Chicago Sun-Times

Inside Illinois sports

With Sun-Times sports reporter Herb Gould

A pair of 76s left Mike Small 12-over par on Friday after two rounds at the PGA  at Oak Hill, far from making the cut for the fourth time in his nine PGA appearances.


Even though Small was playing in only his third multi-day event since November, the Illini golf coach left with a bad taste in his mouth


``I brought nothing to the table all week,'' Small said. ``You have to hit the fairways, and I had trouble hitting it inside the ropes, let alone the fairways. This is my third event since November, but no excuses. I have to get better.''


With Illinois coming off an impressive season in which it finished second in the nation, Small, 47, is enjoying great success in his day job. And that's cut into his practice time.


``My [coaching] job has really exploeded,'' he said. ``There are a lot more demands on my time--and of course, there's recruiting. But that's the way it is.''


He's also a 2013 inductee to the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame. But Small left Oak Hill pondering how to be more competitive in future PGAs.


``I don't know,'' he said when asked if he needs to play more competitive golf or simply practice more. ``I just have to figure things out. I need to get better, to spend more time at it and figure some things out.''


That said, he was pleased to be one of four Illini alumni in PGA field along with Steve Stricker, D.A. Points and Luke Guthrie.


``It's neat; we're growing as a program,'' Small said. ``It's fun to be a part of it. I just wish I could have held up my end fo the bargain and played a little better.''


A three-time winner of the PGA's national club-pros championship, Small has missed only one PGA since 2004, and has made the cut three times, most recently in 2011.




It's a date. The Encompass Championship will return to North Shore Country Club on June 16-22, 2014, for the second edition of the Champions Tour's return to the Chicago area, tournament officials confirmed on Tuesday. 

Like this year, the senior tour will play at the Glenview club one week after the U.S. Open.

Craig Stadler edged Fred Couples in the first Encompass Championship on June 23. Tournament officials and Encompass Insurance executives were pleased with a promising turnout for the first senior tournament in Chicago since 2002.

The players also gushed over the well-groomed course, which suits their games and provides good opportunities for spectators.



Golfers who want to try the Champions tour course will have an opportunity to play at North Shore Country Club on Monday, July 15, at the Chicago Lighthouse Mike Ditka Charity Golf Tournament. Da Coach will host Da Event, a benefit for the Chicago Lighthouse, which provides a variety of social services for the blind and visually impaired.

Individual tickets are $600. Foursomes for the benefit are $2,400. Those who want to attend the cocktail reception only may do so for $175.

For tickets and information, visit For questions and information about sponsorship opportunities, contact Special Events at 312-997-3679 or

Here's my initial story on Illinois changing its Chicago radio outlet, followed by the news release from the university confirming the switch, with comments from athletic director Mike Thomas and Illinois' broadcast partners. . . . 


Illini basketball will move to the Score in the fall. Football games will remain on WIND-AM (560) in 2013 and move to WSCR in 2014 after the Score completes its contract to carry Northern Illinois football.

lllinois basketball and football games are moving to WSCR-AM (670), sources said Tuesday.

Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas and his staff, who want to raise the school's profile in Chicago, are excited about the move. Not only will Illini games be carried by a station with a stronger signal, the Score's high profile is expected to be an excellent fit for Illinois' teams.

''This is something ­Illini sports really needed,'' said a source close to the athletic department. ''It's important to have a radio partner comparable to Northwestern on WGN.''

Learfield Sports, which oversees Illinois' broadcast operations, negotiated the deal, which brings Illini sports back to WSCR for the first time since 2004-05.

NOTE: Illinois State forward Jon Ekey is transferring to Illinois. The 6-7 redshirt junior from Independence, Mo., who averaged 6.4 points and 4.2 rebounds for the Redbirds last season, will be eligible to play immediately because he earned his bachelor's degree at ISU. 


And here are excerpts from  the UofI news release. . .  

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (April 17, 2013) - University of Illinois Director of Athletics Mike Thomas announced Wednesday that Learfield Sports' Fighting Illini Sports Properties has secured WSCR 670 The Score as the newest radio affiliate on the statewide Illini Sports Network. 


