May 11 Ask the Sports Editor chat

May 11 Ask the Sports Editor chat

Thursday, May 11, 2017 - 2:00pm

Will Darta Lee, Zarrian Holcombe and HoJo Watkins play again for the Illini? How is recruiting going for Lovie Smith's program and Brad Underwood's program? How is former Tuscola standout Nick Bates doing? Sports editor Matt Daniels is here to answer any and all of your questions, no matter the topic, in his 2 p.m. chat on Thursday.

Matt Daniels wrote on May 11, 2017 at 2:05 pm
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Afternoon everyone. 

Matt Daniels here on a cloudy, somewhat cool Thursday afternoon in Champaign-Urbana. 

The big news surrounding the Illini in the last day has revolved around the arrest of three football players, Darta Lee, Zarrian Holcombe and HoJo Watkins, for residential burglary and aggravated robbery. The home invasion charges the trio were facing, stemming from an alleged incident at Bromley Hall in the early-morning hours on Wednesday, are dropped.

Still, Lovie Smith, and likely Josh Whitman, have some decisions to make regarding the future of those three players, decisions that the legal process might make easy for them. Right now, they are all suspended from the team, with Lee and Holcombe previously suspended for a violation of team rules.

On the basketball front, Wright State transfer Mark Alstork is in C-U today on a visit, with Brad Underwood looking to solidify his roster, which lost a player this week with Chicago Simeon product D.J. Williams opting to transfer after two seasons.

Enough chit-chat (for now). Let's get going with any questions out there.

DivineProportion wrote on May 11, 2017 at 2:05 pm

How important are Brad Skywalker's assistants, specifically, what role do they play in shoring up the culture/fit aspect of the program? 

Matt Daniels wrote on May 11, 2017 at 2:05 pm
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Hey DivineProportion,

Brad Underwood's assistants, much like at any other high-major program across the country, are vital to the entire health of the program.

The new Illini coach has surrounded himself with Jamall Walker, Orlando Antigua and Chin Coleman on his first staff. Our beat writer, Scott Richey, has written extensively about Walker, the lone holdover from John Groce's staff, and Antigua, and will have more on Coleman coming in this Sunday's News-Gazette.

The assistant coaches are huge on the recruiting trail, along with breaking down opponents throughout the season and, sometimes, playing the role of good cop/bad cop when it comes to certain players. They are usually responsible for a certain position group as well, so the duties they have are extensive.

The culture/fit aspect of a program all comes back to recruiting. The assistants are invaluable when they go out and evaluate prospects, along with when recruits come to C-U for visits. Ultimately, it is Underwood's program, but a good head coach always surrounds himself with assistant coaches who can deliver on multiple fronts. 

Thom wrote on May 11, 2017 at 2:05 pm

Surprised that Illinois didn't even make contact with Tori McCoy after she left OSU? What impact do you see her making at Marquette?

Matt Daniels wrote on May 11, 2017 at 2:05 pm
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Hey Thom,

Yes, I was surprised Illinois didn't at least reach out to Tori McCoy and her family after the former St. Thomas More standout decided to transfer from Ohio State after one season.

Although our preps coordinator, Anthony Zilis, spoke with Tim McCoy, Tori's father, shortly after Tori announced she was transferring from Ohio State and indicated that Illinois wouldn't be in the mix.

Still, you'd have to think the chance and possibility to add a dynamic player like McCoy, who contributed quite significantly as a true freshman for the Buckeyes, just not in the role she envisioned playing, would be worth at least reaching out. 

McCoy should continue her development as a top-level talent at Marquette. She's a skilled 6-foot-4 forward who is comfortable out on the perimeter, but can also make hay inside, both offensively and defensively. She stayed healthy her freshman season at Ohio State, and that will be key once she resumes playing in the 2018-19 season after sitting out next season at Marquette because of NCAA transfer rules.

Dyslexia Untied wrote on May 11, 2017 at 2:05 pm

If you were the coach of Illinois football, and with the new evidence coming out, do you believe Lee, Holcombe, and Watkins have a future on the Illinois football team?

Matt Daniels wrote on May 11, 2017 at 2:05 pm
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Hey Dyslexia,

If I were Lovie Smith, I'd be none too pleased having three players arrested for what looks like a serious incident and not a prank at all, like the players seem to be claiming.

Darta Lee, Zarrian Holcombe and HoJo Watkins are going to have to let the legal process play out before they can begin to think about playing football again. If they are convicted and sentenced to prison, possible options given the circumstances, then their future chance of contributing again to the Illini football team are nonexistent.

We'll see what happens with their case moving forward, but since all three are suspended right now from the team, the summer workouts that they would have undergone this summer, which typically start right after Memorial Day, are in limbo, along with their chance to play in 2017, if Smith decides to keep them on the team.

Lee showed potential as a true freshman, obviously enough to warrant two starts on the season, including in the season opener, while Holcombe seemed to be trying to find a position, whether that was at tight end or wide receiver or along the defensive line. Watkins enrolled early from Cincinnati Colerain, a sign he was eager to learn the college game quickly and possibly make a contribution this season or next. Now, all of those possibilities are in jeopardy.

Matt Daniels wrote on May 11, 2017 at 3:05 pm
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Going to wrap this chat up. Thanks for the questions.

Be sure to check out this Sunday's N-G for a really cool project by Bob Asmussen, as our veteran staff writer talked to 10 long-time beat writers from the 10 teams that made up the Big Ten for decades. Grab a copy. Or 10.

Have a great rest of the week everyone!