Men’s basketball returns to practice


Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Kipper Nichols takes a jumper during the game against Northwestern at State Farm Center on Tuesday, Feb. 21. The Illini returned to practice on Saturday.

By Will Gerard, Staff writer

In the midst of a widespread FBI investigation of the NCAA as announced by the Department of Justice on Tuesday, early Saturday morning marked the first official day of practice for the Illinois men’s basketball team.

Head coach Brad Underwood spoke to the press before the start of practice, which featured the presence of two recent inductees to the inaugural class of the Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame.

FBI Investigation

When asked about the FBI investigation, Underwood stood behind the official statement he released through the school’s athletic department.

“(What) happened, happened, and it surprised people, but I don’t know,” Underwood said. “Some things came to light that maybe surprised everybody.”

Underwood’s official statement  was released late Wednesday evening in response to the charges brought against members of the NCAA community.

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“Like many in our industry, I was surprised by yesterday’s events. From our first conversation in March, athletic director Josh Whitman and I have shared a mutual commitment to Illinois men’s basketball, upholding the highest standards of integrity,” Underwood said. “I appreciate his ongoing encouragement and support. I stand ready to assist as needed to protect the game of basketball, and those who play it, on our campus and elsewhere.”

Lamont Evans, Underwood’s former assistant at Oklahoma State, was fired by Oklahoma State Wednesday after being charged with allegedly taking bribes in an attempt to steer student-athletes toward advisers and agents.

Hall of Fame presence

Athletic director Josh Whitman attended practice, where Mannie Jackson and Jerry Colangelo, recent inductees of the Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame 2017 Inaugural Class, spoke at center court before the start of practice at Ubben Basketball Complex.

Underwood introduced Jackson and Colangelo as the team huddled around the guest speakers. The inductees sat next to one another on the sideline once practice began.

Jackson spoke before Colangelo, who Underwood described to his team as “the most powerful man in basketball.”

During the 1957-58 season, Jackson became the first African-American to start and letter in basketball at the University.

Jackson later played for the Harlem Globetrotters and became the nation’s first African-American owner of a global sports and entertainment brand after purchasing the Globetrotters in 1993. He served as chairman of the Board for the Basketball Hall of Fame from 2007 until 2009.

Colangelo briefly played alongside Jackson during his sophomore season, which was Jackson’s senior year under legendary head coach Harry Combes.

The senior captain averaged 16.4 points over 23 games. Despite being ranked as high as No. 8 in the country by AP, the Illini fell out of the rankings after dropping their final three games of the season, finishing the season unranked with a record of 16-7 (8-6 Big Ten).

Colangelo played for the Illini from 1960 until 1962. In 1968, he became the youngest general manager in professional sports after being hired by the Phoenix Suns.

The four-time NBA Executive of the Year served as Director of USA Basketball from 2005 to 2016. Colangelo was also elected into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2004.

Six other former members of the men’s basketball program comprised the 28-person class, including Dee Brown, Deron Williams, Nick Anderson, Dwight “Dike” Eddleman, Andy Phillip and George Halas.

The induction ceremony was a public event held by the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics at the State Farm Center on Saturday.

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