The college basketball coaching carousel has been in full throttle this week. Rumors involving the Illinois Fighting Illini have been swirling about non-stop, including one potentially massive development regarding Virginia’s Tony Bennett.
There’s been some actual news, too! Washington finally cut ties with Lorenzo Romar after 15 years on the job, and today, Indiana strategically fired Tom Crean just moments before the NCAA Tournament began.
Missouri also grabbed headlines by hiring Cuonzo Martin to a reported seven-year, $21 million contract. Martin, of course, is already in the process of putting together his new coaching staff. One name that seems poised to join the Tigers is former Washington assistant Michael Porter Sr., who just happens to be the father of Huskies commit and top-five recruit Michael Porter Jr. (MO).
According to a source, Illinois interim head coach Jamall Walker is another candidate that Martin has targeted for a similar role, and Martin has already reached out to gauge his interest in joining the Tigers this offseason.
Walker was elevated to his current role in Champaign following the dismissal of John Groce; he’s already led the program to a 82-57 win over Valparaiso in the first round of the NIT.
This is significant news for a few recruiting-related reasons.
First and foremost, Walker acted as the lead recruiter during Illinois’ pursuit of five-star big man Jeremiah Tilmon (IL). While Tilmon has technically signed a letter of intent to play for the Fighting Illini, those written agreements realistically don’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things.
In the event Walker leaves for Missouri, there’d be very little stopping him from re-recruiting the East St. Louis native. Moreover, Walker’s downstate connections are being utilized in the pursuit of other priority targets like four-star guard Mark Smith (IL). It’s fair to say that as Walker goes, so too does the majority of the 2017 recruiting class.
Josh Whitman and Illinois may need to act quickly upon completion of their season, assuming they want Walker to remain on the basketball staff.
While the next head coach will very likely be encouraged to keep Jamall in the fold, it’s hard to project anything with the position still open and Walker fielding other offers.