois to the 2005 championship game. The Illini have been to four NCAA tournaments since 2005 and haven't been beyond the second round.

"It's tough to follow a year like we did in '05," Williams said. "It hasn't probably panned out the way coach has hoped. I think the next couple years they'll be better. It's a matter of those guys wanting to win. We weren't worried about ourselves. We were worried about the team as a whole. That's what made it so successful."

Williams also defended Weber.

"I have no criticism for coach Weber," Williams said. "I love coach Weber. He's lost a lot of recruits to other programs. I think he's done a great job. They have had a couple rough years, but you expect that with that many people leaving. They're starting to recover now with the recruits coming in."

Williams had high praise for Illinois assistant coach Jerrance Howard, a former teammate and close friend.

"I think a lot of times he was our best recruiter when he was a player," Williams said. "I knew he would become a great coach someday. You surely didn't expect it to come this fast. He's had a big impact on the program. Most of the guys they're getting is because of Jerrance."

Williams will host a charity reception and auction at the Activities & Recreation Center on the school's campus following the alumni game. All of the money will go toward the Point of Hope Foundation and I FUND. More information can be found at PointOfHopeFoundation.org.