March 23 Ask the Sports Editor chat

March 23 Ask the Sports Editor chat

Thursday, March 23, 2017 - 2:00pm

What was going to go in The News-Gazette's sports section this past Sunday before Brad Underwood was hired? What do other college basketball experts think of Josh Whitman's hire? How is Lovie Smith's program progressing? What area high schools are poised to have good spring sports? Sports editor Matt Daniels will answer any and all questions in his 2 p.m. chat on Thursday.

Matt Daniels wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm
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Afternoon everyone.

Matt Daniels here on a cloudy, cool Thursday in Champaign.

What to talk about?

Well, since last week's chat, Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman has hired two basketball coaches and the men's basketball season ended on Wednesday night with a 68-58 loss to Central Florida in the NIT quarterfinals.

Brad Underwood and Nancy Fahey will now become household names in C-U, if they're not already, while a plethora of high school spring sports are swinging into action.

Lots of questions already in the hopper in this chat (and check out basketball beat writer Scott Richey's chat, going on at the same time, with Richey conducting his from Orlando), so let's get started.

IllinifansinceTheSpoon wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm

Is DJ Williams still with the team? Did not see his name in the box after the Boise St. win! Have any recruits asked out yet?

Matt Daniels wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm
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Hey Illini fan,

To the best of my knowledge, yes, D.J. Williams is still on the Illinois men's basketball team.

Whether that remains the case once the 2017-18 season starts, though, is another story.

Brad Underwood will likely take a long look at the returning players as he constructs his first Illinois roster. Williams brings athleticism and size, although consistent playing time has not happened much in his two seasons with the Illini.

No recruits have asked out yet.

The big one to watch is Jeremiah Tilmon from East St. Louis. Looks like Missouri hiring Cuonzo Martin might sway him to leave Illinois, but a lot might depend, too, on what Underwood decides to do with Jamall Walker, the Illinois interim coach the last two weeks and assistant coach under John Groce who was a lead recruiter on Tilmon.

Da'Monte Williams has sent a few vague tweets that seems to have sent some Illinois fans on social media into a bit of a panic, but no official word yet on any of the four signees leaving the program.

Beat writer Scott Richey caught up with Florida guard Trent Frazier on Wednesday night in Orlando, and he'll have more on the point guard in Sunday's N-G.

Panera Guy wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm


Thanks for taking our questions today, I'm sure you'll have a lot regarding Illini basketball, so I thought I'd add a couple more.

What do you think is John Groce's biggest regret while he was our coach? Please don't give me the easy answer of "not winning enough games" or "too many injuries". Was it any particular recruiting battle (Brunson, Alexander etc.) he lost or having to kick Kendrick Nunn off the team or something else?

What will Brad Underwood need to do within his first 30 days at the helm to get off on the right foot?

Thanks again!

Matt Daniels wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm
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Hey Panera Guy,

Well, since you don't want me to answer the question with those two examples, I'll look for other ways.

All kidding aside, recruiting misses certainly hurt John Groce's tenure at Illinois.

You heard Brad Underwood speak earlier this week about having an identity for his teams and what he wants out of them.

To me, that was one of the biggest items lacking in Groce's five seasons at Illinois. He came to Illinois from Ohio fresh off a Sweet 16 appearance that was keyed, in big part, by the play of point guard D.J. Cooper. Groce was never able to have a dynamic point guard like Cooper during his time with the Illini, which seemed to seriously restrict what he wanted to do offensively.

Most college basketball fans know what to expect out of their program. One of the more maddening parts for Illinois fans, I'm sure, in the past few seasons, was the inconsistent play for long stretches on the court, along with the lack of a clear offensive focus and execution. The effort, generally, always seemed to be there, but the head-scratching shot selections, at times, and lack of an offensive flow were puzzling.

In Underwood's first 30 days at Illinois, the biggest component he'll need to shore up is keeping the Class of 2017 intact with all four signees and if he could land Mr. Basketball winner Mark Smith from Edwardsville, that would be another added boost to a roster that, for the 2017-18 season, has more question marks than surefire answers at this point.

Thom wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm

It doesn't take much to confuse me, but can you explain how the last I heard the State Basketball Hall of fame was heading to Danville and now I see Internet reports saying it has landed in Pontiac. Is this 'fake' news or is there something to it? What ever happened?

Matt Daniels wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm
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Hey Thom,

The Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame looks to have a permanent spot for its Hall of Fame in Pontiac.

At one point a few years ago, Danville was in the mix to host the Hall of Fame, with plans for it to be at Palmer Arena.

Those plans didn't materialize and while it's a shame it won't be a half-hour drive from Champaign, Pontiac is a good location.

The Pontiac Holiday Tournament is one of the prestigious tournaments every year around Christmas in the state, with plenty of tradition and talented teams and players taking the court.

Having it in a centralized location should help, too, since it's almost a 2-3 hour drive from southern Illinois, western Illinois, east central Illinois, the Chicago suburbs and the Metro East area to its new location.

Looking forward to actually making it out there one day once the project is all said and done to check it out.

