CHAMPAIGN – After Jamar Smith's initial run-in with the law – an alcohol-related car accident almost a year and a half ago – Illinois coach Bruce Weber and university administrators took several months to determine Smith's status with the basketball program. The second time Smith tested their faith, the decision was swift and landed with a thud.
Weber announced Thursday that Smith, considered the team's best player by most, has been dismissed from the program for not holding up his end of the bargain for a possible return to the team.
"Jamar's decision to violate the terms of our personal agreement for his potential return to our basketball program has left me with no other recourse but to rescind that opportunity," Weber said in a statement. "At this time, Jamar and his family need to focus their attention on the issues that have brought Jamar to this point.
"For the good of our program and players, we need to move forward and prepare for the 2008-09 season. While Jamar will always be a part of the Illinois basketball family, I have made the decision that he can no longer be a part of our team."
In recent weeks, Weber had repeated that Smith had to "keep his nose clean" and stick to the straight and narrow before he would be allowed to play at Illinois again.
But after an encounter with police last weekend outside a campus bar, Smith, a 21-year-old from Peoria, found himself in court Wednesday on allegations that he violated probation by drinking alcohol. The state's attorney's office filed a petition to revoke his probation and said in court that Smith had told police that night that he had had three beers. An officer who was aware that Smith was on probation had filed a report on the incident with the state's attorney's office.
Assistant state's attorney Dan Jackson told the court that a condition of Smith's probation was that he refrain from drinking alcohol. Smith's lawyer, Mark Lipton, denied the accusation, and Judge Richard Klaus set a hearing on the petition for revocation for Sept. 17.
Smith's legal troubles began with a February 2007 car accident that injured teammate Brian Carlwell. Smith was sentenced in May 2007 to two weeks in jail and two years of probation after he pleaded guilty to a charge of aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol causing great bodily harm.
About two months after the sentencing, in August 2007, Weber announced Smith would be forced to sit out that season with the possibility of returning to the team "if all obligations are met." Since March, Weber had indicated that Smith was on track to rejoin the team for the 2008-2009 season if he continued to avoid trouble.
But last weekend's incident apparently left Weber and the UI with no other choice but to cut ties – at least in a basketball sense – with the talented shooting guard. He played 53 games at Illinois, averaging eight points, often showing the promise of a star in practice sessions.
Smith gave fans a glimpse of what the future might hold with 19 points in 21 minutes in the first game of his sophomore season, the 2006-07 campaign. But he rarely returned to that form, and the car accident ended his season and, ultimately, his Illinois career. His final game at Illinois was at Indiana on Feb. 10, 2007, almost 18 months ago.
"Our entire team and coaching staff are obviously very disappointed he will not be with us," Weber said. "We will continue to do everything we can to help him continue his academic career and achieve his goal of graduation."
Weber said about two weeks ago that Smith is on pace to graduate in May.
Whether he will remain at the UI is unknown, though it seems unlikely. He has two seasons of college eligibility remaining and could play immediately at a lower-level program. He would have to sit out a season if he transfers to another Division I program.