Big Ten

Mark Smith picks Illini, giving Brad Underwood a huge recruiting win

Mark Smith picks Illini, giving Brad Underwood a huge recruiting win

Brad Underwood's tenure at Illinois hasn't gotten off to the smoothest start, but that will all be forgotten after a huge recruiting win Wednesday.

Mark Smith, the Land of Lincoln's Mr. Basketball out of Edwardsville High School, picked the Illini on Wednesday night, spurning a host of other suitors including Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Kentucky and Duke.

Smith is not just committed to Illinois but already signed to a National Letter of Intent, the school announced, making him an official member of the program's incoming freshman class.

For Underwood, landing Smith — ranked as the No. 52 prospect in the Class of 2017 — will not just cushion the blow of a pair of losses from earlier this spring, with Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett asking out of their National Letters of Intent. It will provide a spark of excitement across the fan base.

It's the kind of huge recruiting win that Underwood's predecessor John Groce could rarely claim. Only Tilmon and the rest of this year's recruiting class marked big-time success on the trail for Groce, and he was fired before he was able to coach any of those players.

Smith had a tremendous senior season, averaging 21.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 8.4 assists and 2.1 steals during a 30-win campaign. He scored 30 or more points in eight games and scored in double figures in all but one of his team's 32 contests.

Smith's commitment to Illinois restores much of the prestige to a halved recruiting class that once again claims a trio of four-star recruits, Smith joining Trent Frazier and Da'Monte Williams after the departures of Tilmon, a four-star recruit, and Pickett, a three-star recruit.

Underwood now can claim some serious momentum after a rocky beginning to his Illinois tenure. In addition to the departures of Tilmon and Pickett, the Illini lost out to Kansas on former Morgan Park star Charlie Moore, who transferred after one season at Cal. Illinois is reportedly still in the mix for Kansas transfer Carlton Bragg Jr.

Underwood also adds Smith to what was a roster short on scholarship players, particularly after the decisions of Tilmon and Pickett. Smith, along with Frazier and Williams, join returning players D.J. Williams, Kipper Nichols, Te'Jon Lucas, Jalen Coleman-Lands, Leron Black, Aaron Jordan and Michael Finke for Underwood's first season 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.