Werner Mailbag: May 20

Illini Inquirer publisher Jeremy Werner answers premium members' basketball, football and Illini athletics questions

now that we know about Moore going to cal do you feel like Nunn gets a chance to come back?

how long do you think it will take for Whitman and Groce to figure out what they are going to do about Nunn?

When do you think an announcement on Nunn will come out?

I figured this is the No. 1 question for Illini fans right. Me too. I don't know, but  I can tell you this. I am scheduled to talk with Illinois athletics director Josh Whitman on Monday afternoon. I doubt he talks to me without having made a decision on this. Today is Friday. And despite a never-ending news cycle, Illinois showed it still believes in the Friday news dump when it announced Leron Black's suspension on the afternoon of May 6, a Friday. I'm assuming -- you know what that makes me -- Illinois had a good idea of what Nunn was going to plea before he did it on Wednesday. There's no reason to prolong a decision, so Kendrick Nunn can start to move on and so that Illinois can move one -- either with Nunn or without him (which would free a scholarship). Of course, the university may have first say on this which could slow the process, though they may have been moving through the disciplinary process already (they had with Tate and did not pursue punishment in Tate's case).

This is more for all ILL fans: Would you still root for ILL if Nunn were to come back and be suspended for 10 games - a semester? Would you be fine if the suspension was for a Season?

Here's the thing. We don't know exactly what happened. It was reported by another outlet that Nunn admitted in court that he struck a woman. But I asked Evan Bruno, whose law firm represents both Nunn and Jaylon Tate, if that were factual. He said the prosecution said in its final statement during the plea agreement that Nunn struck the alleged victim in the back of the head, but that at that point in the trial, the defense wasn't going to bicker over that. Nunn plead guilty to battery, which included throwing water at a woman. When I told him that could be a gray area for the public, Bruno wouldn't say much more or whether Nunn struck the woman. He's not going to incriminate his client. But that leaves us with a big gray area.


Hopefully, John Groce and Josh Whitman have more clarity to make the decision. If they know Nunn struck the woman, I think Whitman should dismiss Nunn to set the standard of his athletic department. I believe in second chances and would wish Nunn well, but this is bigger than Nunn or his abilities to help Illinois on the court. I also could be convinced to be OK with a year's suspension. That's a serious penalty with consequences but also allows Nunn a second chance and the opportunity to earn a UI degree. 

What's the lookout for Aaron Jordan? I feel like after DJW came on towards the end of the year we have forgotten about him.

Aaron Jordan has length and shooting ability. I think he has some ability to attack off the dribble too, but he's not a great athlete. He just never looked comfotable last season. He was a great redshirt candidate, but injuries didn't allow that luxury. This is a huge summer for him to gain strength and confidence. If Nunn returns, he will have a hard time seeing the court. If Nunn does not return, Jordan will have a big opportunity. He doesn't project to be a star but if he makes 3-point shots and defends, he could make a nice impact as an upperclassman.

Jeremy, nobody seems to know the status of Thornes knee injury . Is he good to go ? Still rehabbing it ? I know theres no way to answer this but , can he make it through the season on it ?

There is no way of answering that. Thorne is a massive man who suffered a serious knee injury, and he is a Type I diabetic which negatively affects his bloodflow, which can affect recovery time. He stayed healthy for three straight years at UNC-Charlotte, so he can do it again. Thorne has continued his rehab and has participated in team strength and conditioning workouts. The Illini won't push him this offseason, but he needs to trim some weight gained after the injury.

I will say this, Mike's diabetes are serious. He and the staff constantly monitor. He has good days and bad days (where he doesn't have energy or feel well). That's part of the reason he can have some bad games or some really bad starts to games. But he is very talented and cares at a high level. I hope he stays healthy, because he can help Illinois a lot and make good money after he leaves Illinois.

Assuming a healthy Thorne and Abrams, what is the ceiling for this team? Does John Groce save his job with a tournament appearance?

I feel like we've said this the last two years as well, but (if Nunn returns) this is John Groce's deepest roster yet. They just need health this time around. But they are one of the older teams in the country. They could have six seniors (including two sixth-year seniors), two third-year players and three second-year players with just one freshman.

