CHAMPAIGN — The focus turned to the 2016-17 season for Illinois men’s basketball following Friday’s 89-58 loss to Purdue in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament.
But enough unresolved issues — the likelihood, or not, of Mike Thorne Jr. getting a medical hardship waiver and a sixth year of eligibility and Leron Black’s upcoming court case — meant Illini coach John Groce couldn’t exactly describe what that future Illinois team might look like.
"We have a lot of barriers to cross before I know fully what that is going to look like," Groce said. "So I can’t give you the exact picture right now and just peg it because there’s still a lot of variables."
Another barrier was erected and the picture became fuzzier Saturday morning.
Junior point guard Jaylon Tate was arrested by Champaign police early Saturday for allegedly punching his girlfriend in the face and was to remain in the county jail until at least this morning.
Tate was immediately suspended from all team activities pending the investigation into the allegations against him and the pending legal proceedings. The indefinite suspension was announced in a joint statement from Groce and new Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman.
"It is important that we take time to fully understand the events of (Friday) evening before passing judgment," the statement read. "We condemn domestic violence in all its forms and will move swiftly and decisively if these allegations are substantiated."
Champaign police Sgt. Bruce Ramseyer said the 19-year-old victim, also a UI athlete, confirmed for police that she had been hit once in the face by Tate but declined to give police any other information, including when and where the alleged battery happened.
Ramseyer said police were called by a friend of the woman to an apartment on South Third Street at 1:40 a.m. Saturday.
"The victim didn’t want to tell us anything. She admits dating him," Ramseyer said. "Initially she said he hit her once. She didn’t want to answer any other questions."
Ramseyer said the officers could see she was spitting blood and had a swollen face. She went to Carle Hospital’s emergency room to be checked out, he said.
Although not all of the police reports about the incident were complete Saturday morning, Ramseyer said officers talked with at least two of the woman’s friends, who said she told them she had been hit once or twice.
Police later made contact with Tate, who listed an address on East John Street.
"He denies any physical contact," said Ramseyer, adding that police arrested him anyway "without incident."
Tate, 21, was booked into the Champaign County Jail at 6:15 a.m. Saturday and is expected to make a bond court appearance this morning.
State’s Attorney Julia Rietz said she was informed of the misdemeanor arrest, but because the police reports about the incident are not finished, Tate will not go to court until this morning.
That means Tate had to remain in jail until then. Domestic battery is the only misdemeanor offense for which a suspect may not post bond without seeing a judge first.
"He is being treated the same as any other suspect arrested for domestic battery," said Rietz, who did not have details of the alleged crime.
Tate’s arrest is the latest in a string of off-the-court incidents during Groce’s tenure at Illinois and is the fourth arrest.
Darius Paul was arrested in April 2014 and charged with resisting a police office and underage consumption of alcohol. Paul was dismissed from the team for the 2014-15 season, but rejoined the Illini for the 2015-16 season, only to be arrested again for public intoxication, vandalism and resisting arrest during the team’s trip to France in August.
The second arrest led to a suspension and Paul’s second dismissal from the team.
Black was arrested in February and charged with aggravated assault following an incident outside an Urbana nightclub. He was indefinitely suspended the next day and will return to court April 19.
Groce, who is 77-61 overall and 29-43 in the Big Ten in four seasons at Illinois, received a vote of confidence from Whitman on March 5 — exactly one week before Tate’s arrest. Black’s arrest came the same night Whitman was officially introduced as Illinois’ 14th permanent athletic director.
"I think it’s important that folks understand that John Groce is going to continue to be our basketball coach," Whitman said last week. "He’s a first-class individual and an excellent leader. He’s a student of basketball and leadership, and I feel really comfortable with the leadership he’s given our guys."