Pick My Post - Kiwane

Jan 04, 2018

I did a Pick My Post tonight (I just put those words on Twitter and let someone else pick my topic). A response from @alexcards79 was just one word: Kiwane. Well, that's a post I could write in my sleep. Here's everything you should know about Kiwane Garris.

First off, Kiwane's major was my minor. So I had five or six classes with him. Most every alum has that story - "Remond Willis was in my Econ class" and whatnot. Mine was Kiwane. I've told this story a dozen times but one time, before a test, he asked me to borrow a pencil. And he asked me BY NAME. So yes, I was personally responsible for keeping Kiwane eligible during the 1995-96 season (and I also failed the test because I just sat there thinking "Kiwane Garris knows my NAME"). I don't want to brag, but, uh, we also did a group project together and got an A. That was the fall of 1995, just weeks before we broke Duke's 100+ game nonconference home winning streak so... you're welcome, Illini fans.

But you're not here to hear about Kiwane the student. I'll tell you about Kiwane the player.

In those days, you followed recruiting through magazines you'd buy at the grocery store. Street and Smith's was the one I always bought to see the recruiting rankings. I'd read up on Big Ten recruiting and then use my slide rule to determine which teams would win the conference in the future. Kiwane, from Chicago Westinghouse, wasn't a McDonald's All American (just about the only way you would learn who the "five-stars" were back then), but he was highly ranked in the magazines (and I want to say he was a Parade All American too - that one came with the Sunday paper). With Ma in her kerchief and I in my cap...

Kiwane was in the class right after the Bruce Pearl sanctions expired. We were restricted to two scholarships per year for two years (and no off-campus recruiting). As I recall, the four players we added in those two classes - Richard Keene, Chris Gandy, Marc Davidson, and Scott Pierce. Once the senctions were lifted (and we could recruit off campus again), Kiwane was the first big get. Finally, another big-time Chicago guard in Champaign after a 3-4 year rough patch.

And he was great from the start. His scoring totals his four seasons: 15.9, 15.9, 15.4, 19.4. Averaging 15 or more points all four seasons? It will be a long time before we see numbers like that again.

The main reason Kiwane's scoring number were so high? He consistently got to the line. He shot 741 free throws in his four years in Champaign (more than Malcolm, BP3, or any recent Illini). Kiwane's game was that he could get to the rim and either A) make some crazy-angled shot or B) get fouled and go to the line.

I remember an interview with Lou Henson where he talked about Kiwane's "tremendous ability to make bank shots". And it was so true. It wasn't just layups - he'd get close to the hoop and the go off the glass from any angle. That player we all want Mark Smith to become, using his big frame to get into the lane, make layups, or get fouled? That was Kiwane Garris.

Kiwane was also the perfect four-year player. Good enough to start as a freshman and put up 16 points per game, but not quite good enough to leave early and get drafted. He did eventually get a cup of coffee in the NBA (Mavericks and Kings, I want to say), but spent most of his pro career in Europe. Because of this (great scorer, immediate impact, not quite good enough to leave early), he left campus as our #2 scorer all time, a spot he'll hold for a long time (when is the next time we'll have a player average 16.8 points per game over four years?).

Kiwane was also a reality TV star recently (OK, kind of). He and his wife, R&B singer Syleena Johnson, were on the WE tv series "Marriage Boot Camp" in 2015. If you can stomach four minutes of something called "The Real", a show that appears to be the downfall of modern society, here's Kiwane sharing a couch with Heidi and Spencer from The Hills talking about his appearance on the show.

Let's see, anything else? I don't want to talk about the two missed free throws at the end of the first overtime in the 1993 Braggin' Rights game because Norm Stewart screaming at him to miss the shots still makes me angry. And I don't want to talk about Kiwane's final game - the loss to Chattanooga in the 1997 NCAA Tournament that kept us out of the Sweet 16. I hated that his career had to end like that.

Instead, I choose to remember him for constantly getting into the lane, constantly scoring or constantly going to the line. His career was four years of doing that over and over and over, three of those four years ending up in the Tournament.

Your move, Mark Smith.


VA Illini on January 05 @ 12:19 AM CST

That reminds me. I have fond memory of watching the FIBA world championships tournament in the Illini Union with a couple Illini fans just to see Kiwane Garris play with Team USA (the NBA had its lockout and didn't send any NBA players). Good TImes.

NC_OrangeKrush on January 05 @ 05:18 AM CST

Great Robert... I think you should just do series to fill in what our younger readers should know of Illini History....

Eddie Snake Efrem Bruce Harper Deon

HiggsBoson on January 05 @ 11:34 AM CST

That's a great idea!

Duce20 on January 05 @ 11:06 PM CST

Can I guest write Deon's?

larue on January 05 @ 11:44 AM CST

I remember Tate talking about Garris when he was a senior in high school and how wildly inconsistent he was. He'd just had a game where he went something like 5-20 from the field and turned it over 12 times, and Tate was warning against expecting too much from him. Then Garris stepped right into the lineup and was just solid as a rock from day one.

Illinimac68 on January 05 @ 02:11 PM CST

Norm Stewart screaming at him from the middle of the playing floor as well. Even though time had expired he should have been T'd up but he wasn't because he was Norm Bleeping Stewart. But I'm over it now.

Sweetchuck13 on January 06 @ 10:30 AM CST

Kiwane was awesome and in my mind still underrated among Illini greats simply because he was in that post-Flying Illini Henson period. But man he was fun to watch - even if I have to admit at least 1/3 of his shots I hated before they went in.

And I liked your recap of how you found out about him - my first memory was watching him play on TV at Assembly Hall with Westinghouse. That was back when pretty much every Mr. Basketball would play in State at AH, and then show up on the Illini roster the next year.

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