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‘Basketball must take a back seat’: AD Whitman talks Terrence Shannon Jr. suspension

The athletic director laid out the timeline of Shannon’s case and the next steps.

TCR // Craig Pessman

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Ahead of Illinois’ home game against Fairleigh Dickinson, Athletic Director Josh Whitman held a press conference Friday night to provide a statement on the status of senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr.

A release from the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics on Thursday stated that Shannon was indefinitely suspended after the Douglas Co. (Kansas) District Attorney issued a warrant for his arrest and charged the 23-year-old with rape.

According to Illinois’ press release, DIA and Urbana campus officials say they were aware that the LPD was investigating the incident since late September but did not receive “actionable information” until the arrest warrant was issued on Wednesday.

Shannon was suspended less than a day later.

“Upon receiving triggering elicit information, we will take action,” the Illinois AD said. “There are no questions asked.”

Whitman says that Illinois takes allegations like these very seriously, but added, “At the same time, we respect due process when allegations arise like these that are criminal of nature.”

The AD also made it clear that his comments on the situation may be limited due to legal proceedings.

Timeline of Events (September - Present)

In late September, the DIA learned through the University of Illinois Police Department that Lawrence police were interested in interviewing Shannon.

Whitman said the inquiry was “light on details” and added that the DIA “didn’t know at the time whether Terrence was the subject of the inquiry or whether he might have been a witness.”

The DIA held a conversation with him shortly after.

“Nothing he shared with us triggered any cause for us to institute any discipline or take any action,” Whitman said.

In the days following the inquiry, the DIA learned that Shannon was the subject, but details still remained limited. Whitman said they spoke with the Illinois guard again and saw no cause for action at the time.

It was around this time that TSJ obtained his own legal counsel.

The incident allegedly occurred the weekend of Sept. 8, when Illinois’ football team traveled to Lawrence, Kansas to play the Jayhawks.

Whitman said the DIA learned later (through the UIPD) that Shannon Jr. was involved in inappropriate touching of a woman at a Lawrence bar.

Like the campus’ officials, Whitman and Illinois said they did not know what the charges would be until Wednesday, December 28. Once Whitman was notified, he spoke individually with head coach Brad Underwood and Shannon Jr.

The DIA’s release stated that Shannon “was not in Lawrence on official University business, nor was he a member of the University’s travel party.”

Early Wednesday afternoon, the DIA heard from the UIPD that the Lawrence police were going to issue a warrant for Shannon’s arrest.

This was also the first time the DIA was able to see a police report or receive any concrete details.

“It was also the first time that any of us were made aware that the charge in this case would be rape, as defined under Kansas law,” Whitman said.

Shannon traveled to Lawrence on Thursday with team officials to post bail, and upon arriving back in Champaign later that evening, was formally notified of his suspension.

In a statement sent Thursday to Champaign-area news outlets, an attorney for Shannon said his client “is innocent of these charges, and he intends to take his case to trial.”

Whitman, Underwood and Illinois athletics have known the star guard for two years, but that does not change their response to the incident in the slightest.

TCR // Craig Pessman

“We care deeply about him, but we also recognize that this situation is incredibly serious and the nature of the allegations is serious,” Whitman said, “and we have to treat it as such.”

Shannon, a Chicago native who played his first three collegiate seasons at Texas Tech, has averaged a team-leading 21.7 points per game for No. 11 Illinois (9-2) so far this season.

“We’ve enjoyed watching Terrence this season,” Whitman said. “In moments like this, we have to understand that basketball must take a back seat.

“As a university, we have to take these allegations seriously. That’s what we’re doing.”

Potential Aftermath

The athletics department has its own conduct panel that consists of Whitman and two others — neither of which is Underwood.

The panel has yet to meet since the suspension but will meet soon.

“That immediate suspension should last no more than 48 hours before it’s reviewed by the conduct panel,” Whitman said. “At that point, the conduct panel will make a decision about whether the suspension should stand or not, and the decision in that instance is final.”

In this time of uncertainty, Whitman also emphasizes the importance of sending a message about the athletic program’s approach to sexual misconduct, while also honoring Shannon’s due process rights and presumption of innocence.

“It’s a delicate balance but one that’s very important for us,” Whitman said.

While he said that this legal process could take several months or even up to a year, Whitman could see a situation where Shannon’s playing status can be determined before the process is completed.

“It is possible,” Whitman said. “That’s one of the reasons that we designed the conduct panel the way that we did.

“It was recognizing that legal processes can take a long time. We don’t always have the luxury of that time in making some of our determinations about a student athlete’s status.”

Underwood nor other Illini players were made available to media before Friday’s game against Fairleigh Dickinson.