Athletics Hall of Fame

The 2019 class of the Fighting Illini Athletics Hall of Fame inductees

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The 2019 class of the Fighting Illini Athletics Hall of Fame inductees

This fall, the University will induct 16 new members into the UI Athletics Hall of Fame. Athletes and coaches from 11 sports are represented. Among those honored are football greats J.C. Caroline, Bobby Mitchell, Simeon Rice and David Williams; Ashley Berggren, Lindsey Nimmo Bristow and Jeanna Hall of women’s basketball, tennis and softball, respectively; distance runner Angela Bizzarri Pflugrath, swimmer and diver Joe Hunsaker, gymnast Joseph Giallombardo, tennis player Amer Delic, and wrestler Bob Norman; and basketball players Eddie Johnson and Deon Thomas. Also inducted is former men’s track and field and cross country Head Coach Gary Wieneke.

 

Simeon Rice, Football, 1992–95

Simeon Rice

Simeon Rice was a four-year star for the Fighting Illini football team, earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Second-Team All-Big Ten honors in 1992, and consecutive First-Team All-Big Ten honors in 1993, 1994 and 1995. He earned First-Team All-American honors in 1994 and 1995. As a junior in 1994, Rice was named the Big Ten Lineman of the Year. He finished his college career as the Big Ten’s all-time leader in quarterback sacks (44.5) and tackles for loss (69). Selected third overall in the 1996 NFL Draft, Rice was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year that season. During his 12-year professional career, Rice recorded 122 sacks, forced 28 fumbles, recovered eight and intercepted five passes. He earned three Pro Bowl selections and a Super Bowl title with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers following the 2002 season.

 

Amer Delic, Tennis, 2001–03

Amer Delic

Amer Delic is the only Fighting Illini tennis player to win an NCAA title in singles while
simultaneously helping Illinois to a perfect 32–0 season during its 2003 NCAA Championship run. That year, he posted a 36–5 singles record. He earned All-American honors in 2001, 2002 and 2003. Also in 2003, Delic was named the Jesse Owens Big Ten Male Athlete of the Year. As a professional, he achieved a No. 60 world ranking.

 

Deon Thomas, Basketball, 1991–94

Deon Thomas

Deon Thomas finished his Illini career as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 2,129 points and blocked shots (177), while finishing second in rebounds (846) and shooting percentage (.601). A model of consistency, he earned
Second-Team All-Big Ten honors three times from 1992–94 after being named Third-Team All-Big Ten in 1991. He was the Fighting Illini’s MVP each of his final three seasons. Thomas was the first pick of the second round of the 1994 NBA Draft by the Dallas Mavericks before opting to start a highly successful 14-year international pro career, playing in six countries. He helped the Maccabi Tel Aviv Basketball Club win the Israel championship, as well as the Israeli Basketball State Cup and the Euroleague championship twice as one of the most successful American pros of all time in the European leagues. In 2004, Thomas was named to the Illinois All-Century Team.

 

Lindsey Nimmo Bristow, Tennis, 1991–93

Lindsey Nimmo Bristow

Lindsey Nimmo Bristow is the most acclaimed women’s tennis player in Fighting Illini history, earning All-Big Ten honors three years in a row (1991–93). She was the first Fighting Illini women’s tennis player to earn All-American honors, which she achieved as a senior in 1993, the same year she was named the Big Ten Player of the Year. A native of Sutton Coldfield, England, Nimmo also earned the Big Ten Medal of Honor in 1993 for excellence as both an athlete and a student. (She was named an Academic All-Big Ten honoree three times.) She finished her Illini career as the school’s record holder for career wins and wins in a season (48), compiling a career mark of 103–33 and a season record of 48–7 in 1993. Nimmo was named as her team’s Most Valuable Player each of her final three years. Nimmo remains Illinois’ only Big Ten Player of the Year in women’s tennis.

 

David Williams, Football, 1983–85

David Williams

As one of the premier wide receivers in the history of the Big Ten Conference, David Williams was a two-time consensus All-American in 1984 and 1985 and a three-time All-Big Ten selection during his Illini career. He also helped Illinois win the 1983 Big Ten Championship by catching 69 passes for 958 yards and six touchdowns. In 1984, Williams led the nation with 101 receptions for 1,278 yards, becoming only the second player in NCAA history to have more than 100 receptions in a season. He wrapped up his Illinois career as the second-leading receiver in NCAA history with 262 catches, good for 3,392 reception yards and 24 touchdowns. Williams was named to the 1990 Illinois All-Century Team, and inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005. He played seven seasons in the Canadian Football League, where he earned All-Star status five times and was named league MVP in 1988.