C - Thorne SR // Morgan SR // Finke R-SO

PF - Black R-SO // Finke R-SO // Nichols R-FR

SF - Hill SR // Williams SO // Nichols R-FR

SG - (Nunn - SR???) // Coleman-Lands SO // Jordan SO

PG - Abrams SR // Lucas FR // Tate SR

With or  without Nunn, that roster should make the NCAA Tournament. You have one of the deepest, most experienced front courts in the Big Ten that will be vastly improved on the glass with the (hopefully healthy) returns of Thorne and Black.


You have a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate (Hill) and one or two guards (JCL and/or Nunn) with the ability to average 12-15 points.

You have point guards ... yes, plural. And the top two -- though both are coming back from serious injuries -- are actually threats to score.

You have long, athletic wings off the bench, especially when Nichols is eligible. FInke returns to his more comfortable stretch four position, and we saw how good he can be during nonconference play last season.

With Nunn and health, this roster can finish top-6 Big Ten which would put them in the  great NCAA Tournament position. Without Nunn and health, this team should still finish top-8 Big Ten and make the NCAA Tournament. If they don't, it's a coaching failure.

What are the expectations for Abrams this year? He has missed two full seasons. I love Tracy, I just don't know what we can expect from him, but I hope for the best.

Great question. You have a player coming off two serious injuries (torn ACL and torn Achilles). I go in with low expectations for Tracy, kind of like I did with Adam Wainwright. But even if he is 75 percent of his 2013-14 self, he's an improvement at point guard. Abrams' best qualities (again assuming health, which we know we can't) are toughness and on-court leadership -- the type he couldn't provide from the bench. Tracy's a fighter and a player everyone respects and looks up to. He improves the Illini's defense at the top of the key and at least is a threat to score (career 26.9 percent from three and gets to the free throw line). He's now the fourth or fifth option on offense, which is the role he should serve -- not the No. 2 option like in 2013-14. If Abrams can give 18-25 mpg, 5-8 ppg and a 1.5 assist-to-turnover, that'd be great.

Is it a matter of when, not if, Cam Thomas is the first QB commitment of the Lovie era?

Illinois offensive coordinator Garrick McGee went to visit Cam Thomas a few weeks ago and loved what he saw (I gave my in-depth scouting report on Thomas; short version: great, smooth athlete with all the passing tools he needs but needs a lot of seasoning). Thomas, who was the best QB athletically at The Opening on Saturday, is a good fit for what McGee wants: strong arm, great athleticism.

Illinois wanted to get Thomas down for another visit and offer him then. But Iowa and Minnesota are starting to really up their interest, so the Illini pulled the trigger now. If Thomas visits soon, be on alert. As you can tell in my video interview below, he's high on the Illini.

1. Have the S&C positions been filled for football?

2. Have any additions been made to the recruiting staff (football)?

1. Yes, Joey Boese came over from Fresno State and is the strength and conditioning coach. Read his bio here.

2. A week ago, I'd heard that Illini director of player personnel Josh Sternquist had interviewed some candidates and had a good idea of some additions. No official word yet on hires though. Illinois is tearing down a wall between the small recruiting office and the players' lounge to create one big recruiting office to make room for  the 15-20 people who will work in the recruiting office, including previous staff holdover Pat Embleton and Nina Baloun.

are there any potential transfers in for BB?

It all depends on Nunn. If he returns, they have no open scholarships. Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews surely would be of interest if a spot does open.

If there is a scholarship opening which way do you expect the coaching staff to go towards the fifth-year point guard or a transfer big that they can develop

With Thorne here, no need for a fifth-year big. If Abrams is back (99 percent sure he will be), there's no need for a fifth-year point guard. If Nunn does not return, Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews (three years of eligibility remaining) should be the target. He's close with D.J. Williams, knows this staff well and would have the chance to start in 2017-18 after Hill and Nunn graduate. He's a former top-50 recruit who can score and Calipari wasn't happy he left.

Will staff make a big push to land Charles Mathews (assuming available Scholly), and if they land him, who would we back-off on in the 2017 class?

If Nunn does not return, I'd expect them to pursue a kid they really wanted in the Class of 2015. Even if he takes up a scholarship in 2017, he's better than most of the Illini's targets in that class (outside of Jordan Goodwin). Plus, a bird in the hand...

They still going to try and get Kipper eligible for start of season?

