Shaka Smart as the Illinois basketball coach would've grabbed more than a few headlines. And it might have been able to prevent Stephen Bardo's Saturday criticism that there's not much diversity in the Illinois athletics department.
Smart was the subject of one of Bardo's many tweets Saturday criticizing the Illinois athletics department for a lack of diversity, among other things. The former member of the Flyin' Illini basketball team that reached the Final Four in 1989 claimed that Smart turned down the Illinois job because he didn't like athletics director Mike Thomas, whose department is currently embroiled in a pair of investigations into allegations made toward the football and women's basketball coaching staffs.
Saturday afternoon, Smart answered that Bardo's claim is not true.
“That’s not true, that’s not accurate,” Smart told the Champaign News-Gazette. “I have a really good relationship with Mike Thomas. He was terrific to me, my wife, coach (Keith) Dambrot, who I worked for at Akron. I learned a lot from Mike in the time I was around him, so that’s not true.”
[MORE BIG TEN: Ex-Flyin' Illini Stephen Bardo voices frustration on Twitter]
Smart worked under Thomas at the University of Akron, where Thomas served as athletics director from 2000 to 2005. Smart was an assistant basketball coach there from 2003 to 2006. Thomas left for the athletics director position at the University of Cincinnati, where he worked until coming to Champaign in 2011. Smart held two more assistant coaching jobs at Clemson and Florida before becoming the head coach at VCU in 2009, the gig he had until taking the head-coaching job at Texas this offseason.
Smart was a hot coaching candidate for several seasons after quickly building VCU into a contender, but he waited until this offseason to leave for another job, getting a high-profile one at Texas.
John Groce was hired as the Illini head coach in 2012.
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 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.