 

Ashley Berggren, Basketball, 1995–98

Ashley Berggren

Ashley Berggren finished her career as Illinois’ most accomplished women’s basketball player. She was named the 1997 Big Ten Player of the Year after leading the Fighting Illini to its first Big Ten Championship. Berggren earned Third-Team All-American honors in 1998 after receiving honorable-mention All-American recognition in 1996 and 1997. Her jersey hangs in her honor from the rafters of the State Farm Center.

 

Bobby Mitchell, Football, 195557 / Track & Field, 195758

Bobby Mitchell

Bobby Mitchell earned his Fighting Illini stripes as a dual-sport star in football and track. He earned All-Big Ten honors for Coach Ray Eliot on the gridiron in 1955 and again in 1957, after battling injuries as a junior in 1956. On the track, he set an indoor world record (one that lasted just six days) with a 7.7 mark in the 70-yard low hurdles, helping the Illini win the 1958 Big Ten Indoor Championship. Later that year, Mitchell won Big Ten sprint championships in the 100-yard (9.6 sec.) and the 220-yard (21.3 sec.), leading the Illini to the Big Ten Outdoor Championship title as well. Mitchell was selected in the 1958 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, where he teamed with Jim Brown to form one of football’s truly great running-back combinations from 1958–61. Prior to the 1962 NFL season, Mitchell was traded to the Washington Redskins, where he became the first African American to play and star for that team. When he retired at the end of his 10-year professional career, he had 14,078 combined yards, second- highest total in NFL history, which paved the way to his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983. After retiring as a player in 1968, Mitchell was a Redskins scout and assistant general manager.

 

Angela Bizzarri Pflugrath, Track & Field / Cross-Country, 2006–10

Angela Bizzarri Pflugrath

The most-decorated women’s distance runner in Illini history, Angela Bizzarri was a three-time NCAA Champion and a nine-time All-American (five times in track & field and four times in cross-country) at Illinois. In 2009, she won NCAA titles in the 5,000-meter outdoor and cross-country, followed by the NCAA championship in the 3,000-meter indoor in 2010. Bizzarri won five Big Ten titles in track, including the 5,000-meter outdoor in 2009, the 3,000-meter and 5,000-meter indoor in 2010, and the 1,500-meter and 5,000-meter outdoor in 2010. On the cross-country course, she earned four All-American honors, including Top 15 finishes in 2007 (14th), 2008 (6th) and the championship in 2009. Bizzarri was a four-time First-Team All-Big Ten selection with finishes of second, third, fifth and seventh during her career.

 

Gary Wieneke, Coach, Cross-Country, 19672002 / Men’s Track & Field, 19742003

Gary Wieneke

One of the most decorated track & field coaches in Illinois history, Gary Wieneke kept his Illini teams competing for and winning Big Ten championships over his 36 years as head coach of the Unversity’s cross-country team, and later, the track & field team. During his tenure, Wieneke tallied 13 Big Ten titles (six indoor, six outdoor and one cross-country) and four NCAA indoor team trophies. His best run came between 1985 and 1995 when the Illini placed in the top three 20 times in 22 Big Ten meets. In placing the Illinois track program in the national spotlight, Wieneke played a key role in the University hosting the outdoor NCAA Championship meets at Memorial Stadium in 1977 and 1979. Known as the “Einstein of the 800 meters,” Wieneke made the Illini a Big Ten and a national force to contend with in the middle distances.

 

Bob Norman, Wrestling, 1957–58

Bob Norman

Bob Norman came to Illinois as a football player, but a knee injury in his freshman season derailed his participation in that sport, and he switched to wrestling. He went on to an undefeated collegiate wrestling career (36–0–1) and won both the NCAA and Big Ten Heavyweight Division Championships in 1957 and 1958, earning All-American honors both of those seasons. Norman was voted into the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association Hall of Fame in 1977 and the Amateur Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1978. He started a family legacy at Illinois with his son, Tim, playing football from 1977–80, and his grandson, Jake, wrestling for the Illini from 2007–10.

 

Eddie Johnson, Basketball, 1978–81

Eddie Johnson

One of the great shooters in the history of basketball, Eddie Johnson finished his Illinois career as the school’s all-time leader in scoring (1,692 points) and rebounds (831). He earned First-Team All-Big Ten honors in 1981, and Second-Team recognition in 1980, while also earning team MVP honors those two years. A member of Illinois’ 2004 All-Century Team, Johnson hit one of the most iconic shots in the University’s history when his bucket in the final seconds lifted fourth-ranked Illini to a 57–55 victory over top-ranked Michigan State in 1979 at Assembly Hall. He led Illinois to the 1980 National Invitation Tournament—Illini’s first post-season appearance since 1963—and to the 1981 NCAA Tournament. Johnson enjoyed a 17-year NBA career and remains the Illini’s all-time leading scorer in the NBA with a total of 19,202 points. That total ranked 22nd all-time when he retired.

