Currently one of the best point guards in the NBA, Deron Williams was a stud at Illinois, and capped his college career with a deep tournament run during his junior (and final) season. Williams led the Fighting Illini to a 29-1 regular reason record and Big Ten Tournament title in 04-05, which earned them the top seed in the Big Dance. In the tournament, Williams scored 22 points with 10 assists in a gutty comeback win against Arizona in the Elite Eight, and Illinois then cruised by Louisville in the Final Four semis to earn a date with UNC in the title game. Williams had a tough assignment with current NBA point guard Ray Felton running the show for the Tar Heels, but still managed 17 points and seven assists in a close game, which the Illini ultimately lost 75-70. Williams declared for the 2005 NBA Draft (which also included elite point guard Chris Paul), and the three-time All-Star is currently running the show for the Brooklyn Nets.
Sometimes in college hoops, a strong performance in your conference tournament can serve as a springboard into the subsequent Big Dance. That was clearly the case for Kemba Walker, who as a junior, led UConn to five wins in five days en route to the 2011 Big East Conference Championship. On the momentum of winning that tournament, along with being named First-Team All-American, Walker led the Huskies to their second Final Four in his three seasons at UConn. Walker first dropped 18 points against Kentucky in the semis, before squaring off with Butler–which had miraculously made its second straight appearance–in the National Championship game. Walker scored a game-high 16 points leading the Huskies to victory, while earning Most Outstanding Player honors. Later in the year, Walker was selected 9th overall by Charlotte in the 2011 NBA Draft.
For Mario Chalmers, it was one definitive play during the 2008 NCAA Championship game that has him remembered as one of the tournament’s all-time greats. As a junior on a very good Kansas team (that included three other future NBA players), Chalmers was known for being a tenacious defender, with an impulse to take big shots. After beating Texas in the Big 12 Conference Championship, Kansas began its road to the Final Four and a fifth national title in school history. In the championship game against a Derrick Rose-led Memphis squad, all hope seemed lost with the Jayhawks down three with 10.8 seconds left. Chalmers, however, drained a three-pointer to tie the score with 2.1 seconds remaining, sending the game to overtime and an eventual Kansas victory. The shot is known in Jayhawk land as “Mario’s Miracle” and the now NBA veteran is currently enjoying his fifth season with the Miami Heat.