CHAMPAIGN - Illinois dismissed guard Kendrick Nunn on Tuesday.
Nunn was arrested in March and charged with domestic battery for allegedly striking a woman in his apartment. The junior guard plead guilty Wednesday to a battery charge as part of a plea agreement.The two counts of domestic battery were dropped as part of the agreement.
Nunn averaged 15.5 points and five rebounds per game last season for the Illini. He was 12th in the Big Ten in scoring, and he figured to be one of the conference's top returning players next season.
“We have made the decision to dismiss Kendrick Nunn from the men’s basketball team, effective immediately," Illini athletic director Josh Whitman and head coach John Groce said in a joint statement. "We have not reached this decision easily; we care deeply about Kendrick and want him to be successful. But after extensive deliberation, we think it best for our program to reaffirm our core values of trust and respect, to send a strong message about what is acceptable behavior for our student-athletes at the University of Illinois, and to part ways with Kendrick. As it is on college campuses across the country, relationship violence is of significant concern at our University, and we expect Fighting Illini student-athletes to be leaders in promoting healthy, respectful, caring relationships. We wish Kendrick all the best as he prepares for the next chapter of his life.”
Nunn has been sentenced to 18 months of court supervision and 100 hours of community service. He will also have to enroll in an abuse intervention program, write a letter to the victim and pay a $200 fine.
Whitman spoke with IlliniInquirer.com about the decision-making process on Monday.
"You know, it's challenging on a number of fronts, and I don't know that it'd be appropriate for me to get into a lot of details of exactly what those challenges are," Whitman said. "But it does present some interesting dynamics that maybe didn't exist in some of the other cases. We have to work through that and be as thoughtful in our decision-making as we can be. It is a little more complex than some of the others were. Although the other two were unfortunate, there was a simplicity to both of them that isn't present with Kendrick's, so we're working through that."
Whitman made a statement move in prioritizing culture over protecting a player who can help Illinois win games. This move sets a tone for the Illinois basketball program, which has had too many off-the-court incidents, and the athletic department as a whole, that everyone -- even the best players -- will be held accountable. He also followed through on his words that domestic violence is "intolerable." Whitman has struck all the right chords in his three-month tenure.
As for on the court, Illinois obviously loses a key player, a key scorer and a senior. This hurts. But it is not a deathblow. Sophomore guard Jalen Coleman-Lands proved to be a potent scorer and one of the Big Ten's best shooters as a freshman, averaging 10.3 points and shooting 42.2 percent from three while setting the Illini freshman record for made threes in a season (87). Scoring shouldn't be that big of an issue with Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Malcolm Hill returning for his senior season, big man Mike Thorne Jr. receiving a sixth-year of eligibility, Leron Black returning from injury (he will serve a four-game regular-season suspension), junior center Maverick Morgan coming off a breakout junior season and point guard Tracy Abrams likely returning for a sixth year. Michael Finke, D.J. Williams and Aaron Jordan all mature into sophomores as well.
The Illini also add freshman point guard Te'Jon Lucas and Tulane transfer wing Kipper Nichols. Coleman-Lands should fill most of Nunn's playing time with opportunity for Jordan, a 6-foot-5 shooter, to emerge.
The Illini also could play Abrams a bit at the two or Hill at the two and go with bigger lineups with Williams and Nichols, who likely will be eligible in mid-January, at the 3.
The Illini now have one open scholarship. One intriguing possibility would be Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews, who was heavily recruited by the Illini out of St. Rita High School in Chicago.