 

Joe Hunsaker, Swimming & Diving, 1957–59

Joe Hunsaker

Joe Hunsaker spent a lifetime making his mark in aquatics, first as a national champion swimmer, and later as a founder of one of the nation’s leading aquatic design firms, Counsilman-Hunsaker & Associates. Hunsaker showed an early talent for the sport, winning a National YMCA Swimming Championship in 1955. He went on to win an NCAA championship in 1958 in the 200-yard individual medley and was twice named an All-American. On New Year’s Day in 1959, he set a world record in the 200-yard individual medley, a record that stood for almost a year. That year, he went on to win the Amateur Athletic Union U.S. National Championship in the same event. Also in 1959, in a dual meet against Indiana, he set a Big Ten and a U.S. record in the 200-yard individual medley. After graduating from Illinois, he joined forces with his legendary high school coach, James “Doc” Counsilman, to form an industry-leading firm dedicated to building international-class swimming pools, including aquatic construction for the 1996 Olympic Games. As such, Hunsaker became recognized as one of the premier designers of international-class competition pools. He also served as a board member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

 

Joseph Giallombardo, Gymnastics, 1938–40

Joseph Giallombardo

Joseph Giallombardo held the NCAA men’s gymnastics record for more than 40 years with seven individual-event championships. During his Fighting Illini career, he won three all-around gold medals, three tumbling gold medals and one flying rings gold medal. His record was finally tied in 1982. Giallombardo led Illinois to two NCAA team titles, and was named an All-American 16 times. He also won six Big Ten individual titles. In 1966, Giallombardo was inducted into the U.S. Gymnastics Hall of Fame, the same year he was inducted into the Helms Hall of Fame. Giallombardo has received virtually every award given in gymnastics. He was awarded the A.R. Rizzuto Award, given to outstanding Italian American athletes. Giallombardo also received the College Coaches Association Honorary Lifetime Member Award, and was inducted into the Illinois High School Gymnastics Coaches Hall of Fame.

 

J.C. Caroline, Football, 1953–54

J.C. Caroline

J.C. Caroline played just two seasons with the Fighting Illini football squad, but led the nation and set the Big Ten record in rushing with 1,256 yards as a sophomore in 1953. He received Consensus All-American and First-Team All-Big Ten honors that year, while leading the Fighting Illini to a share of the Big Ten title and earning a seventh-place finish in the 1953 Heisman Trophy voting. After battling through injuries as a junior in 1954, he went on to the Canadian Football League before coming to Chicago as a defensive back with the Bears from 1956–65. Caroline then joined the Illinois coaching staff as an assistant from 1967–76, and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1980.

 

Jenna Hall, Softball, 2003–06

Jenna Hall

Jenna Hall set the offensive standard for Fighting Illini softball, finishing her Illinois career in 2006 as the school’s record holder for best career (.357) and single-season (.481) batting average (a record that still stands), slugging percentage (.582), on-base percentage (.486), home runs (33), RBI (142), total bases (361) and walks (148). As a senior in 2006, she led the nation in walks, while ranking second in batting (.481) and fourth in slugging percentage (.847). In addition, Hall was a finalist for the USA Softball Player of the Year Award, while being named First-Team All-American by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association. She was named First-Team All-Big Ten four times and NFCA All-Region three times. Following her Illini career, Hall played professionally for the Philadelphia Force, and named to the National Pro Fastpitch League All-Star Team in her first season.

 

Don “Donnie” Freeman, Basketball, 1964–66

Don “Donnie” Freeman

One of the most explosive scorers in Illinois basketball history, Don Freeman finished his Fighting Illini career as Illinois’ all-time leading scorer with 1,449 points. His 20.1 career scoring average is still the third-best in school history, as is his average of 10.3 rebounds per game. He earned First-Team All-American honors in 1966 after setting school records for points in a season (668) and scoring average (27.8 points per game), a mark that stands more than 50 years later. Freeman earned First-Team All-Big Ten honors in 1966 after being named Third-Team All-Big Ten in 1965. Following his sterling Illini career, Freeman spent eight seasons in the American Basketball Association and one season in the NBA. He scored 11,544 points during his ABA career to rank as the league’s seventh-highest all-time scorer, appearing in five ABA All-Star Games. In the NBA, Freeman played for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1975, averaging 10.8 points per game.