Expected to lead Illini this season, Smith instead dismissed from team

John Supinie

Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber gave junior guard Jamar Smith a second chance but not a third.

Weber announced Smith’s dismissal from the team Thursday evening. The Peoria Richwoods High School graduate, who was convicted of felony driving under the influence last year, appeared in court Wednesday on a motion to revoke his probation.

Champaign police said Smith admitted to drinking three beers before an incident outside a campus bar early Friday morning. As a result, a report was sent to Champaign County state's attorney Julia Reitz.

When convicted in May 2007, Smith served 14 days in Champaign County jail and was given two years probation. He was ordered to abstain from alcohol during the length of the probation.

While the legal system will take more time -- Smith's next court appearance is Sept. 17 -- Weber's decision came quickly.

"Jamar's decision to violate the terms of our personal agreement for his potential return to our basketball program has left me with no other recourse but to rescind that opportunity,'' Weber said in a written statement. "At this time, Jamar and his family need to focus their attention on the issues that have brought Jamar to this point.

"For the good of our program and players, we need to move forward and prepare for the 2008-09 season. While Jamar will always be a part of the Illinois basketball family, I have made the decision that he can no longer be a part of our team. Our entire team and coaching staff are obviously very disappointed he will not be with us.

"We will continue to do everything we can to help him continue his academic career and achieve his goal of graduation.''

Smith would face up to 12 years in prison and a $25,000 fine if Champaign County Judge Richard Klaus revokes the probation.

Smith was unavailable for comment.

Smith, a sharpshooter considered the best player on the floor as the Illini attempt to bounce back from their first losing season in nine years, is now left to piece together a career that appeared on the fast track as an Illini freshman.

The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Smith earned a spot on the all-freshman team in the Big Ten Conference and averaged 8.1 points as a sophomore. Playing again in Division I is a long shot, since Smith sat out last year during a school-imposed redshirt season. Transferring to another Division I program would leave him ineligible to play for one more season, giving him just one more year of eligibility.

A September court date and the possibility of more jail time would also hamper any hope of transferring to a Division I program. He could play in Division II, Division III or NAIA without redshirting.

Illinois expected Smith, sophomore point guard Demetri McCamey and transfer Alex Legion to form a powerful three-guard lineup this winter that would overshadow some of the concerns inside, where the Illini rely upon a junior-college transfer Dominique Keller and underclassmen who were reserves last winter.

Seniors Trent Meacham and Chester Frazier will play more minutes because of Smith's departure, and the Illini figure to have a much tougher time avoiding another long winter.

According to Champaign police, officers were dispatched to the 300 block of East Green Street at 2.30 a.m. Friday on a report of criminal damage to a business. Moments later, officers reported a verbal altercation at Fourth and Green streets, where Smith was located in a crowd.

Upon arrival, police said, officers ordered the crowd to clear the area. Smith and several others continued to return. While being warned by the officer a third time, police noticed a strong odor of alcohol coming from Smith. The officer recalled Smith's probationary status ordering him to refrain from the use of alcohol.

Police then filed the report and forwarded it to Rietz.

Smith didn't play the final eight games of his sophomore season in the 2006-07 school year after a single-car accident left teammate Brian Carlwell in critical condition with a head injury. Smith's car crossed the center line and hit a tree on Feb. 12, 2007, during the early stages of a snowstorm. Rietz said a witness reported the accident.

Smith's blood-alcohol level was .176, more than two times the legal limit for an adult driver. Smith was 19 at the time of the accident. A second felony charge of leaving the scene of a personal injury accident was dropped in the guilty plea.

Carlwell transferred to San Diego State. Now Smith also has left the program.

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.