Big Ten

New Illini AD Josh Whitman wants Chicago, in-state kids to 'bleed orange and blue'

josh-whitman-illini-0218.png

New Illini AD Josh Whitman wants Chicago, in-state kids to 'bleed orange and blue'

One of the biggest challenges for new Illinois athletics director Josh Whitman will be changing the perception of his department across the state as well as selling top-notch in-state high school talent on playing for the Illini.

In both football and basketball, recent recruiting cycles have seen the state's top high school prospects bypass Illinois and opt for out-of-state schools in the Big Ten, at Notre Dame and farther away from the Land of Lincoln.

So how does Whitman help his head coaches sell the state's flagship institution to the top recruits in Chicago, the suburbs and from all over the state?

"I think it starts a lot earlier than (high school). I think ultimately we want kids in our state to grow up being Illini fans, we want them to bleed orange and blue from the time they can remember," Whitman said in an interview Thursday at Comcast SportsNet. "To me, it's not dealing with them when they're 18 and 17 years old, it's when they're seven and eight years old and giving them something to be excited about and they reflect back and say, 'I grew up wanting to play for the University of Illinois, here's my opportunity.' And certainly there's more to it than that. We are going to have to do a good job of developing those relationships with the coaches, the student-athletes here in the city and across the state. I know that our folks can do that, and certainly that'll be an emphasis for us."

[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Fighting Illini gear right here]

Whitman himself is a good template for kids who might be deciding whether or not to play in Champaign. He spent four years in the Illinois football program and worked in the Illinois athletics department when he returned to campus to earn his law degree.

He spoke with tremendous passion about the university during his introductory press conference on Thursday morning, and he told CSN that he hopes the Illini faithful can use his excitement and pride for his alma mater as a spring board to boost their own enthusiasm surrounding the athletics programs.

"We want our fanbase to be excited about what we're doing. We want them to buy into Illinois athletics and understand we're taking positive steps in the right direction," Whitman said. "And so, if nothing else, I hope that people see the intensity and the excitement that I have for the program and can use that as a spring board for their own feelings about what we're doing and the pride they have in the orange and blue."

Check out the video above for the full interview with Whitman, which includes Chicago sports' most hard-hitting question: Cubs or Sox?

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

jeremy_larkin.jpg
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

anderson.jpg
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.