Illini women’s basketball hires new assistant coach


Quentin Shaw

Illinois Women’s Basketball Coach Nancy Fahey holds her arms out in frustration during the match against Austin Peay on Nov. 13, 2019.

By Claire O'Brien, Staff Writer

Illinois women’s basketball head coach Nancy Fahey hired a new assistant coach, Scott Merritt, last week.

Merritt replaced LaKale Malone, who’d been coaching at Illinois since 2012. Malone has not been introduced as a coach at another school yet.

Merritt was a starter at Marquette in 2003, per Illinois athletics, and was college teammates with Dwyane Wade. Marquette went to the Final Four in 2003.

Fahey hired Merritt for several reasons, predominantly that Merritt will add to the post presence.

“Scott Merritt has an incredible winning background,” Fahey said. “He comes from winning. He knows the Midwest, recruiting-wise. And when you’re out working on the road and you’re in gyms watching, as a head coach, you watch people that work hard, and Scott Merritt is one of those people.”

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    Illinois has struggled with height, and last season the team relied on senior Ali Andrews and freshman Kennedi Myles in the post. Junior Nancy Panagiotopoulou Andritsopoulou and sophomore Mackenzie Blazek have struggled with injuries during their time at Illinois; Andritsopoulou made her Illinois debut in January, and Blazek missed the latter part of the season with an injury.

    Illinois has four new commits for next year. Illinois signed guards Aaliyah McQueen and Aaliyah Nye and forward Solape Amusan November 14. Former Arizona State center Eva Rubin committed to Illinois December 7.

    Fahey anticipates that Merritt will help players like Myles and Rubin improve during their Illinois careers.

    “(Myles is) a kid that wants to get better. I know Scott Merritt’s going to help her with that,” Fahey said. “She’s got a great foundation.”

    Even though the team is physically apart and unable to practice together in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Myles said that the team has stayed in touch virtually, with teammates FaceTiming each other during at-home workouts.

    Fahey added that the team has been in touch via Zoom, but Fahey also has contacted players individually to see how they are doing. She noted that some of the team has new furry friends in the house.

    “There’s a lot of kids (getting) dogs right now, that’s what I found out,” Fahey said. “Great time to train them.”

    Because the players have been away from campus, the team hasn’t had much of a chance to meet or work with Merritt.

    Nonetheless, Myles is eager to work with Merritt once the team can practice again.

    “I’m really excited to work with somebody who’s driven and very passionate about what he does,” Myles said. “Me, myself, just wanting to get better, I feel like that’s gonna be a great combination.”