Carlwell’s condition improves

Courtesy of Mark Deming

By Courtney Linehan and Erin Foley

Bruce Weber, assistant Gary Nottingham and a handful of Illini basketball players milled around the Sterling Fields apartment complex in Savoy on Wednesday afternoon. Weber paced the parking lot talking on his cell phone, while Nottingham, Brian Randle and several other people sat on the steps outside sophomore guard Jamar Smith’s apartment.

A few minutes later, Smith’s grandparents pulled up in a black SUV, then loaded it with clothes and dog supplies. Smith got in with his dog, Sapphire, to return to his family’s home in Peoria.

Meanwhile, Brian Carlwell, a freshman center on the Illini basketball team, remains hospitalized in fair condition following a car accident late Monday night that left him and Smith with severe concussions.

It was the latest in a series of events that have crippled the Illini throughout the basketball season. Between Rich McBride’s four-game suspension and a number of ankle and groin injuries plaguing every position, the Illini thought their misfortune was behind them.

“It’s been very difficult and frustrating for everyone involved,” Assistant Athletic Director Kent Brown said on Wednesday. “I don’t know that I’ve ever worked with a program or worked with a team that has gone through the struggles of injuries, suspensions, and accidents now, that have broken up the season in different ways.”

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The team took its latest blow Monday night when the 1996 Lexus that Smith was driving North on South First Street spun 180-degrees, crossed the center line and struck a tree.

Smith drove the damaged car 1.5 miles from the site of the accident back to his apartment and both players were transported via ambulance to Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana for treatment.

Smith was treated and released, while Carlwell was admitted in critical condition to the hospital’s intensive care unit. Both players suffered scrapes and bumps and bruises, Brown said, but no other serious injuries were reported.

Head coach Bruce Weber and athletic trainer Al Martindale arrived at the hospital and remained there until around 5:30 Tuesday morning. Carlwell’s parents traveled to Champaign from their home in Maywood, Ill., and arrived at the hospital early Tuesday in spite of the brutal road conditions.

Several Illinois basketball players visited Carlwell on Tuesday, while Weber was unable to return to the hospital due to severe weather conditions that snowed him in.

“It’s been a hard 48 hours, as (Weber’s) been trying to work through this and trying to keep on track of it in a blizzard,” Brown said. “He was stranded at his home for a big part of yesterday when he couldn’t be with his team or at the hospital. It’s been very, very hard on him.”

Basketball practice was canceled Tuesday, Brown said, because of the accident, not the weather.

“There’s no way you could expect guys to focus on practice after what happened,” Brown said.

Weber turned down the Daily Illini’s request for comment on Wednesday, but offered a formal statement early that evening.

“We appreciate all the prayers and support from Illini fans throughout the country,” Weber said. “We hope you will keep these two young men in your thoughts as they recover physically and emotionally from this unfortunate event, as well as our entire team as it continues through a season filled with adversity.”

The team practiced Wednesday in preparation for Sunday’s home game against Northwestern.

But Weber’s regularly scheduled press conference was canceled and practice was closed to the media.

Smith was ticketed for improper lane usage after the accident.

University police said further action may be taken pending a thorough investigation. The accident report was not available as of Wednesday afternoon.

Weber said Carlwell is expected to make a full recovery and be released from the hospital in the next two days.

Smith’s status for Sunday’s game is unknown, Brown said.

“I would think that since he went home for a few days, that would be questionable,” Brown said.

Smith averages 8.1 points per game for the Illini. Carlwell sees limited minutes as a reserve, averaging 1.7 points and 1.4 rebounds per game.

The Illini (18-9, 6-6 Big Ten) have struggled with injuries, illnesses, and suspensions throughout the season.

Only three players, forward/center Shaun Pruitt and guards Calvin Brock and Trent Meacham, have played in every game.

“Coach Weber has said many times that he’s never been a part of anything like this,” Brown said. “It’s very, very frustrating for a program that’s used to competing at the highest level to go through the struggles we’ve gone through and why the struggles are happening.”