Big Ten

Javon Pickett asks out of Letter of Intent, Illini lose second signed recruit in matter of days

Javon Pickett asks out of Letter of Intent, Illini lose second signed recruit in matter of days

Illinois' blockbuster recruiting class for 2017 has taken another major hit.

Javon Pickett, a three-star guard from Belleville, announced Saturday that he's asking to be released from his National Letter of Intent after the Illini replaced John Groce with Brad Underwood last month.

"Thank you to the University of Illinois for supporting my family and I during my recruitment. However, after the coaching change, I experienced a level of apprehension due to the relationship my family and I developed with coach Groce. After long thoughts and prayers, I have decided to ask for my release from my NLI," Pickett wrote in a Twitter post. "Coach Underwood has been highly supportive during this transition, however I need to ensure that as a student-athlete I am putting myself in the best possible situation to succeed both as a student and athlete.

"During this period, I would like to stress that all options remain open to include the University of Illinois. I want to thank the fans and staff of Illini Nation, your support has been tremendous from the very beginning."

Pickett's announcement follows that of Jeremiah Tilmon, a five-star center, who announced earlier this week that he was requesting his release from his Letter of Intent in the wake of the coaching change.

While both Tilmon and Pickett could still end up in orange and blue, it's hard to think that one would take the drastic step of asking for a release if one was leaning toward staying with the school they signed with.

Instead, it points to Illinois losing half of its highly touted recruiting class, leaving four-star guards Trent Frazier and Da'Monte Williams — who have confirmed their commitments to the Illini since Underwood's arrival — as the sole members of the incoming class.

Add that to a roster that will say goodbye to a lot of members of this year's team, and Underwood could be scrambling to put together a team for his first season in Champaign. Jaylon Tate, Tracy Abrams, Malcolm Hill, Maverick Morgan and Mike Thorne Jr. are all departing this offseason, leaving just seven returning scholarship players plus the two incoming freshmen for a total of just nine scholarship players.

While both Underwood and athletics director Josh Whitman said during recent press conferences that they would reach out to keep the recruiting class intact, the decisions of Tilmon and Pickett are understandable ones. The recruits made their commitments to Groce and now face a situation in which they'd be playing for a totally different coach. Underwood retained assistant coach Jamall Walker, who has had recent recruiting success. But the recruits were set to get something different than they signed up for, and they shouldn't be blamed for taking the opportunity to reconsider their decisions.

But these decisions won't make Illinois basketball fans too happy, as it halves what was a top-15 recruiting class in the country, certainly the best one Groce assembled in his five seasons in Champaign.

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.