Before we move on to Year 12, let’s take a look back at the our Western Illinois program under Coach Rick in College Hoops 2K8 from the 2007-2008 season to the 2017-2018 campaign.
We’re going to run through the best players, top recruits, and most memorable games in program history. But first, we’re going to retire the numbers of three former players and elect them to the Leathernecks Hall of Fame.
This is our inaugural Hall of Fame class. Special thanks to Brian Stamme (@coachstamme) for the graphics.
Bud Richards, power forward, Class of 2012
Without the belief of Bud Richards, does this program ever get off the ground? The Madison, Wisconsin native was ranked as the No. 133 overall recruit during my first season in 2007-2008. Ignored by his hometown Badgers and left without an offer by major conference schools like DePaul and Northwestern, Richards decided to take a chance on a 25-year-old Ricky Charisma. It isn’t hyperbole to say his decision altered the trajectory of the program forever.
Western Illinois had never made the NCAA tournament before Bud Richards came along. That changed during his sophomore season when we outlasted South Dakota State in an instant classic Summit League championship game to punch our ticket to March Madness. Richards was the leader of the first team in program history to win an NCAA tournament game too, helping us upset No. 6 seed Miami in 2012 and then nearly taking out Florida State two days later when he dropped 17 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists in a close loss.
Richards was a four-year starter, won the 2011 Summit League Player of the Year, and exited school with 1,614 points for his career. More than anything, he helped lay the foundation for the future of the program. No one will ever wear his No. 15 at Western Illinois again.
Giovanni Nelke, guard, Class of 2015
“There are few things I love in this sick, dark world more than tall point guards.” That’s what I wrote when I offered Giovanni Nelke a scholarship at the start of Year 3. Little did I know at the time he would grow two more inches, swing between three different positions, and go down as perhaps the most clutch performer in program history.
Playing behind legends like Tracy Hehn and Wilbur Messy, the Santa Clara kid didn’t become a starter until his junior year when he moved to small forward for us. After scoring 22 points in that infamous loss to NC State, he moved to shooting guard as a redshirt senior and became the second player in program history to hit the 90 overall plateau. He’d end that year with a national championship ring and the honor of being the first Leatherneck to be drafted in the NBA.
I’m telling you, we would have lost in the Sweet 16 in 2015 without Nelke. He dropped 30 points in that game against Villanova and hit the two biggest shots of the night with a pair of late corner threes. By the time the the title game against Kansas rolled around, we already knew the Nelk Man was money. He scored a team-high 21 points in that win, and forever cemented his place as a program legend. No Leatherneck will ever wear his No. 13 again.
Deke Van, center, Class of 2015
Deke Van was a backup plan. It’s easy to forget that now after the national championship run, the Most Outstanding Player award, the incident in Taiwan, and the t-shirt that people are wearing all over the world. But it’s true.
I had two scholarships to work with during the 2009-2010 season. At first, one went to Giovanni Nelke, and the other went to power forward Jairus Dudley. We recruited Dudley for a few weeks until he got an offer from Western Michigan that he liked more than the offer he got from us. When I went looking for a new option on the recruiting trail, I met a young man from San Antonio who would go on to become arguably the most important recruit in program history.
Deke committed to us weeks after we made our first ever NCAA tournament appearance. After redshirting as a true freshman, Van spent the next year as a critical bench piece on our 2012 team that entered the tournament as a No. 11 seed. In our first round matchup against Miami, Deke played a perfect game: eight points, eight rebounds, two blocks, and one assist on 4-for-4 shooting from the field in 23 minutes of play off the bench. I’d like to think that was the jumping off point for the rest of his college career.
Deke moved into the starting lineup the following season as a redshirt sophomore. He was the only person involved with the team who showed up to play against Washington when we made the NCAA tournament, finishing with 20 points in the blowout loss. All Deke did as a junior was lead the team in scoring (15.2 points per game) and rebounding (6.4 per game) and go on to become Summit League Player of the Year. Of course, he is mostly remembered for his strange decision to unnecessarily shoot the ball at the end of the game vs. NC State in the NCAA tournament. The Wolf Pack would come down and hit a three-pointer that will live in infamy. It’s easy to forget that Deke finished that game with 22 points, 19 rebounds, and four assists. It was a tough moment for everyone, but Deke used it to come back stronger.
Deke wasn’t our most talented player in 2015 — he was tied for the third best player on the roster — but he always felt like our heart and soul. He again led the team in scoring at 20.7 points per game, and then led the charge for redemption in the NCAA tournament. After helping us beat Ole Miss in the first round, Deke played arguably the best game of his career against a Michigan State team that was rated a 100 overall in the round of 32. He finished the night with 26 points and 10 rebounds to push us into the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history. You know how the story ends.
