(WCIA) — 20 years later, the 2001 and 2002 Big Ten Championship teams were honored at the State Farm Center on Saturday at Illinois’ game against St. Francis. They were celebrated with a halftime ceremony, as several familiar faces took the court.
Cory Bradford, Illinois’ No.6 all-time leading scorer, was in attendance. He’s also the programs leading 3-point shooter, and a 2001 All-Big Ten honorable mention.
“You see the passion, the preparation,” says Bradford while watching the 2021 Illini. “The mindset they take has been like our days of playing. The expectations that they have amongst themselves is like the same that we had on ours, it’s all about winning at the end of the day.”
Bradford played alongside 2001 team captain Sergio McClain. The Illinois native won four IHSA State Titles with Peoria Manal, before leading Illinois to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s good to just get back and see these guys. You know all these years, just trying to figure out a formula to sustain the success, and make this like an everyday thing like at Kansas, at Duke,” says McClain. “That’s the dream. That’s why we came here, that’s what they wanted us to build.”
The 2000-01 Illini went 13-3 in Big Ten play, while going 27-8 overall to advance to the Elite Eight. It was the third-winningest program in school history. The 2001-02 Illini repeated at Big Ten Champions, and advanced to the Sweet 16.
“It’s bittersweet, we love coming back to the University, we played with our heart and soul when we were here,” says Brain Cook. “It’s always good to see all the former teammates, and the current team as well. We won a couple big ten championships back in the day and we’d like to see the current team win one as well.
“It’s been fun the last couple years to see this group develop, and the success that they’ve had,” says Sean Harrington. “We took so much pride in what we did in the early 2000’s and and kind of built those big ten championships and a couple teams after that that kind of followed in those footsteps, and to now see this group kind of get it back to where Illinois’ relevant in the Big Ten and relevant on that national stage, It’s a lot of fun to watch.”
The Illini have won just four Big Ten titles in the last 20 years.