There is a move afoot in Champaign-Urbana to retire the number of former Illinois basketball star Deron Williams, who led the Illini to second place in the 2005 NCAA tournament and has gone on to what is shaping up as an outstanding career with the Utah Jazz in the NBA.
But, whoa, Nellie. Not so fast.
Let's hope cooler heads will prevail.
Illinois has retired the numbers of Red Grange and Dick Butkus. Even the most crazed member of Illini Nation has to admit that Williams hasn't achieved the stature of Grange and Butkus--not yet, anyway.
Retiring numbers is a heady proposition. If undertaken, it should be reserved for special people--Hall of Famers at the very least. If any former Illinois basketball player deserves that recognition, it should be John "Red" Kerr. Why would Williams rank ahead of Eddie Johnson or Deon Thomas?
You get my point. There are a lot of candidates. But who is in a class with Grange and Butkus?
We recently did a survey of high schools in the Chicago area and were surprised to learn that Grange's number hasn't been retired at Wheaton Warrenville South and Butkus' number hasn't been retired at Chicago Vocational.
In fact, few high schools have retired a single number. Thornton, Joliet Catholic, St. Rita, Providence, Evanston, New Trier, Oak Park, Elgin, Proviso East and Lane Tech, which have long and storied traditions in sports, have never retired an athlete's number.
It took Fenwick more than 50 years to retire the jersey of Johnny Lattner, who won the Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame in 1953.
Wheaton Warrenville South hasn't retired Grange's number but it did retire the number of former soccer star Charlie Fajkus.
Marshall hasn't retired George Wilson's number. But boys coach Lamont Bryant arbitrarily retired the jersey of Patrick Beverley. And legendary girls coach Dorothy Gaters, who has produced 17 All-Americans, retired only the first one--Janet Harris.
Isiah Thomas' number was retired at St. Joseph but Lou Boudreau's number wasn't retired at Thornton. Cazzie Russell's number was retired at Carver but Otto Graham's number wasn't retired at Waukegan. Kevin Garnett's number was retired at Farragut but Quinn Buckner's number wasn't retired at Thornridge. And Dwyane Wade's number was retired at Richards but Ray Nitschke's number wasn't retired at Proviso East.
"High school is too early to retire numbers," said Thornton athletic director Billy Manning, whose school district 205 (Thornton, Thornridge, Thornwood) has a policy prohibiting the practice.
"The problem with retiring numbers," Wheaton Warrenville South athletic director Bob Quinn said, "is you don't have enough numbers. Last year, we had 226 kids in the football program. You're starting to see varsity teams with 100 kids."