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Cuonzo Martin presents an interesting option for Illinois


Mike Miller

Illinois’ all-out push for Shaka Smart might not be enough. The VCU coach is reportedly considering the school’s offer – thought to be in the $2 million range – to replace Bruce Weber, who was fired after the Big Ten tournament.

But if Smart doesn’t want it, there seem to be two candidates who do.

One is Duke assistant Chris Collins, who played high school ball in the Chicago area and has recruiting players from there to Duke, including Jon Scheyer.

‘‘He’s recruited in this area,’’ his dad, Doug, told the Chicago Sun-Times. ‘‘He’s come in and got some of the best players in Illinois to go to Duke, and I just think he’s going to be a terrific young coach. That sounds like maybe a proud daddy — and I am — but I’ve watched him.”

The other coach is Tennessee’s Cuonzo Martin, an intriguing candidate mostly for his Vols tenure – one season – and his ties to the Big Ten. Martin was a star at Purdue, grew up in East St. Louis and still has ties in the area.

And that’s important aspect. One of the biggest criticisms surrounding Weber was that he didn’t recruit the Chicago area very well. Martin would solve that.

From CSN Chicago’s Gail Fischer:

As a bonus, my source believes if Martin were coaching the Illini, he would put former Illini star Deon Thomas on his staff. Thomas, a Simeon product, would give Illinois another ‘in’ with the public league and help coach the program’s big-men which has been a source of weakness for the Illini.

Right now, Thomas is the head basketball coach at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, so he is gaining coaching experience. I’ve always wondered why the player who is Illinois’ all-time leading scorer and a public-league product is not involved with the program in any capacity? Martin is the first person to recognize this and suggest he join the coaching staff. I’d hire the guy based on that suggestion alone.

Tennessee finished 19-15 this season with some awful losses (Austin Peay, College of Charleston), but the Vols were so good down the stretch that they were on the NCAA tournament bubble. He also spent three years at Missouri State, where he was 61-41, including a 26-9 season his last year there.

He can coach. And if he can tap into the Chicago recruiting pipeline, he’d be a great hire.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.