Jackson: Nunn enjoying new-found celebrity
CHAMPAIGN — Kendrick Nunn hasn’t suited up for a game in an Illinois uniform yet. He hasn’t even had an official practice yet.
But he can’t go more than a few minutes on campus without a fellow student stopping him to say “Hello” or “Good luck.”
“There have been a lot of students already on campus who recognize me; I wasn’t expecting all of that yet,” Nunn said.
It’s an exciting time to be an Illinois basketball fan. Nunn, a freshman from Chicago power Simeon, deserves a bit of the credit.
About a year ago, the four-star guard was the first high school prospect to commit to new coach John Groce, becoming one of the central figures in the 2013 signing class that ranked among the 15 best in the country. Though he’s unaware of his level of recognition on a campus of more than 30,000 undergrads, he’s been a popular figure in these parts for some time.
“It’s exciting to be recognized,” Nunn said. “It lets me know what the support is going to be like here. I always just say ‘What’s up’ to the fans when they stop me.”
After an eight-week summer-school stint and a month into the fall semester, the 6-foot-3 guard is getting the hang of the college life. Those first few weeks in the summer, which included two hours of basketball workouts and six more hours of strength and conditioning each week, took some adjusting.
“It’s been a tough responsibility, but the most important thing has been time management with being an athlete and worrying about the classroom stuff,” Nunn said. “I feel like I’ve been holding it all together pretty well.”
Helping make the transition easier for Nunn at Illinois is the presence of high school teammate Jaylon Tate, a freshman point guard with the Illini. Before their arrival at Illinois, Nunn and Tate developed friendships with classmates Malcolm Hill, Austin Colbert and Maverick Morgan through social media.
The quintet has been nearly inseparable since arriving on campus.
“It was a little overwhelming at first, but we had the older guys helping us out,” Nunn said. “Guys have been helpful guiding me through things.”
Working with assistant coach Paris Parham, Nunn has been focusing on improving his ball handling and consistency with his jump shot. His role will be more clearly defined when practice gets into full swing.
“It’s more physical, the pace is a little faster,” he said. “I’ve been picking it up pretty well. I’m ready to get started.”
The Illini Street Jam, which will take place Saturday night at the intersection of Green and Wright streets in Campustown, was an idea director of sales and marketing Jenny Larson and her team have been working on since January.
“We knew we needed to get students involved and more active and excited about the season,” Larson said. “We thought we needed to come up with an idea to bring an event to them and that’s kind of where this idea came from.”
Larson spoke with officials at Pittsburgh and Alabama-Birmingham, schools that have staged similar preseason events, to see what logistical hurdles needed to be cleared.
“We thought about doing something similar last year and by the time the idea came about, we just couldn’t get it all planned,” Larson said. “You have to work with the city to shut down streets and those discussions came out of all the planning and the feedback we got from the other institutions.”
When Illinois officially announced the event on Wednesday, the response on social media was swift and overwhelmingly favorable.
“Word certainly got out and we’ve had a lot of positive feedback already in the short time we’ve had it announced. I think it’s going to be a really huge event for us,” Larson said.
A flex court will cover the intersection, with lighting and bleachers surrounding the court. The event is free and bleacher seating is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. A standing-room-only section will also be available.
Scott Snider, the father of Illinois commit Quentin Snider, said on Twitter last week they would be in attendance. Snider’s fellow Class of 2014 commits, Michael Finke and Leron Black, are also expected to be in attendance.
The second annual John Groce coaches’ clinic is Oct. 11-12 at the Ubben practice facility with a former NBA Coach of the Year set to serve as keynote speaker: former Cavaliers, SuperSonics, Bucks and Nuggets coach George Karl.
“Coach Groce had a connection with George Karl’s agent and he reached out to him and that’s originally how we connected with Karl,” said first-year Illinois special assistant to the head coach Ryan Pedon, who helped organize the event.
Former Butler and Iowa coach Todd Lickliter, now coaching at Marian University in Indianapolis, will also serve as a speaker during the two-day clinic.
Lickliter was Groce’s high school coach at Danville (Ind.) High.
“For us to have the 2013 NBA Coach of the Year and the 2007 NCAA Coach of the Year is a big deal,” Pedon said.
Groce will also speak at the event, which costs $90 for coaches who register in advance and $100 at the door. Attendees will also be able to watch two Illinois practices and attend a Q&A session with Groce and the Illini staff at Groce’s home.
The response for the event has been favorable, Pedon said.
“We’ve advertised mostly in the Midwest. My understanding is in the past there have been great turnouts,” Pedon said. “Last year was a great turnout, so we’re hoping for another large crowd. A lot of Illinois coaches. We’ve had some interest from small college coaches as well. We think it’ll be a great clinic.”
Former Illinois guard D.J. Richardson is the lone member of the 2013 senior class who has yet to sign a professional contract to continue playing basketball.
Richardson was invited to a tryout late last week with the Utah Jazz with the potential to land an invite to training camp.
Richardson, a 6-foot-3 guard, will find out this week if he’ll be invited back. If not, he and agent Eric Fleisher will work to get him a shot at playing overseas.
Brandon Paul signed this summer to play in Russia. Sam McLaurin landed a spot with a club in Finland, and Tyler Griffey is playing in Austria.
Richardson remained in Champaign for the early part of the summer finishing his degree in communication and became the first person in his immediate family to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Ken Parker, a reserve on Illinois’ 1942-43 team featuring the “Whiz Kids,” died on Sept. 14. He was 92.
According to his obituary in the Joliet Herald-News, Parker was the head coach at Joliet Township High School from 1950 to 1962 where his teams won two regional titles. The Granite City native was the athletic director at Joliet Junior College from 1964 to ’77.