Zeb wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm

With all the AAU and travel ball in baseball and basketball, my theory is its easier for colleges to recruit in those sports than football. There are some camps and 7on7s in football, but there is not near the offseason exposure. Could you address this issue and provide your insights? Is the high school game still more important as far as recruiting in football than other sports?

Matt Daniels wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm
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Hey Zeb,

Football is a bit harder sport to recruit because you're having to project quite a bit on what these players will turn into once they arrive on college and add some strength, weight, etc.

With basketball and baseball, the strength gains will need to take place, but they typically aren't quite as substantial as what you'll need to see in football.

Football recruiting, though, has expanded with the use of 7-on-7 teams in the winter competing at various showcases, not to mention during the spring and summer.

High school football games are still important for football recruitment, but there are other ways for players and prospects to be seen by college coaches and their staffs. Illinois holds a variety of summer camps, not only at Memorial Stadium, but throughout the state as well in an effort to see as many prospective players in person as possible.

I.B. Joe wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm

What are the odds that Walker stays? What do you think he should do?

Matt Daniels wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm
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Hey I.B. Joe,

I'm not much of a betting man, but if I were Brad Underwood, I'd try and do everything in my power to convince Jamall Walker to stay.

He was a key recruiter for many of the 2017 signees and has also developed a relationship with Mark Smith, so any advantage Underwood has with Walker on the sidelines, he should use.

Walker needs to make a choice about what is best for his future. He has said repeatedly in the last few weeks that Champaign-Urbana is home, but if he receives a better offer to be an assistant coach at another program, that's something he'll have to consider.

How he handled Illinois in an interim head coaching role the last two weeks will undoubtedly raise his profile on the college basketball coaching landscape and could make him appealing for another program to add him to his staff.

Bryon wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm

I'd be interested in reading a story on how Taylor Edwards has transformed from an average H.S. pitcher at Arcola to the ace of the 19-8 UI staff. At 10-1 with a under-2 ERA, she is doing things no Illini pither has done in years. How did this happen

Matt Daniels wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm
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Hey Bryon,

Below is a link to an extended Q&A I did last month with Edwards, the Arcola product who has, through the first month of the season, turned into the ace for the Illinois softball team.

Sunday Conversation with Taylor Edwards

What the sophomore is doing is quite impressive. She was quite the athlete in high school at Arcola, playing four sports, so perhaps getting to focuse solely on softball in college has been key.

We'll see if she can keep it up once Big Ten play arrives, but so far, she's proving to be a big recruiting get for the Illini with her early-season success in 2017.

Hal wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm

Am I the only one saddened by the double standards of Illini Fans??? A few yrs ago, Fans were upin arms when Self bolted for Kansas. Now they applaud the decision of Underwood to leave OSU after just one year of his commitment to that school to come here. Cant they see it is the same thing they were angered by just a few yrs ago??

Matt Daniels wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm
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Hey Hal,

I can't speak for everyone, but most of the people I've talked to or reaction I've seen elsewhere are pumped up about Illinois hiring Brad Underwood.

You have a point, though, and my answer to that is, that's sports.

Fans of a particular team will get up in arms and feel anger if their desired coach leaves for a better job or one he calls his dream job, like what Bill Self did in 2003 when he left Illinois for Kansas.

Yet, when a program has struggled and not met expectations like Illinois basketball has the last four seasons, the large outcry is for a change at the top.

And if the new coach has a proven track record, like Underwood, albeit in only four seasons as a head coach, of winning, then to a certain segment of the fan base, it likely won't matter that he left Oklahoma State after only one season and that Illinois is the third head coaching job he's had since March 2015.

Underwood has said all the right things so far in his first few days on the job about his fondness for Illinois, but Underwood's willingness to leave a job at Oklahoma State after only one season, no matter that he was the lowest-paid coach in the Big 12, should, at least, be kept in the back of their minds in the future in case Underwood helps turn around the Illini and the promise of a potentially better job comes about in a few years.

Alvin wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm

I see the UI is hosting a gymnastics regional in April. Are all the Illini competing or just some of them.?  Is this a 2-dayevent with all finals the 2nd day or will there be some finals on Day 1?

Matt Daniels wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm
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Hey Alvin,

You're right, State Farm Center will host an NCAA women's gymnastics regional next Saturday on April 1.

The event starts at 4 p.m. on April 1, with Illinois, UCLA, Oregon State, Iowa, Eastern Michigan and Ohio State in the field.

It's the first time Illinois has hosted a regional since 2012, and to the best of my knowledge, the entire Illinois team will be competing.

Best way to find out is to attend the event next Saturday, with doors opening at 3 p.m.

Matt Daniels wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm
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Going to wrap up this week's chat. Thanks for all the questions on a variety of topics.

Be sure to check out Friday's N-G for our All-Area high school wrestling package, then pick up Saturday's paper for full coverage of new Illinois women's basketball coach Nancy Fahey and in Sunday's N-G, Scott Richey catches up with Trent Frazier while Anthony Zilis unveils our All-Area boys' basketball package.

And, don't forget, to keep an eye on Parkland men's basketball as the Cobras try to win an NJCAA Division II national title during the next three days in Danville. We'll have plenty of coverage if coach Anthony Figueroa's team is able to pull off that impressive feat.

Have a great rest of the week everyone.