Deron Williams, Luther Head and Roger Powell may be gone from last season's NCAA tournament runner-up, but Dee Brown is back.
The consensus All-American and Big Ten player of the year last season is the marquee player in Illinois Coach Bruce Weber's show.
"Dee is like a rock star," Weber said. "He's tremendous at marketing himself in a good way. He's a celebrity."
Brown and his teammates will open practice Friday night followed by a session for fans at Assembly Hall.
"It's kind of like New Year's Eve for basketball," Weber said. "It's something that has slowly evolved. With the interest we created last year and the way season tickets have gone and with everything at a peak ... we want that place full. We want to put on a good show."
The free "show" will consist of scrimmages, slam-dunk contests and three-point shootouts. Doors open at 9 p.m., and showtime is 9:30.
"We'll let the kids have some fun," Weber said. "It's the one time we don't yell about defense and bad shots. I won't be yelling at Dee to be a safety. We actually encourage letting the guys dunk. That's what the people are there to see."
At times during the last two seasons the coach and the celebrity have had their differences. When Brown submitted his name for the NBA draft, he told the Tribune he wasn't getting the support from Weber he had expected. However, Brown's NBA dreams were put on hold when he fractured his right foot at the predraft camp. He then announced he was returning to Illinois.
The injury and rehabilitation process kept Brown from playing basketball until mid-September. Now, he appears to have put the injury and any hard feelings he had toward Weber behind him.
"I don't see anything we'd be feuding about," Brown said when the subject was broached. "What's there for him and me to be mad about?"
Weber also is letting bygones be bygones.
"At first it bothered me," he said of Brown's complaints. "But I know Dee. He is a confident kid. He's very headstrong. He'll push as much as he can. Sometimes he talks to send a message and I'll send a message back. I think our relationship is fine."
Actions speak louder than words and, in Weber's opinion, "Dee made an unbelievable statement" when he ran a mile in 5 minutes 30 seconds in preseason conditioning workouts.
"He ran that mile after only a couple of times running," Weber said. "Two years ago when he practiced and played all summer it took him four or five times to make it. This shows you his dedication and how far he has come conditioning-wise in a month."
During the last month's pickup games, Brown has become a fan of freshman guard Chester Frazier.
"He's a player," Brown said. "He already has the mentality. Fans are going to love him when they see him. We have good players. They bring a different kind of flow to the game, a different flavor."
The other key returning starter is 6-foot-10-inch senior forward James Augustine. Like Brown, Augustine had off-season foot problems. Then, after recovering from his foot injury, he suffered a sprained ankle in August.
"James has been back (playing pickup games) for about 10 days or two weeks," Weber said. "He's such a gifted athlete. He can come back so quickly. We have two very good seniors, James and Dee, but we also have a lot of question marks."
Among the question marks are three players cast in bit parts last season -- forwards Warren Carter and Shaun Pruitt and guard Rich McBride. Another is Brian Randle, who played in all but one game as a freshman two years ago and started nine times but missed last season because of a broken hand.
"This is a new team," Weber said. "It's a different team. We have to create our own personality and our own image."