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Is Shaka The Smart Choice For Illini? [UPDATE]

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Mar 21, 2012 5:20PM

With Bruce Weber shown the door following a disappointing season, the University of Illinois is seeking a new head coach to return the Fighting Illini to national prominence.

Atop their wish list is Shaka Smart, who led the Virginia Commonwealth men's team to the Final Four last season from an 11th seed, and who upset 5th seed Wichita St. before falling to 4th seed Indiana by two points in the second round this year.

Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas is making a strong push to land the VCU coach. But David Haugh asks if Shaka is the smart choice? He's proven that he can win against college basketball's elite, even with the lesser talent he can recruit to a "mid-major" program. But can he handle recruiting in the Midwest, and more specifically in Chicago? Chicago has been a tough place to recruit in recent years because of "players’ entourages, academic realities and its tradition of being an open city that’s recruited by schools near and far."

Even Smart himself has grave concerns over navigating the city's high school basketball landscape, according to a Division I coach familiar with the search. CBS Sports reports that Smart intends to remain with the Rams "unless something drastic changes in the next 24 hours.'' This report alluded to two sources describing reservations Smart expressed specifically over recruiting Chicago.

So while the Illini want Smart, it's beginning to sound like the feeling isn't mutual. And he just might be the one who has a better feel for the realities of the job. So where to next for the Thomas?

One possibility could be Duke assistant coach Chris Collins, son of NBA head coach Doug Collins. The younger Collins grew up in Northbrook, and starred at Glenbrook North where he was named Mr. Basketball for Illinois in 1996 before moving on to Duke. Following his playing days, Collins has served on coach Mike Krzyzewski's staff for almost 12 years. An excellent recruiter who has had success getting players nationwide, he's already shown a knack for luring top talent from the area to Duke so one would think he could do the same for Illinois.

Of course, with Northwestern's Bill Carmody also rumored to be on the way out the door, the Wildcats position might be a more attractive one to Collins. Also a Big Ten coaching job, Collins would be able to build a program more in the mold of Duke's than he likely could at Illinois. Or Collins might simply wait for Coach K to retire and hope to assume the head coaching mantle for the Blue Devils.

Which could leave the Illini falling back to plans C, D or E.

[Update]: Sun-Times reporter Herb Gould is reporting that Smart is not coming to Illinois, turning down an offer of at least $2.5 million to relocate to Champaign.