Dick Butkus was a Chicago Bear after he starred for the state flagship Fighting Illini, but athletes to watch hail from 10 schools in Bradley, DePaul, Illinois Fighting Illini, Illinois St., Lake Forest College, Loyola Chicago, Northern Illinois, Northwestern, SIU-Edwardsville, Southern Illinois, and Western Illinois with the Academic All-American Player of the Year (Ashley Luke, pictured).
We ran the Value Add Sports calculations on all returning Illinois athletes and emailed 93 sports writers and other experts in the state to help rank the 25 state players to watch on a list we will update here.
The Illini men’s basketball team projects No. 26 in the country at www.valueaddbasketball.com, behind three of the top 30 players in the rugged Big Ten. Malcolm Hunt from that team leads the list of the top Illini student-athletes to watch, but Ashley Luke could challenge for that spot if she plays her final year. All Luke did was graduate in three years while ranking as an All-Summit League player each season. She was the first Summit League female to win the Capital One Academic All-American of the Year. Western Illinois fans would love to see her back on the court this year.
The top 25 list below has representatives from several basketball teams, as well as top track and field and soccer stars.
- Malcolm Hill, Illinois, Basket, PF
- Ashley Luke, Western Illinois, Women’s Basketball
- Paris Lee, Illinois St., Basket, PG
- Darius Paul, Illinois, Basket, PF
- Jasmine Brown, Western Illinois, Track/Field, Triple Jump
- Mike Thorne, Illinois, Basket, C
- Wes Lunt, Illinois Fighting Illini, Foot, QB
- Alex Olah, Northwestern, Basket, C
- Britten Petrey, Illinois, Track/Field, 3,000m Steeplechase
- Alexa Ben, DePaul, Soccer, Midfielder
- Jessica Oranika, SIU-Edwardsville, Track/Field, 400m Dash
- Billy Garrett, DePaul, Basket, SG
- Ashley Luke, Western Illinois, Basketball,
- Emily Delvo, Bradley, Track/Field, 5,000m Run
- Tre Harris, SIU-Edwardsville, Basket, SG
- Jasmine Brown, Western Illinois, Track, Triple Jump
- Darius Smith, SIU-Edwardsville, Track/Field, 200m Dash
- Devon Turk, Loyola Chicago, Basket, PG
- Michael Ward, Bradley, Track/Field, 1,500m Run
- Aidan Conlon, Northern Illinois Huskies, Foot, OLine
- Elizabeth Endy, DePaul, Soccer, Defender
- Tyra Bickham, Northern Illinois, Track/Field, Discus Throw
- Alexus Scott, Southern Illinois, Track/Field, Hammer Throw
- Leo Podolsky, Lake Forest College, Hockey-Men,
- Michelle Greeneway, Lake Forest College, Hockey-Women