New Illini football coach making good impression

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New Illini football coach making good impression

From all indications, new Illinois football coach Tim Beckman appears to be doing most of the right things as he seeks to build firm relationships with high school coaches and media throughout the state and attract a class of prized recruits that will help to turn around the Illini program.

"He is very enthusiastic and personable, a high-energy guy who will do well in recruiting," said Chicago-based recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network, who recently had lunch with Beckman.

"He has to establish himself in recruiting. He must make the transition from the MAC to the Big 10, where recruiting is much more intense and he is dealing with elite players, some prima donnas. He is very knowledgeable. He wants to get things going at Illinois.

"He has a game plan and a young staff that is hungry and will go after it. Personality, aggressiveness and perseverance is what recruiting is all about. It seems like he has all the tools. Now he has to sell the public. Illinois has got to get off to a good start to convince kids that the program is heading in the right direction."

For openers, Beckman has announced the highest payroll ever for an Illinois football staff, a combined 2.3 million for nine assistants, including 400,000 each for offensive coordinators Billy Gonzales and Chris Beatty and defensive coordinator Tim Banks.

"That says they mean business, that they will pay as much as it takes to get a winning program and qualified coaches who have had a good track record," Lemming said.

"You have to pay now. It isn't as much as they pay coaches in the SEC. But it's a different game in the SEC. They have helped other conferences. They keep one-upping each other and other schools in other conferences benefit. There is lots of money to go around in college football."

But Lemming is critical of schools, including Illinois, that invite 100 or more high school prospects to attend Junior Day on campus. Beckman invited 100 to an event in February and another 110 in March.

"The proper way to do it is never to have big groups on one weekend, not more than 30," Lemming said. "You don't have enough people to show special attention to every player. With 100 on campus, 70 will walk away disappointed that they didn't get special attention. It usually turns out badly for the schools.

"Instead, they should invite 20 to 30 players and have only one Junior Day a month. Make it a special weekend. It is important to have an Illinois Day for Illinois players, an Indiana Day for Indiana players and a St. Louis Day for St. Louis players. Don't invite the same kids back each time. The purpose is to get each kid acclimated to the school and learn more about the staff and academics."

At Illinois' most recent Junior Day, it was apparent that Beckman is bringing in some of the most promising prospects in the Midwest, big-timers who are on their way to receiving multiple scholarship offers. And if he fills out his first recruiting class with four-star players from Ohio, Indiana, Missouri and Michigan, it won't matter if he doesn't get everybody he wants from Illinois.

"If he has a great class of out-of-state guys, it all comes down to getting guys who will help you win," Lemming said. "You've got to try to get some in-state guys. But it more important to get great players, no matter where they are from. Everyone will try to get some of the best players in Illinois. It's a good class in 2013."

Three of the top 10 players in the class of 2013 in Illinois already have spurned Beckman's offers. Offensive linemen Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis and Logan Tuley-Tillman of Peoria Manual have committed to Michigan and offensive lineman Colin McGovern of Lincoln-Way West has committed to Notre Dame.

One of the top prospects in Ohio, quarterback Malik Zaire of Kettering, chose Notre Dame over a dozen other suitors, including Illinois, Alabama, Nebraska, Northwestern, Arizona and Wisconsin.

Beckman still is hoping to land running back Ty Isaac of Joliet Catholic, offensive linemen Ethan Pocic of Lemont, Colin McGovern of Lincoln-Way West and Colin Goebel of Naperville North, wide receiver LaQuon Treadwell of Crete-Monee, quarterbacks Matt Alviti of Maine South and Aaron Bailey of Bolingbrook, defensive lineman Josh Augusta of Peoria Central and defensive end Ruben Dunbar of Glenbard West.

Pocic and defensive tackler Merrick Jackson of Belleville Althoff were two of the leading Illinois products on campus last weekend. They were joined by defensive back Dillan Cazley of Charleston, who is Illinois' first commitment in the class of 2013.

"Nobody knew about Cazley," Lemming admitted. "But Illinois liked him on film and offered. They see a lot of good potential in him."

Pocic is one of the Top 10 offensive linemen in the nation, according to Lemming. He is in a class with Bosch, Tuley-Tillman and McGovern as the best offensive linemen in Illinois. "The senior season will show who is the best," Lemming said.

Jackson, a 6-foot-2, 320-pounder, has offers from Illinois, Iowa and Missouri and also has interest from Kansas State.