Watching the way Deke consistently punished Cal and then Kansas in the Final Four as a scorer and rebounder was just so beautiful. His physicality set the tone in both games. When it was over, Western Illinois had its first ever national championship and Deke was named Final Four MOP. Even John Hollinger took notice.
For the 2015 tournament, Deke averaged 17.2 points and 13.8 rebounds per game. When people think about Leathernecks basketball, they think about Deke Van. No player will ever wear No. 50 again.
Top-rated players in program history
Spanning the 2007-2008 season through the 2017-2018 season. All ratings are reflective of the end of the 2018 season for active players.
Lubos Hatten, shooting guard, 2013-2018: 95 overall
Burton Ballinger, center, 2012-2017: 93 overall
Joseph Bowens, power forward, 2013-2018: 93 overall
Giovanni Nelke, guard, 2010-2015: 92 overall
**Phil Powell, small forward, 2013-2017: 92 overall
Armein Amous, point guard, 2013-2018: 92 overall
Jordan Geli Holden, center, 2013-2018: 91 overall
Damon Hendriks, point guard, 2011-2015: 90 overall
Jaison Waller, guard, 2009-2014: 90 overall
*Ime Terrell, shooting guard, 2015-: 90 overall
**Left early for NBA
The top-rated recruits in program history
Spanning the 2007-2008 season through the 2017-2018 season. Excludes recruits signed in the offseason heading into Year 12. Excludes JUCO recruits, who aren’t given rankings.
PG Billy Assel, 2016, No. 25 overall
SF Bert Draughan, 2015, No. 29 overall
SG Lubos Hatten, 2013, No. 66 overall
SG Ime Terrell, 2015, No. 78 overall
PF Ira Willis, 2012, No. 82 overall
SF Phil Powell, 2013, No. 103 overall
Nikola Stockman, 2014, No. 104 overall
PF Joseph Bowens, 2013, No. 106 overall
PG Giovanni Nelke, 2010, No. 112 overall
SG Wilbur Messy, 2010, No. 132 overall
Bud Richards, 2009, No. 133 overall
5-star JUCO recruits
Players must have signed before conclusion of 2018 season. Includes year of graduation.
Dawaud Byfield, class of 2015
Damon Hendriks, class of 2015
*Raymond Harper, class of 2021
The five most memorable games
This was the first game I ever watched the team play at the end of Year 3, and it was just pure madness. Playing for our first NCAA tournament berth, we were down five with 15 seconds left. We hit a three, South Dakota State missed two free throws, and Marvin Cisse makes an athletic baseline layup to send the game to OT. Wilbur Messy hits the go-ahead jumper from the top of the key with about 27 seconds left in overtime. SD State gets one last chance and misses a point-blank baseline jumper. We go dancin’. How about Tracy Hehn popping off for 34 points on 10-of-16 shooting from three as a true freshmen? One of the great performances in program history.
Our heartbreak, in one GIF:
35-0, man. Two wins away.
I’m still not over it.
All I’m going to say is that was the worst hangover I’ve had in months. Years? Perhaps. Thank you to everyone who made that night so much fun.
Coach Rick through Year 11
Year | Overall record | Result
2010: 23-9 | First Round
2011: 22-10 | NIT
2012: 28-4 | Second Round
2013: 25-6 | First Round
2014: 28-4 | First Round
2015: 31-5 | National Champions
2016: 25-6 | Second Round
2017: 30-4 | Second Round
2018: 35-1 | Final Four
Overall record: 271-80
Back with Year 12 soon
Year 12 will publish … Friday or Saturday. Next time we do a decade retrospective, I’ll give the readers a vote on who should be elected to the Hall of Fame. Feel free to drop your favorite players and favorite moments in the comments if you are so inclined.
A couple other notes:
I re-did the About page to be spoiler-free for people who want links to each season without knowing the results. Share it with your friends, if you want. My apologies for spoilers in the past.
Thanks so much to everyone who has read this series so far. I definitely never thought I would be talking about playing a video game from 13 years ago on WGN or 670 The Score when I began this project. I also never thought I’d make a new friend in Japan as he writes a fan-fiction novel about the team or sell a t-shirt for one of our computer-generated players. What a world. It was only possible because y’all supported this so fervently. I hope you stick with me. We want another championship. We have some fun stuff planned for the future, too.
I made an additional donation of $100 to the Chicago Bail Fund. Here’s a link to bail funds in your area if you want to donate. Fuck police brutality and systemic racism. Take it from Deke:
Here’s the latest from Thanh’s book
See you Friday or Saturday for Year 12.