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Don Sunderlage led Illinois basketball to two Final Fours



Don Sunderlage
There wasn't much time for rest Monday as the Milwaukee Hawks professional basketball team started practice, but Coach Fuzzy Levane got together with several newcomers during a brief time out. Left to right are Bill Tosheff, Don Sunderlage, Bob Houbregs, Levane and Grant Wittberger. Tosheff formerly played with the Indianapolis Olympians, Sunderlage with Illinois, Houbregs with the University of Washington and Wittberger with Marquette and the Allen-Bradley's. The club is working out at the Arena. 1953 Press Photo Milwaukee Hawks Professional Basketball Team Starts Practice

-This installment features legendary Illinois Football player Don Sunderlage. In September, he and 11 other athletes will be inducted into the Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame.

Sunderlage was a stand-out high school player.

Don Sunderlage, a player from yesteryear, was one of Illinois’ first great basketball players. Greatness came easy to Sunderlage, however. While at Elgin High School, Sunderlage set the record for points (359) and lost only six games in his two years playing varsity. He was selected to play in the North-South All-Star game, leading the North in scoring. After a decorated high school career, Sunderlage left for Champaign.

He led Illinois to two Final Four Appearances.

Unlike in today’s game, Sunderlage was not eligible to play varsity until he was a sophomore. Sunderlage started at point guard as a sophomore, leading the Illini to a 21-4 record and a berth in the Final Four (only eight teams played in the tournament then). After a lackluster 1949-50 season, the Illini returned to the Final Four in 1951. Illinois won 13 games for the first time since 1942. Sunderlage won several accolades in 1951

Don Sunderlage won the Chicago Tribune Silver Basketball in 1951 as the Big Ten Conference MVP. In addition to those awards, Sunderlage was also a third-team All-American (UPI), Helms and Sporting News Second-Team All-American, a Converse Third-Team All-American, and an Associated Press All-American Honorable Mention. Sunderlage is also the first Illinois basketball player to score more than 400 points in a season.

He was a first-round NBA draft pick by the Milwaukee Hawks in 1951, though he never played for them. Milwaukee traded Sunderlage for Mark Workman before the season began. Before he could start his NBA career, Sunderlage spent a required year in the military. From 1953-55, he played in the NBA as a member of the Milwaukee Hawks and Minneapolis Lakers, representing the Hawks at the 1954 NBA All-Star Game. Sunderlage and his wife, Janice, died in a tragic car accident in 1961 at 31.

The University of Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics named 12 new members to the UI Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 2023, including athletes and coaches from nine teams. This is the seventh Hall of Fame class. It includes two Olympic medalists, members of their sport’s national hall of fame, national champions, high professional draft picks, a Super Bowl champion, and a national record holder for more than 70 years. 

Armchair Illini is a comprehensive site dedicated to covering University of Illinois Athletics owned and operated by Alex Kyi. Dante Pryor has been writing about College Football for years on Saturday Blitz and is now the Lead Football Author for Armchair Illini.