Illinois notebook: Zook has limited access to recruits, coaches
A recruiting specialist, Illinois football coach Ron Zook dislikes NCAA rules that don't allow head football coaches to recruit during the busy month of May. While seven members of the coaching staff can be off campus at the same time, the head coach can't be one of them.
The rule, which took affect last season, also restricts coaches from leaving campus for clinics. Therefore, Zook has limited access to recruits and their coaches.
"It's hard to get to know kids when you can only see them one time,'' Zook said before the Illini tour stop Monday. "They have to come to your campus. You can't go to them, and they can go to only so many places. I want to be able to see them and get around them.''
Zook favors official recruiting visits in May and an early signing period. Like basketball, players are making decisions earlier. If the only time you can spend with a player is when he makes an unofficial visit, Zook said, then it's a losing battle. Although he keeps abreast of recruiting through calls to assistant coaches on the road and by taking calls from prospective recruits, Zook uses much of his time meeting with current Illini.
"I talked to them about what we expect, what they have to do,'' Zook said. "I keep up on what they have to do academically.''
- Cornerbacks Miami Thomas (shoulder) and Patrick Nixon-Youman (abdominal tear), and safety Donsay Hardeman (neck) apparently will be ready for preseason camp, Zook said.
- Zook and his coaching staff will hold a one-day camp in Chicago and a junior high school camp in Champaign. For more details, go to fightingillini.com.
- In a mock 2010 NFL draft by Foxsports.com, Illini junior wide receiver Arrelious Benn went with the No. 11 pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Illinois assistant Wayne McClain, who appeared at the East Peoria event with Zook, spoke with former Illinois guard Jamar Smith after Southern Indiana coach Rick Herdes resigned Friday.
The school is investigating irregularities under Herdes, a former assistant at Southern Indiana under Bruce Pearl. Smith averaged 18.5 points per game after joining the Division II program for the spring semester. He was the team's high scorer in the final eight games.
"I had a long conversation with him,'' McClain said. "He's fine. They tell him they're going to bring in somebody special.''
According to McClain, the four-man incoming freshman class will force the older players to be accountable.
"We got some better players who are going to push the older players,'' he said.
Even though guard Chester Frazier's transition from the court to a role of student assistant coach is nearly a done deal, the Illini must find leadership. Center Mike Tisdale, a junior this fall, and senior-to-be Dominique Keller are the leading candidates, McClain said.
Former Illinois basketball star Brian Cook, a Houston Rockets forward and a six-year NBA veteran, continues to give back to his hometown. Cook donated the money for new boys basketball uniforms for the seventh- and eighth-grade teams at Lincoln Junior High School. Between the time coach Don Aeilts started the process and received the check, it took only two weeks.
"I'm not really surprised that he was willing to help out,'' Aeilts said. "That's part of his character. He's a done a pretty good job of doing what he can to help out in the community.''
Cook will hold a basketball camp in Champaign on Aug. 3-6 at the university's Activities and Recreation Center (formerly IMPE). The camp is open to boys and girls ages 6 to 15 and costs $125. For more information, go to www.briancook camps.com. His charity golf outing at Lake of the Woods Golf Course in Mahomet on Aug. 7. Register at www.briancookgolf.com.
The biggest change this season for the Illinois baseball team came from a young pitching staff. Illinois carried a 4.83 earned-run average into the weekend series against Ohio State -- a stark improvement from last season's 7.50 ERA -- but Illinois allowed 22 runs in two losses after winning Friday.
Illinois (32-16 overall, 15-4 in the Big Ten) is tied with Ohio State (26-14, 15-6) for second in the Big Ten, one-half game behind Minnesota (33-14, 15-5).
The Illini finish the regular season at sixth-place Purdue (21-23, 8-11) with a three-game series that starts Thursday and concludes Saturday. Ohio State hosts Iowa, the 10th-place team in the league, while Minnesota goes to ninth-place Penn State.
When Illinois (29-15 overall, 12-7 in the Big Ten) heads into regional play at Missouri in the NCAA Tournament Friday, the Illini split games against the other two teams in the four-team, double-elimination bracket but have never played Missouri (45-9). Earlier this season, Illinois lost 6-2 to DePaul (37-12) and scored a 4-0 win over Bradley (25-26). Illinois earned a bid for the first time since 2004, when the Illini advanced to the Sweet 16.
In other news
Incoming freshman Destiny Williams was chosen to compete for the national under-19 basketball team that will compete in the World Championships. The team trials begin Thursday in Colorado Springs, Colo. The United States looks to win its third straight gold medal in Bangkok, Thailand, in early August.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.