When the decision to go to prep school became a reality and Justin Dentmon's recruitment opened up for a second time, coach Bill Weber tried to recruit the 5-foot-11 point guard to Illinois.
The Carbondale native had become a hot commodity after exploding onto the scene as a senior in high school, and in the end he decided to leave the state and suit up for coach Lorenzo Romar and the Washington men's basketball team.
Tonight against the Illini, he had a chance to show those in the state he left what they were missing out on as he played a crucial role as the Huskies (26-6) defeated Illinois 67-64 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth time in school history.
"It feels good knowing that everybody in Illinois was picking us to lose," he said. "You get to show them you are a different player than when you played against them in high school."
In the game, the freshman had 13 points and four assists, but most importantly came up with one of the biggest plays of the game for the UW.
With Washington down 60-54 with just 4:12 remaining in the game, Dentmon held the ball behind three-point line.
"I knew that down the stretch they needed some big plays, and I was in the right spot at the right time to give us a big bucket," he said. "When I caught the ball, I knew I was going to shoot it."
Not only did the shot-his only make from downtown-fall, but he was fouled and converted the free throw to complete the four-point play. The Illinois (26-7) lead shrank to just two.
The Huskies tied the ballgame at 60 on their next possession and managed to outlast Illinois for the win. But, it wasn't quite as easy as it sounds.
"That Illinois team is a team that as soon as we made a few mental mistakes, bam, we were behind," Romar said. "That is the mark of a very good basketball team."
As the game opened up, the Huskies were ready to go as they jumped out to an early six point lead, but Illinois fought back and it looked like it was going to be a hard fought contest.
Down by 11-9 almost eight minutes in, something clicked for the UW and it ran off on a 16-3 stretch to double up on the Illini 28-14. Washington was more than in control. Illinois though wasn't ready to go down. It went on a 23-7 run that ended the period and stretched on into the second half. The Husky dominance became just a distant memory.
"When they made their run, coach came to us and said look, this is their run now let's make ours," senior guard Brandon Roy said. "I think we did a great job of answering the bell."
The Illinois lead climbed as high as 11 with 12:34 remaining, but the Huskies dug in and just began to claw back into the game and chip away at the margin.
"We missed some opportunities, we missed some open shots," Weber said. "We got into so much foul trouble that we had mixed-up lineups."
The foul trouble for Illinois resulted in a 39 to 11 free throw margin in favor of the UW. In fact, the only foul shots that the Illini made in the second half was a pair by senior Dee Brown in the final minute of the game. Even with the large free throw disparity, the Illini still had a chance to send the game into overtime if they could hit a last second three. In a familiar position, Romar had considered fouling on that last possession.
"I did think about it and say well, here is that situation again," he said, "Given the fact that we have been in that situation a half a dozen times this year and we've lost one time, we had to go with the percentages."
With just seven seconds left, Brown-who had hit a three at the buzzer for halftime-missed his attempt and the Huskies came out the victors.
In the end, the game came down to a Husky team that had been labeled as "soft," playing a hard-nosed game to out physical an Illinois team, which had made that its trademark.
"We played probably the toughest team in America, UCLA, twice and won both games," senior forward Bobby Jones said, "We never back down from anybody. I hope this game proved to anybody that we're not soft, because everybody's seen that Illinois is one of the toughest teams in the Big Ten."
And for a Washington program on the rise, looking to push its way onto the national stage, this was about as big as it gets.
"We wanted to play all the big teams in the preseason, but we weren't able to," said Roy who had 21 points. "We beat an established program who played to the final game last season. This team is really doing some special things."
It was the fourth win in as many tries that the Huskies have had over a ranked team this season.
"As a competitor you want to play against the best, what the best has to offer," Romar said. "But the reason this means so much is because we are back in the Sweet 16."