CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Big Ten foes found it nearly impossible to keep the ever-productive Ken Norman quiet during his playing days, but the call from Josh Whitman informing him of his induction into the Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame did the trick.
“I actually paused and didn’t know what to say when I initially got the call. Super elated, super honored. It was a great moment,” Norman said on Friday. “It kind of took me back to when I actually signed to come to Illinois. Just an amazing experience and moment in my life.”
The Illini men’s basketball great is one of 15 members in the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022, which was honored at the State Farm Center on Friday night during the induction ceremony. ‘Snake’ had family, friends and former teammates on hand to join in the celebration.
This is the latest addition to an impressive list of accomplishments for Norman. The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds per game for the Illini in 1986-87, while being named a consensus second-team All-American. Norman was a first-round draft pick by the Los Angeles Clippers in ’87. He went on to play 11 seasons in the NBA — totaling more than 8,700 career points and nearly 4,000 career rebounds.
Norman was named to Illini basketball’s All-Century Team in 2005 and his jersey went into the rafters at the State Farm Center in 2008. That was the last time Norman had been on campus prior to Hall of Fame Weekend.
“I was so happy, elated and honored when they raised my jersey to the rafters,” he said. “You play sports and you dream about getting a college scholarship, being a college All-American, playing professionally, getting your jersey raised and making the Hall of Fame. Obviously, it’s not the NBA Hall of Fame, but the University of Illinois Hall of Fame. And it’s truly an honor to show my hard work has paid off. Not only as an athlete, but also in the classroom.”
The ’80s were a darn good decade for Illini basketball with eight NCAA appearances (seven times a 4-seed or better), a trip to the Final Four and a number of NBA draft picks. Norman joined the likes of Eddie Johnson, Derek Harper, Nick Anderson and Kendall Gil as long-tenured NBA players who suited up for the Illini during that era.
“It was always fun to see guys (in the NBA). We could share some stories. Some of the stories that we always shared was about Coach Henson’s film sessions. It was something that we always talked about,” Norman said. “It was always good to see those guys and compete against them and share some stories even while the game was going on. We might say: ‘Oh, you know Coach Henson would take you out for that turnover, etc., etc.’ I remember my first NBA game against Eddie Johnsonhe reads me up for 53. I’ll never forget that night and he still tells me about that.”
Norman reads up plenty of opponents in his own right. But after hanging up his sneakers in 1997, he’s enjoyed his time away from basketball. Norman, who resides in Las Vegas, likes his daily routine of hopping in the pool, doing some work in the yard and taking an ‘old man nap’.
Being disconnected from the sports world has provided Norman with some mental solace. That said, he’s been flipping on a few more Illini games in recent years and he plans to be in attendance when Brad Underwood‘s squad plays in Vegas in November in the Continental Tire Main Event.
A couple years down the road, Norman hopes he has even more reason to watch Illini games. He noted that he has three grandsons involved in sports up in Chicago, including Fenwick sophomore Nate Marshall.
“You remember that name, he’s gonna be a beast,” Norman said. “Football and basketball. He will be in the building (on Friday).”
Marshall took a recruiting visit to Notre Dame earlier this month. Norman said that his grandson was at Illinois recently for a recruiting visit as well.
“To have my grandkids getting active into sports, it means the world to me,” Norman said. “He loves this school. He always has. Of course, I’m gonna push him to come here. Not just because I went here, but because it has a lot to offer. It’s one of the finest institutions in the country. And hopefully, he’ll be in the orange and blue.”
Norman knows what that time at Illinois meant for his own life.
“It was a springboard to me learning how to become a man and what it took to be successful and remain successful,” he said. “It taught me how to become a father and raise my children the proper way. How to become a businessman and just be a positive person in life. It helped make it possible for me to financially assist my mother, assist my brother, sister, give my children a wonderful life and show them what it’s like to go to high school, go to college and just do the right things in life.”