Meanwhile, Beckman attracted an outstanding class of promising prospects from Indiana, Ohio and Missouri. Here is a look at some of them:

Jaylon Smith of Fort Wayne, Indiana, a 6-foot-3, 202-pound linebacker, is the No. 1 player in Indiana. His brother is a running back at Ohio State.
He has 18 offers, including Illinois, Florida, Florida State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan State, USC, Oklahoma and Michigan. According to Lemming, Notre Dame and Ohio State have an edge.

Tim Kimbrough of Indianapolis, Indiana, a 6-foot-1, 216-pound linebacker, has 17 offers, including Illinois, Florida, Arkansas, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State. He is one of the top three players in Indiana and plays for the top-rated program in Indiana.

John Kenny of Carmel, Indiana, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound linebacker, has offers from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Arizona and Boise State. It is a good year for linebackers in Indiana. Four of the top six prospects in the state are linebackers.

Dennis Finley of Detroit, Michigan, a 6-foot-6, 285-pound offensive lineman, is tall and athletic and has great potential. He has offers from Illinois, Cincinnati, Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan.

Alonzo Saxton, a 5-foot-11, 165-pound cornerback from Columbus, Ohio, has offers from Illinois and Toledo.

Darian Hicks of Solon, Ohio, a 5-foot-10, 172-pound cornerback, is one of the leading prospects in the Cleveland area. He has offers from Illinois, Michigan State, Boston College, Cincinnati and Akron.

Jamone Boyd of Kansas City, Missouri, a 6-foot-4, 245-pound defensive end, is one of the top five players in the Kansas City area. He has offers from Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State.

Nick Ramirez of Lees Summit, Missouri, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound linebacker, is one of the top five prospects in the Kansas City area. He has offers from Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Purdue.

Marcus Bell of Westerville, Ohio, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound quarterback, has offers from Illinois, Minnesota, Northern Illinois, Arizona State, Toledo and Bowling Green.

Hayden Biegel of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound offensive tackle, has offers from Illinois and South Dakota. His brother was the best player in Wisconsin last year and signed with Wisconsin. His father was an All-American.

Kyle Meadows of West Chester, Ohio, a 6-foot-5, 270-pound offensive tackle, has offers from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Louisville, Toledo and Pittsburgh. Florida State also is interested.

Jarrod Clements of Dayton, Ohio, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound defensive end, has offers from Illinois, Louisville, Tennessee and Toledo.

Pat Summitt used the sport to empower women at Tennessee and beyond

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Pat Summitt used the sport to empower women at Tennessee and beyond

Needing yet another men's basketball coach, Tennessee officials turned to the one person they thought would be perfect to take over the Volunteers program.

Pat Summitt said no.

She wasn't interested in the job in 1994 after Wade Houston was forced out, and she turned it down again when Jerry Green quit in March 2001. A Tennessee governor once joked he wouldn't have his job if Summitt ever wanted to run her home state.

Breaking the glass ceiling in the men's game, political office, that wasn't Summitt's motivation. She had the only job she ever really wanted.

"I want to keep doing the right things for women all the time," Summitt said in June 2011 after being inducted into her fifth Hall of Fame.

Summitt died Tuesday morning at age 64.

The woman who grew up playing basketball in a Tennessee barn loft against her brothers, and started coaching only a couple years after Title IX was invoked, spent her life working to make women's basketball the equal of the men's game. In the process, Patricia Sue Head

Summitt stood amongst the best coaches in any sport when she retired in April 2012 with more victories (1,098) than any other NCAA coach and second only to John Wooden with eight national championships.

Summitt used the sport and her demand for excellence to empower women and help them believe they can achieve anything, taking no backseat to anyone.

When I moved to Tennessee in 1976, girls played six-on-six, half-court basketball designed to protect them from getting hurt. Summitt, who took her Lady Vols to four AIAW Final Fours, refused to recruit Tennessee players. Tennessee high schools switched to five-on-five rules starting with the 1979-80 season.

The NCAA finally started running a national postseason tournament for the women in 1982. At the time, Summitt was known for having "corn-fed chicks" on her roster, big and strong but not talented enough to win national titles. After she won her first national title in 1987 in her eighth Final Four either in the AIAW or NCAA, she said, "Well, the monkey's off my back."

Back then only a student ID was needed to attend a women's game. And there was no demand for the results of those games. After graduating from Tennessee, I helped the sports writers by bringing notes from an NCAA Tournament game back to the office for someone else to write up. There was no urgency since there was no reader demand.

So Summitt worked to make it impossible to ignore her team or the women's game.