Yes, but no official word yet on if Nichols will be eligibile to start the season. For those who don't know, Nichols enrolled and went to school at Tulane for a very short period of time and left before practicing or playing there. That cost him a semester of eligibility -- at least by the rule. At worst, Nichols will be eligible after fall semester concludes (mid-December). I tend to think it's a long shot for Illinois, but I thought the same with Mike Thorne Jr.

A couple Jeremy, and I promise I'm not trying to stir the pot...only a little anyway.

First, a few weeks ago in, I think TateLines, Whitman said that he thinks the admissions excuse is blown out of proportion and that UI should be proud of the academic rigor. The question is, have Beckman's merry men finall realized it was a bad excuse?

Illinois academics are tougher than most, yes. And I know others have written at length about how it was a huge impediment the Illinois program. They're entitled to their opinions. Though, I think a lot of that came from Tim Beckman and Alex Golesh -- who came from Toledo, where most kids got in, and saw Illinois' strong academics as a positive. While I agree that this can be hurdle to success, I never thought it was a road block. After all, Stanford, Northwestern and Duke -- just to name a few -- have all had success despite stringent  academic standards.

I liked the way Bill Cubit and now Lovie Smith's staff approach it. Sell the hell out of your strong academics! Recruit a different kind of student-athlete. Maybe you'll miss out  on some guys you really want, but complaining about academic  standards won't get you somewhere. Turn what some saw as lemons into lemonade. Whitman may eventually work admissions to allow a few exceptions, but the Bronze Tablet honoree and owner of a UI law degree is proud of the UI's strong academic , not annoyed by it.

Secondly, Bardo was very vocal about 2 things over the last year, 1) Champaign-Urbana cops being racist and that being Paul's problem and 2) Illinois not hiring any minorities for leadership positions. Has Stephen said anything with regard to the 3 most recent MBKB arrests? Second, has he credited the University for making the bold football hires at the top of the chain?

I haven't talked to Stephen in a while. He loves Illinois and wants the best for the athletic department and university, but he had some experiences and his son seemed to have some experiences that shaped their opinions of the area police. When I asked him what specifically shaped those thoughts, he did not go into detail. I wish he would have to help us understand his outspoken criticism.

I know Stephen was happy about the football hire, as most were, because Lovie is a high-profile, buzzworthy hire and just a good football coach. Ending the stigma at Illinois is only a bonus.

Will K. Vaughn run for 1,200 yards this year?

Yes, assuming health. He's a legit top running back in the Big Ten -- though behind Penn State stud SaQuon Barkley -- and McGee wants to run it, and Lunt needs McGee to run it to be successful. A lot rides on the offensive line, but I think Vaughn will get enough touches that if he runs for 4.0 ypc, he'll get there.

Which Illini football recruit will be the next verbal?

I'll go with Cam Thomas because 1) the Illini were his first offer; 2) he really likes the Illini; and 3) QBs need to reserve their spots early. If Illinois gets him on a visit soon, be on alert. McGee loves him and will push hard for him.


But just to play devil's advocate (and I don't think Cam is this type of kid), some guys really like the attention of recruiting and gaining more offers, so it is possible this goes longer than I think.

Other guys to watch? In-state linebacker Micah Awodiran and in-state defensive end Olalere Oladipo both plan early summer decisions and the Illini are on the very short lists.

Commitments usually follow visits and most out-of-state kids don't visit until the fall.

Wondering what Illini fans are drawn too. What have been the top 3 stories in terms of views this year? With so much going on this year with Lovie, Josh and the like was wondering what was the biggest so far.

Great question to end on.

Just as a generality, basketball stories get more traffic. That's not a surprise given the Illini fan base tends to care much more about basketball. But interest in football has greatly increased greatly since Lovie hire.

The top-10 read stories of 2016

1. Jaylon Tate arrested

2. Illini hire Lovie Smith

3. Should illini recruit Charlie Moore?

4. Illini land legacy recruit Da'Monte Williams

5. Breaking: Nunn out vs. MSU

6. Lovie's Illini staff taking shape

7. Illini Football Recruiting HQ: Signing Day Coverage

8. Illini making moves in the Charlie Moore Race

9. EYBL: Jeremiah Tilmon interview

10. Javon Pickett commits to Illini

- Many of the next few stories were about Lovie

Illini Inquirer Top Stories