Illinois' athletic director Josh Whitman has not had an easy start to his career. He came into an athletic department that saw both major programs having become wreckage of what they once were. Almost immediately after fixing the Bill Cubit situation with the homerun hiring of new football coach Lovie Smith, Whitman's next test presented itself. Three of his basketball players were arrested for violent crimes. Leron Black, Kendrick Nunn, and Jaylon Tate were all hit with indefinite suspensions until the court cases ran their courses.
That was the right call. I was one of the myriad people calling for the players and John Groce's heads. The team had become an embarrassment both on and off the court. Black took a plea deal that reduced his knife-brandishing act to a lesser crime. The case against Tate fell apart completely. But Nunn's plea deal still resulted in him admitting that he hit his girlfriend. Nunn had to go.
Josh Whitman's initial quotes about all of this concerned the hell out of me. He specifically mentioned that domestic violence was intolerable. But then Nunn's charge went from domestic abuse to simply battery and I thought the worst was going to come. I thought Illinois would exploit that loophole and find a way to keep Nunn on the team. He's a key player for the Illini and a 6-8 game suspension seemed to be on the horizon.
But Whitman didn't waiver. Look at his statement from today.
"We have made the decision to dismiss Kendrick Nunn from the men's basketball team, effective immediately. 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."
That was very necessary. The only right decision Illinois could have made was the one they did make. And I'm pretty happy about it.
I'm going to be very honest with you: if Nunn's punishment had been anything less than dismissal from the team, I was going to be done with Illinois basketball. Crappy play on the court and missing the tournament for three years in a row is one thing. Allowing someone who hit a woman and openly admitted so in a court of law to continue to represent your school is a completely different beast. No suspension could be long enough to be appropriate. What does that say to the woman he hit? That she's only as valuable as the first 8 games of a basketball season?
No. The second Nunn was found guilty was the second he no longer could be allowed to represent the University of Illinois.