For three years, Deron Williams was the toast of Champaign, Illinois, as a basketball star at the University of Illinois. This week, he returned to the site where his career took off, to a hero’s welcome.

Over the course of a grueling NBA season, it can be hard for a player to find time to return to their roots, so during his ongoing season away from the game, Deron felt it the right time to head back to one of the most important sites of his formative years and check in on a hoops program he helped take to new heights. It was his first visit to the campus in over three years and he took note of the changes.

“A lot’s changed — not only with the basketball program and what they’re doing in the arena — but campus is growing,” D-Will said. “It’s like New York down there — New York City with all the high rises they’ve got on Green Street. I made my rounds on campus and hit some of my favorite spots. It’s been enjoyable.”

During his visit, Deron toured the campus, met with the media as well as the wrestling, golf and of course the basketball team.

Illinois coach Brad Underwood was thrilled to have D-Will on campus and thankful to have him available to talk to his team.

“I have a tremendous respect for Deron,” the coach said. “He’s, I don’t know, maybe if not the greatest then one of the greatest to ever play here. It would be very foolish not to try to tap into his expertise and his experience and have conversations with him. He has done some things in this profession very few have a chance to do.”

Freshman guard Trent Frazier identified strongly with Deron’s message.

“He just talked about hard work, trusting the process and grinding,” Frazier said. “That’s what we’re trying to figure out now.”

After meeting with the team, Deron took in a big Illini win over visiting Rutgers at the State Farm Center.