Big Ten

New AD: John Groce to continue as Illini basketball coach

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New AD: John Groce to continue as Illini basketball coach

Despite a season that, pending a miracle run in the Big Ten Tournament, will end as Illinois' third straight campaign without an NCAA tournament appearance, John Groce will continue to be the Fighting Illini's head coach.

New Illinois athletics director Josh Whitman gave Groce his vote of confidence Saturday during a radio interview on WDWS.

"I think it's important today that folks understand that John Groce is going to continue to be our basketball coach," Whitman said in the interview, his quote published by the Champaign News-Gazette. "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."

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This season has not gone well for the Illini, who finish their regular-season schedule Sunday against Penn State. A slew of injuries — including season-enders to Tracy Abrams, Mike Thorne and Leron Black, all three projected starters — has made for a rocky road during what is at the moment a 13-17 overall record and a 5-12 mark in Big Ten play. It follows what was a disappointing season a year ago, when injuries were the story, as well. Abrams missed the entirety of last season, too, and star scorer Rayvonte Rice missed a nine-game chunk of conference play with an injury and a suspension. The Illini finished 19-12 overall and 9-9 during the regular season before getting blown out of the Big Ten Tournament by Michigan and blown out of the NIT by Alabama.

Groce's program has also been affected by off-the-court issues in recent seasons. Two arrests in two years forced the yearlong suspension and then the dismissal of Darius Paul. Both Rice and Aaron Cosby were suspended during last season, with Cosby eventually leaving the team. And Black is currently suspended indefinitely after he was charged with pulling a knife on a bouncer at a nightclub.

But there are multiple reasons why it makes sense that Whitman sticks with Groce. Certainly this run of horrible injury luck has to end at some point. The results the past two seasons can be excused to a degree considering the large amount of time missed by key players. But also there's been good news on the recruiting trail for Groce of late. He finally landed a point guard in Milwaukee's Te'Jon Lucas, currently the lone member of the Illini's Class of 2016. And just last weekend, the Class of 2017 got a serious injection of talent with Peoria guard Da'Monte Williams, a four-star recruit and the son of former Illinois star Frank Williams. That addition coupled with Belleville guard Javon Pickett has things looking real good for the future.

That being said, even with Whitman's vote of confidence Saturday, Groce's margin for error can't be too big. Results are ultimately what coaches are judged on, and while last season's tourney miss made it the first back-to-back years without an invite to the Big Dance since 1992, this season would be the first time Illinois has missed three straight NCAA tournaments since 1980, the season before the Illini snapped a 16-year tournament drought.

Groce has his athletics director's support at the moment. It's up to him to do some winning to earn it for the long term.

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.