Illinois Basketball: Top 5 Illini freshman seasons of all-time

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Illinois basketball

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – MARCH 21: Andre Curbelo (5) of the Illinois Fighting Illini brings the ball up the court in the game against the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers during the first half in the NCAA Basketball Tournament second round at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 21, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

Illinois basketball has a strong history of landing some of the best high school talent throughout the years.

This high school talent enters the program and develops into a superstar. But some players you can tell will be great right away. Some of the Illinois freshmen perform so well in year one to the point where they are a leader on the team and helps the squad get to the postseason.

I wanted to layout the top freshman in Illini history. There have been some great ones, so this list was tough. But I think I landed on a solid list. Don’t forget to check out the honorable mentions as well.

Here are the top five Illinois basketball freshman seasons of all-time.

No. 5 Andre Curbelo

Illinois recruited well for 2020, but their highest-rated recruit wasn’t their best freshman that season. The best freshman for the Illini was Andre Curbelo.

As a true freshman, the star point guard from Puerto Rico dazzled his way through the lane and into the hearts of Illini Nation. He would end the season averaging 9.1 points, 4.2 assists and 4 rebounds per contest. Those numbers were increased greatly during the second half of the season, as Curbelo started to gain more trust from the Illinois coaching staff.

The fact Curbelo put up those amazing numbers as a reserve makes it even more impressive. His great play earned him the Big Ten Sixth-Man of the Year award for the 2020-21 campaign. He also helped the Illini to heights the program hadn’t seen in over a decade.

Illinois had the most regular season wins in the Big Ten and then pushed through the conference tournament to win their first Big Ten Tournament title since 2005. The program entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed, another first since 2005.

With the great help of Curbelo, the Illini were able to make it to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Curbelo is an all-around great player, and he had one of the best freshman seasons I have seen in an Illinois uniform. His numbers, as well as team accomplishments, puts Curbelo in the top five all-time Illini freshman seasons.

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