I am a hardcore Illini fan. Is there anything better than the Orange Crush?! The Illini have a long history of players heading to Israel to play professionally. Of course, the trendsetter was Tal Brody but others have played in Israel since including Dee Brown, Deon Thomas, and Roger Powell. Most recently, former Illini great Brian Randle ended a 9 year Israeli basketball career. Here is his story from Illinois to Israel to Minnesota.
1) The Illini have had trouble over the years securing the recruitment of top Illinois High School basketball players. Why did you choose Illinois?
We were exactly the last class of Bill Self as far as recruitment. So it is hard to speak to it because he [Self] was getting Illinois recruits. Next class was [Shawn] Pruitt and Calvin Brock, that was [Bruce] Webers’ class.
2) Bill Self is known as a master recruiter. How did you make your decision to play at Illinois?
It was pretty easy. My sister was at Illinois at the time. My AAU team was based out of Champaign and it consisted of guys from the Peoria/Rantoul area. Rich Mcbride, Shaun Livingston and others were on the team so we spent time in Champaign. Self had been recruiting me since I my Freshman year, so I had a pretty good relationship with him. Illinois had several coaches I knew and Coach [Wayne] McClain is family. A lot of things were working in my favor. I will never forget the last thing Self said to me. I wanted to know how coaches see me fitting in and he said, “if you come in, I am coaching a NBA wing.” So that was the icing on the cake for me.
3) Illini Nation is a special fraternity of players and fans. Looking back, how proud are you to be an Illini?
It has been great. In some ways it has been hard for me to give back since I was playing in Europe. I am not back as much and now I am here in Minnesota. There is a special connection with former players Jerry Hester, Tal Brody, and guys who set the foundation. It is a fraternity even though we played at different times but we are in this together.
4) Do you have any regrets looking back at your collegiate career?
Looking back at it, the year after the run to national championship we lost the Big Ten by one game. The next year I was out for most of the year but the team did really well. Rich [McBride] and Warren Carter were picking guys up. My 5th year I had a lot going on and frustration came to a head. Maybe I didn’t speak up enough. Now I use it as a teaching tool for the young guys. That year helped me to grow and set expectations.
5) Why did you head to Israel after college?
It started because indirectly Israeli teams were looking at Shaun Pruitt and the team was watching him on film. After watching the film they felt I was a good fit and they wanted to sign me. I thought it would just be my first stop. I had a few good years there and did well. Then I went to Germany. Eventually, I needed surgery on my foot and then went back to Israel. I ended up having good situations and teams there. I ended playing with Maccabi. It was never the plan to go to Europe and then I went to Israel. It is now a second home for us and we can navigate it as well as Chicago.
6) Why was going to play in Israel so attractive?
The lifestyle is easier than most places. With the right coaches it is a good place to learn the right fundamentals and get yourself started. A lot of coaches know the players and how to bring them along. There are not two-a-days so guys can get their footing. And there is warm weather, good basketball, and it is not as much a shock to the system like other countries can be.
7) Now you are in Minnesota with the Timberwolves. What are you doing with them?
I am a Player Development Coach. I have various responsibilities. I am in charge of certain guys; putting them through drills, preparing video packages, grow them as individuals and their basketball skills. I help guys improve daily.