Illini AD Josh Whitman on Kendrick Nunn discipline: 'There's a spectrum of options on the table'

Illini athletics director Josh Whitman talked with IlliniInquirer.com publisher Jeremy Werner about his impending Kendrick Nunn decision

This spring has been a bit nuts for you. You've been here for three months and it feels like you've had a lot of good on your plate and a lot of challenges on your plate that we'll get into, but what have these three months been like with all of that?

Whitman: "Well, probably how it's been perceived from the outside. It's been a lot of really great changes obviously. We have a lot of enthusiasm everywhere we go. I was just in Danville today and had a great chance to visit with their rotary over there. Everywhere we go, it's a full room with a lot of smiling faces, a lot of enthusiasm. That's been exciting for me. This is a place I care a lot about and to see that kind of passion from our fans has been incredibly rewarding for me and bodes really well for the success of our program. But we've had our challenges. That's true no matter where you are. We've had challenges everywhere else I've been and it's part of the thrill of the job, if you will. If it was all going to be even and easy, it wouldn't be that exciting. The chance to come in and confront some of those challenges head on and try to deal with them as effectively as we can and put us in a better position going forward is one of the things that gets me out of bed every day."

Let's address the elephant in the room. Obviously we're getting some resolution to these basketball court cases legally, and you guys are starting to address them. You addressed Leron Black with a six-game suspension. Jaylon Tate is reinstated to the team. Can you tell us how you've gone about these processes?

Whitman: "You look at each case individually. I think that's important. There is no cookie-cutter approach to these situations. They're real people at the center of these cases, and they're students and athletes and people we care about. So we want to be sure that as these situations arise, we're handling them as educators, we're using them as opportunities for growth and development for our students. You sit down and you gather as much information as you can. You talk with all the different agencies that are involved, whether it is the police or the student conduct investigators and you try to get a good sense of what happened and then you talk with the coaching staff and you try to think about the long-term implications of the decisions you're going to make, both for the student, the program and ultimately put a process forward that makes the most sense."

When that happens, what is a coach's role? Like with Leron Black and John Groce. It's his recruit. Leron makes John's job a lot easier. What is a coach's role in regards to the final decision on that?

Whitman: "I think it's very much a collaborative process. John and I on each of these cases have sat down and talked at length about what the best outcome would be. And I think generally speaking, I try to let the coaches guide a lot of that. I think it's their team. It's their student-athletes. I think my role is to be kind of the objective observer and kind of say, 'OK, that makes sense,' or 'That doesn't.' I have to be a little bit of the arbiter because they have a vested interest of having a successful program, and you can't divorce yourself from that and say, 'OK, this person is going to give me the best chance of having a good team.' So I have to be the person that stands there and says, 'OK, that makes sense to me and that doesn't' and be the one to bring a little objectivity to it. But at the end of the day, it's a collaborative process and we both want to feel comfortable with the ultimate decision that we make."

Kendrick Nunn's case from the outside looking in seems really almost murky to us from the outside. We don't know everything. We don't know exactly what happened. Do you know what happened? Do you have a great idea of that? This case just seems a little bit more murky than the other two.

Whitman: "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. 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."

You told Loren Tate of The News-Gazette a few weeks ago that domestic violence is intolerable. Are those definitions the common sense definitions or are they the legal ones? To me, that means if he struck a woman intolerable means he may be dismissed from the team. Is it that simple?

Whitman: "Well, nothing's ever that simple. But I think certainly I'm not going to sit here and play attorney and say, 'Well, this is what I meant by domestic violence,' or 'This is what I meant by intolerable.' I think there's a spectrum of options on the table. One of them certainly is dismissal from the team. That is within the realm of possibility and then working its all the way back to various types of suspension and then who knows. We're not going to parse words on these things. That's generally not my MO."

My reaction to this is this has to weigh heavily on you. You want to be fair to the kid. You want to make sure the allegations are true or not, if you can get all that information. That's got to be very difficult. But you also want to set the tone of your athletic department. How much has Nunn's specific case weighed on you given the ramifications of it?

Whitman: "A lot. A lot. I know it has on John Groce as well. It's something that takes a lot of your time. It takes a lot of your thought process. You do. You want to be fair to the person involved, but you also understand you have a program and that you have to do what's best for that program as well, not only in the short- but the long-term. It is. It's something that occupies a lot of your waking time. I'm looking forward at some point to bringing it to resolution so we can put it behind us and move forward."

Do you know have a timeline for that? Do you have an idea for when you might be able to announce that?

Whitman: "I really don't..."

Do you have to go through the university as well?

Whitman: "...There is a university conduct process that's ongoing, so we want to be sensitive to that as well and the implications that that could have on our process as well. So there are some moving parts here and we need to try and bring all those together at the right time. But it's hard to say exactly when that time might be."


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