It's been six years but Mr. Basketball of Illinois is finally heading back to ... Illinois. After missing out on the past six winners, Orange and Blue fans get Warren guard Brandon Paul, the 2009 selection (per Tribune).
But I do know quite a few people who have seen Paul in action, as professionals and for leisure. And, from talking to those individuals -- some who know him personally -- there is one common thought: Illini fans are getting a good one, both on and off the court, in Paul.
And it's about time.
It's always bothered me that many of the better prep football players in Illinois don't play for their home state. They leave for the likes of nearby Notre Dame and Michigan; to warm-climate places such as Arizona and Mississippi; to intelligent places that now include Vanderbilt; and to powerhouses such as Ohio State.
Part of it has to do with the player and his preferences. But part of it also has to do with the recruiting effort -- and the know-how -- of the school itself.
Either way, there is something special -- something intrinsically different -- about playing for your home state's top school.
I don't mean to sound like I'm tearing on Northwestern, which has signed more and more local players, but this is about Illini fans getting to root for Illinois players -- especially the top ones.
So, yes, I feel the same way about hoops stars. Before Paul, the last six Mr. Basketball winners -- Kevin Dillard, Derrick Rose, Jon Scheyer, Julian Wright, Shaun Livingston, Shannon Brown -- opted to suit up for out-of-state schools or entered the NBA draft. Only Dillard stayed close (Southern Illinois), but he really wasn't sought after by the Illini.
Being named Mr. Basketball by no means equals instant success, but it does count for something.
Before ending its recent drought, Illinois got four of the six winners from 1997-2002 in Dee Brown, Brian Cook, Frank Williams and Sergio McClain, and they all worked out pretty well. The two Illinois didn't get -- Eddy Curry and Darius Miles -- were NBA draft picks.
Is there something similar in the works? Paul did earn the honor over Waukegan star junior Jereme Richmond, a future Illini teammate, in the closest vote ever.
As Illini coach Bruce Weber told Tribune: "Hopefully, this becomes a tradition where Mr. Basketball comes to Illinois on a yearly basis."
I'm sure Illini fans hope so.