Sep. 16—CHAMPAIGN — Kenny Battle's first trip to Champaign was for the 1983 News-Gazette All-State basketball banquet.
Lawrenceville's Marty Simmons was named the N-G's inaugural all-state player of the year, but Battle was one of the state's best as a junior at West Aurora.
That first trip to Champaign made one thing clear for Battle. It's where he wanted to take the next step of his basketball career. He wanted to be on that campus, be an Illini.
Then Lou Henson told him he'd redshirt as a freshman.
"I was like, 'Nope, I'm going to Northern,'" Battle said.
Battle spent two seasons at Northern Illinois. Scored more than 1,000 points. Earned honorable mention All-American honors.
Then the Huskies fired coach John McDougal after the 1985-86 season. Battle knew in that moment that Illinois was in his future. That the Illini would be the final stop of his college career.
Battle ultimately got that redshirt year in Champaign after transferring and then became a pivotal part of the Flyin' Illini's success to end the 1980s.
Endless dunks. Another 1,000-plus points. Another honorable mention All-American honor.
It added up to a hall of fame-caliber career — even in just two seasons — and Battle officially earned that final honor Friday evening with his induction into the Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame in a ceremony at State Farm Center.
"I hear it all the time, 'Man, I wish we would have had you for four years,'" Battle said. "I'm like, 'Well, I did my best in two. In four, it would have been really off the chart.' I had some of the best coaches there was. They're gone, but I know they're looking down and saying, 'Hey, Kenny did it his way.'"
Friday night's induction made Battle 2 for 2 in his career. NIU inducted Battle into its hall of fame in 1996, listing him as the "most 'slamboyant' small forward in Huskie annals."
"That means I kicked up a lot of dust at two different universities," Battle said. "Two years each. It makes me feel that every year I was at Northern paid off, and when I was here it was the same thing. To have a guy that scored over 1,000 points at two different universities is unbelievable. I'm happy. That means I didn't take a break. I didn't take it easy at either place, and I gave it my all all the time."
Battle is the third Flyin' Illini inducted into Illinois' hall of fame. Nick Anderson was inducted in the inaugural class in 2017, and Kendall Gill followed a year later. Battle heard from both Friday morning.
"I don't know what they were doing up at 6 o'clock in the morning, but they all texted me and congratulated me," Battle said. "Not only my teammates, but a lot of former Illini as well. We have a huge group chat, and it started beeping and I was like, 'Who is this?'"
Battle might have taken a circuitous path to Illinois, but he has embraced being an Illini. A regular on campus even before his son Keion made the same NIU-to-Illinois transfer to join the football team as a walk-on wide receiver, Battle makes plenty of trips back to Champaign.
"I'm always here," he said. "I doubt there's another athlete that's been back to football and basketball games more than me. If there is, I want to know who they are. I love the University of Illinois. That's what it means to me to be an Illini is to continue to support all the sports.
"Volleyball, baseball, track and field, basketball, soccer, you name it. I'm a huge fan. If Illinois is playing somewhere and I'm able to get there, I don't care what sport it is. I'm there with my orange and blue on."