Big Ten

Big Ten hoops preview: Huskers will rely on Shavon Shields

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Big Ten hoops preview: Huskers will rely on Shavon Shields

Ever since Nebraska capped a terrific 2013-14 season with a fourth-place finish in the Big Ten, things have not gone well for the Huskers.

They lost their first game of that season’s Big Ten Tournament, then got beat up by Baylor in their first game of that season’s NCAA tournament. And last season was a disaster, a 13-18 campaign lowlighted by a non-conference loss to Incarnate Word and an ugly 5-13 conference mark, good for 12th place in the Big Ten.

Then came this offseason, one of extreme upheaval, where nine players departed the program either because of graduation, jumping to the NBA, retirement or transfer. Only six players from last year’s roster are on this year’s roster. One of those players didn’t play last year, and two others averaged fewer than 10 minutes a game.

So for a team trying to rid itself of the taste of a miserable season, all this change is going to make things rather difficult.

That’s why the Huskers are going to rely on a mainstay to lead them through this year’s challenge: Shavon Shields.

“Shavon Shields is a very good player,” Nebraska head coach Tim Miles said last month during Big Ten basketball media day. “He’s underrated and deservedly so. I think he has a chance to be an NBA player. I think that he can score a whole bunch for us. I think as he improves his outside shot, he's only going to get better and better.”

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Shields is going to be the guy for the Huskers this season from a leadership standpoint and a production standpoint. Certainly the biggest of the nine losses for Nebraska this offseason was Terran Petteway, who opted to skip his senior season and make the jump to the NBA after two straight seasons averaging better than 18 points a game.

With Petteway and his large scoring burden gone for a team that was already the second-worst scoring team in the Big Ten, Shields is going to have to step up in a big way. But he’s ready to do just that.

And Shields also pointed out others who can step in and make an impact. Tai Webster and Benny Parker are the Huskers’ other main returners, and Nebraska is excited about Andrew White, a former Kansas Jayhawk who sat out after transferring in ahead of last season.

“I feel like that’s my position now,” Shields said of taking over the main scoring role. “But I think we’re going to have to have a lot of guys step up and have a lot more balanced scoring. ... Andrew White from Kansas is going to have to score for us, Tai’s going to have to score this year, Benny’s going to have to score for us. And then there’s a lot of spots up for grabs and a lot of points there.”

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Petteway wasn’t the only one to go. Big man Walter Pitchford also opted to forego his senior season. Tarin Smith transferred to Duquesne. Five seniors graduated, and another player was forced to retire due to chronic injuries.

It means for a bevy of newcomers. White is a Kansas transfer. Malcolm Laws is a walk-on who used to play at Florida Atlantic. And there are seven freshmen.

That’s a lot of new people and not a lot of time to get up to speed.

“I think we’ve brought in a lot of good guys, and I don’t think the jelling parts difficult. I think what’s going to be difficult is the learning curve with being freshmen and stuff like that,” Shields said. “But what’s really great about it is it brings out a lot of competition because there are a lot of spots that people can fill.”

In a loaded Big Ten, the odds might be against the Huskers when it comes to rebounding from last year’s awful results, particularly with all the fresh faces. But there’s no doubt Nebraska has a good one in Shields, and he’s trying to get the guys around him to forget about last season and just get better.

“I think just playing and having a process, a mindset of coming in and getting better every day,” Shields said. “I think if we do that, things will end up where we want them to.”

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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USA TODAY

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.