As college basketball has become consumed by the corruption and bribery scandal that led to 10 arrests earlier in the week, Illinois coach Brad Underwood defended the sport Saturday morning before the Illini’s first day of practice.
“I think we’ve got the greatest sport in college basketball,” Underwood said. “I think there’s problems or perceived problems in a lot of different sports. I still think we’ve got the greatest sport going. Maybe there’s a speed bump along the way and some changes need to occur but … basketball is strong. These players are showing up not just at our university but every university and working their tails off to have a great season. I think that’s what the focus in this gym is on. We’ll see where the rest of it goes.”
Underwood’s former Oklahoma State assistant Lamont Evans was one of four college basketball assistants arrested as the result of an FBI operation that uncovered coaches allegedly accepting bribes to try to steer elite recruits to a financial adviser and use funds to pay recruits. Evans served during Underwood’s one season last year with the Cowboys and he was retained by current coach Mike Boynton.
The allegations date back to Evans’ time on South Carolina’s staff, a job he left to work under Underwood at Oklahoma State. Underwood was not named in the federal indictments.
Underwood declined Saturday to elaborate beyond the statement he released on Wednesday when he called the news a “surprise.”
“There’s nothing more I’m going to stay about that,” he said before Saturday’s practice. “We’re here to start practice and move on. I think my statement said enough.”
Asked how he thought the scandal might affect college basketball, Underwood said he was unsure.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” he said. “I think something that happened happened and surprised people. I don’t know. I think some things came to light that maybe surprised everybody.”
Freshman quarterback Cameron Thomas has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of unspecified team rules, a team spokesman said.
Thomas has not played this season. He was not dressed for the team’s 28-6 loss to Nebraska on Friday night.
His absence leaves Illinois with only two scholarship quarterbacks in Chayce Crouch and Jeff George Jr. Walk-on redshirt freshman Cam Miller would be third on the depth chart.
Crouch has struggled this season and played poorly against the Cornhuskers, completing only 9 of 15 passes for 99 yards.
Freshman guard Da’Monte Williams, who missed much of his senior season at Peoria Manual with an ACL tear, is not quite 100 percent healthy but getting close, Underwood said. Junior forward Leron Black is limited in practice for a “few days” due to elbow surgery.