Kelley L. Coz / USA TODAY Sports

Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin has been mentioned as a possible candidate for Illinois, a school he said was a childhood favorite

California head coach Cuonzo Martin addresses the rumors surrounding him following the firing of Illinois head basketball coach John Groce.

California head men's basketball coach Cuonzo Martin grew up in East St. Louis, Ill., just 177 miles from Champaign, Ill., home of Illinois. The Illini, on Saturday, fired head coach John Groce, and will be coached by assistant Jamall Walker in the National Invitation Tournament. The Bears are also in the NIT, playing across the country in Berkeley on Tuesday night, at 8:15 p.m. While previewing No. 1-seed Cal's first-round match-up against Cal State-Bakersfield, Martin was asked about his involvement with the job search at Illinois, and possibly Missouri, which, according to a source, is willing to go north of $3 million per year on a contract.

"For me, the most important thing is being at Cal, coaching our basketball team, and that is the most important thing," Martin said. "All of the other stuff, if time presents it, those things, you'll deal with them when you get to that point. The most important thing right now is this basketball team. We're trying to win a ballgame on Tuesday night."

A source close to Cal athletic director Mike Williams suggested that Williams would do "whatever it takes" to keep Martin, who has gone 61-38 in Berkeley, reaching the postseason twice, now, with the NIT berth. Cal lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season, after being tabbed with the No. 4 seed -- the highest in program history.

Martin signed an extension until 2021 this past October, which pays him $1.84 million per year. He has a $1.2 million buy out if he ends his contract this April.

There are several reasons that Martin would want to leave for the Illini: Potential for facility growth and attendance (without a pro sports team in the market, instead of the Bay Area's six), as well as being able to continuously recruit talent-rich Chicago without worrying about whether or not players could get in to and stay in school at Cal.

There's also another big reason: Before Martin signed with Purdue, he was likely headed to Champaign, until the Illini were embroiled in an NCAA investigation. In the summer of 1990, as Martin was considering committing to Illinois, then-Iowa head coach Bruce Pearl reportedly taped then-Illinois assistant Jimmy Collins telling Deon Thomas that the school would pay for his commitment. 

"That was my school since I was a little guy," Martin said of Illinois. "But, they had some NCAA issues, so it really came down, after that, to between Purdue and Connecticut, so I chose Purdue."

Boiler Sports Report Top Stories