By January 1993, so many people wanted to watch then-No. 2 Tennessee visit top-ranked Vanderbilt that the contest became the first Southeastern Conference women's game to sell out in advance. With children under 6 allowed in free, having a ticket didn't guarantee getting through the door; at least 1,000 were turned away at the door - including Vanderbilt's chancellor.

The Lady Vols won 73-68, a game I covered in my first year as a sports writer for The Associated Press in Nashville.

"This was the biggest game in women's basketball, and that's what I've been waiting 19 years to see," Summitt said. "I'm glad I stayed around to see it."

Summitt scheduled opponents anywhere and everywhere, barnstorming the country to introduce people to women's basketball. Tennessee played Arizona State in 2000 in the first women's outdoor game played at then-Bank One Ballpark, drew the largest crowd ever to a regional championship in March 1998 when 14,848 packed Memorial Gym in Nashville with Tennessee trying to finish off the NCAA's first three-peat and helped Louisville set a Big East record christening the KFC Yum! Center in 2010.

The Lady Vols became must-see TV in the sport as Summitt put the women's game on the national stage with six national titles in the span of 12 years.

I remember when I got real up-close look at what drove Summitt.

Assigned to cover Summitt as part of AP's annual college basketball preview package in the fall of 1998, I spent nearly 30 minutes with the coach in her office.

Door closed, Summitt gave a glimpse of that famous stay-away stare. With undivided attention now on me, she wanted to know if I had talked with her mother, Hazel, for the story. She then showed me the engaging side, laughing when asked about a stretch of play during the 1998 title game that resembled the Showtime Lakers, beaming while reflecting on how well her Lady Vols showed women could play the game.

The Lady Vols lost 69-63 to Duke that season in the East Regional. The next day I left a message at Summitt's house and late that afternoon, she called back to talk about more life lessons and basketball.

"It's a game, and winning and losing both can be great ways to teach kids how to get ready for the real world," said Summitt, who had to stop the interview because her mother had given son, Tyler, a gift. She explained he would have to save some of that cash before buying something for himself. Then she resumed the conversation about the game.

That was Pat Summitt: Hoops and family.

She held everyone to the exacting standards she learned from her father cutting tobacco and helping bale hay on the family farm. Tennessee and Connecticut was the biggest draw in women's basketball with Geno Auriemma and his Huskies handing Summitt her lone title game loss in 1995. But Summitt canceled the series in 2007 and refused to say why other than, "Geno knows."

Summitt ended a nine-year championship drought with her seventh national title in 2007 followed by the eighth in 2008. She became the first NCAA coach to win 1,000 games Feb. 5, 2009, and received a new contract that boosted her annual salary to $1.4 million - far removed from the $8,900 of her first season.

She never got to the 40th season in that contract, her career cruelly and prematurely ended by early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. She finished 1,098-208 with 18 Final Fours, at the time tying the men of UCLA and North Carolina for the most by any college basketball program.

Not that numbers define Summitt, who once said, "Records are made to be broken."

Yes, all marks fade, but no one will eclipse Summitt's contributions to women's basketball.

Illini starting pitcher Cody Sedlock named Big Ten Pitcher of the Year

Illini starting pitcher Cody Sedlock named Big Ten Pitcher of the Year

University of Illinois starting pitcher Cody Sedlock was named the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year on Tuesday.

The junior from Sherrard, Ill., led the conference in strikeouts (116) and innings pitched (101.1).

He is the fifth Illini pitcher to take home the award, following Tyler Jay who was given the honor last year — and later went on to be picked No. 6 overall by the Minnesota Twins in the 2015 MLB draft. It's the second time in program history that an Illini pitcher has won the award in back-to-back seasons.

The right-hander Sedlock is projected by many to be a first-round selection in the upcoming MLB draft on June 9.

Sheryl Swoopes under investigation for coaching practices at Loyola

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Sheryl Swoopes under investigation for coaching practices at Loyola

Loyola women's basketball coach Sheryl Swoopes is under investigation for coaching practices at the university.

The investigation was sparked after 10 of the team's 12 players have transferred or have requested releases — nine having been recruited by Swoopes. Loyola began an "independent and comprehensive university investigation" on April 15.

According to Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune, five former players have stated that Swoopes' "unusual coaching style" was the reason behind their exits.

Swoopes has declined to comment on any allegations, according to Ryan. Loyola released the following statement on Thursday:

"Until the investigation is completed, the athletics department and women's basketball coaching staff are conducting business as usual as we prepare for the 2016-2017 season."

Swoopes is listed as one of the greatest WNBA players of all-time. She was hired to coach Loyola's women's basketball team in 2013.

Click here to read the full story from the Chicago Tribune.