A new era of Illinois basketball is about to begin, but who exactly will be the one to lead them? Illinois has had a storied tradition in basketball with 29 NCAA Tournament appearances, 17 Big Ten titles, 4 National Players of the Year and 4 Naismith Hall of Fame members. Considered one of the top 15 jobs in the country, Illinois will get plenty of interest from coaches around the country. These names are likely potential candidates for the job and will be interesting to keep an eye on throughout March Madness.
Shaka Smart- Head coach- Virginia Commonwealth
Widely considered the #1 option by writers, and some reports suggest he’s leaning towards the job. Smart signed an 8 year extension with VCU following a miraculous Final Four run last year. Illinois would be able to pay Smart much more than VCU would be able to if money is a factor for him. He has said he loves Virginia, but Smart could also want to return to the Midwest, being from Wisconsin and playing college ball in Ohio. Smart has ties to Illinois Athletic Director Mike Thomas, as both were at Akron in the middle of the last decade. Smart is very charismatic and would appeal to young kids in Chicago with his energy and enthusiasm. If he came to Illinois he could retain assistant coach Jerrance Howard and form a formidable recruiting duo in the Chicagoland that is much needed with some big time upcoming high school prospects.
Chris Collins- Assistant coach- Duke
Originally from Illinois, the Glenbrook North grad is currently one of the top assistants in the country at Duke. Collins is known to be a great recruiter, especially in Chicago. He most notably snagged guard Jon Scheyer away from the state, even though Bruce Weber’s brother was Scheyer’s high school coach. It’s unknown if Illinois would want to hire someone without head coaching experience for the head coaching position. But who better to hire an assistant from than Duke? Collins has learned under the best in the business in Coach K.
Scott Drew- Head coach- Baylor
A name that recently appeared in the past few days, Drew is known as a top notch recruiter. After four bad seasons, he slowly turned Baylor into one of the top programs in the Big 12. If he’s able to attract top flight players to Waco, Texas, think of what he could do in Champaign right on Chicago’s doorstep. There is some debate about Drew’s coaching ability, but he’s led Baylor to an Elite Eight appearance, and looks like he could make another deep run in the tournament. There’s also some debate on if he runs a clean program or not. He could be genuine though and just be a good salesman. Drew also has Midwest ties like the previous two coaches. Drew is the son of former Valparaiso coach Homer Drew and brother of former NBA player Bryce Drew.
Gregg Marshall- Head coach- Wichita State
Marshall would be an older hire (49) than the other coaches, but all the experience he’s had wouldn’t be a bad thing. Marshall started at Winthrop where he had an outstanding nine years, making the NCAA Tournament in eight of them. While at Winthrop he went 194-83 and 104-24 in the Big South Conference. Marshall took over at Wichita State after Mark Turgeon left for Texas A&M. Marshall slowly built them up from an 11-20 season in 2007, to NIT Champions last year and then this year leading Wichita State to their first ranked team since 2006. Coach Marshall has shown twice he’s able to build a program into a winning program in just a few years.
Anthony Grant- Head coach- Alabama
Grant has taken two programs, the other VCU, to new levels in just a few seasons as their coach. Alabama is now at least respectable again in the SEC. But is it somewhere he could really stay for a long time? Alabama is known as a football school, while Illinois is known as a basketball school, where he’d be the top coach on campus. Also, when Illinois was searching for a football coach, two trustees voiced their displeasure about the school never hiring an African-American coach for either football or basketball. Grant is one of the top minority coaches in the country right now. Illinois could very well kick the tires on Grant and Grant could very well want a higher profile job. Everybody remembers when Bill Self moved up to Kansas from Illinois, and just this past off-season when Frank Haith moved up from Miami to Missouri, though he wasn’t as high profile of a coach as Self was or Grant is now.