Underwood and Illinois retain Walker on staff
Illinois men’s basketball has retained Jamall Walker as a member of its coaching staff.
Walker spent the last five seasons as an assistant coach for John Groce’s staff at Illinois. When Groce was fired March 11, Walker was promoted to interim head coach and led Illinois to a 2-1 record in the National Invitation Tournament.
While there was likely added motivation for the Illini during their National Invitation Tournament run, Walker deserves a lot of credit. Despite being in a difficult situation, Walker stepped up and looked poised doing so. He ran the right offensive plays at the right times, switched up defensive schemes when needed and pushed Illinois to try to mount a comeback against University of Central Florida.
His pregame and postgame interviews were raw, and he refused to sugarcoat anything. Walker remained humble and wouldn’t allow himself to take any credit for his team’s success. Walker made sure to always recognize his players for their efforts.
Walker is all about the players, which is exactly why he needs to continue to be a part of the Illini.
During his introductory press conference, Brad Underwood noted the effort Walker gave in the interim position.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for the job he is doing in a hard situation,” Underwood said. “It’s not easy. To get a win and continue moving forward, that’s impressive.”
I believe this a step in the right direction for Illinois basketball and a great move by Underwood. Walker has been a staple in recruiting for the Illini and demonstrated a passion for his players and the University.
During media availability previewing the Boise State game, Walker expressed his interest in staying in Champaign.
“I think this place is special,” Walker said. “Champaign’s been home more than any other place.”
After playing for Saint Louis University from 1996-1999, Walker has had 17 years of assistant coaching experience from high school, community college and the Division I level. His longest tenure at one spot has been with Illinois.
Walker can serve as the bridge between the current roster and incoming recruits and Underwood. Introducing a new coach can sometimes be a tough transition for players who have built relationships and gotten used to Groce’s playing style.
Since the 2016-2017 season ended with a loss to University of Central Florida in the National Invitation Tournament quarterfinals, Walker and Underwood have already gotten to work. The two visited class of 2017 commit DaMonte Williams and four-star recruit Mark Smith.
The Illini have two remaining scholarships for the class of 2017, and Smith could very well be taking one of the final spots. Smith, the recipient of the 2017 Mr. Basketball of Illinois award, built a relationship with Groce.
With Groce gone, Underwood will need to rely on Walker to continue helping in Smith’s recruitment. The last time Illinois received a commitment from the state’s Mr. Basketball award winner was Jereme Richmond in 2010.
At the end of his introductory press conference, Underwood stated that Illinois wouldn’t have a good staff; it will have a great staff.
Walker is Phase One of putting together a great staff.
Matt is a Junior in Business