Terms of the new relationship with CBS Radio-owned 670 AM call for the station to carry Illini basketball starting with the 2013-14 athletic season and football in 2014. The multi-year agreement encompasses football and men's basketball.  Additionally, WSCR 670 The Score will broadcast Illinois' coaches' shows for men's basketball and football concurrent with the respective schedule.  While a new alignment has been formed with 670 AM, long-time radio affiliate WIND-AM 560 will continue to carry football games and coaches' shows throughout 2013 to listeners in the Chicago market.


The Illini Sports Network is overseen by Fighting Illini Sports Properties, the multimedia rights holder for University of Illinois Athletics and a property of Learfield Sports.  The collegiate marketer negotiated the affiliate relationship with the 50,000-watt, all sports clear channel station on behalf of the university.


"This is very exciting news for Fighting Illini fans throughout the Midwest," Thomas said. "The signal strength and coverage area of WSCR 670 The Score is tremendous, giving our fans the very best ability to listen to Fighting Illini football and basketball. WSCR 670 The Score has an outstanding reputation as an all-sports station in the Chicago market, which is a great asset in spreading the Fighting Illini brand through the region. We appreciate our relationship with WIND-AM 560 over the past several years, and through the upcoming football season. It's been a great partnership. We look forward to working with WSCR 670 The Score in any way possible as our agreement begins with the 2013-14 men's basketball season."


Rod Zimmerman, senior vice president and market manager for CBS Radio in Chicago added, "We're extremely proud to carry the Fighting Illini in the coming years, and we look forward to delivering the game action and coaches' shows to our listening audience in the Chicago area and beyond to help extend the brand over the airwaves.  We're also pleased that we're able to continue to clear DePaul Blue Demons' games on WSCR when not conflicting with an Illini game."


"WSCR has incredible reach not just in the Chicago market, but much of the U.S. and parts of Canada, and we're pleased to be able to bring the Fighting Illini to its listening audience," said Fighting Illini Sports Properties' General Manager Chris Andrews. "We wanted to tap into 670's strong signal strength and reputation as an exceptional AM station to reach as many Illinois fans as possible."


            John Groce has received a $200,000 raise that brings his annual salary to $1.6 million and a one-year extension to his contract, which now runs through the 2017-18 season, Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas announced Saturday.

            ``We are pleased to extend John Groce's contract by a year and reward him for an outstanding job in his first season at Illinois,'' Thomas said. ``The arrow is definitely pointing up for Fighting Illini basketball, and this helps solidify the commitment by both the university and John to continue moving the program to a championship level.''

            Groce guided Illinois to a 23-13 record, capped by a victory in the NCAA tournament. The Illini began the season with 12 straight wins, highlighted by the school's first Maui Invitational championship, and rose to No. 10 in the nation. After falling to 2-7 in Big Ten play, the Illini won five straight en route to an 8-10 league finish.

         Seton Hall sophomore Aaron Cosby will transfer to Illinois. The 6-3 guard, who chose Illinois over Missouri, will have two years of eligibility after sitting out the 2013-14. season.

         Cosby, who committed to Illinois during a visit on Friday, confirmed the commitment via Twitter and with multiple media outlets. He had scheduled a visit to Missouri this weekend, but canceled that trip after making his decision.

         ``Coach [John] Groce, the staff, the fans all made me feel at home,'' Cosby told in a text. "It's a great opportunity here, and it fit everything that I was looking for in my new situation. It was tough because I respect [coach Frank] Haith and what he's doing at Missouri. I just felt Illinois is right for me.''

         Cosby 12.6 points while starting 58 games during his two seasons at Seton Hall. A 42.6 percent shooter, including 40 percent on three-point shots, Cosby plays both guard positions. He's interested in improving his point guard/ball-handling skills, areas where Groce has a strong reputation.

In case you couldn't find it online (I couldn't), my little remembrance of Roger Ebert. Great newspaperman and great man. And a Champaign guy. . .

A humble soul, Roger was always one of the guys

ery sad day, to lose Roger Ebert, a great Chicago newspaperman and a
 warm, gentle soul.

As big as Roger got -- and he was very big, thanks to his television show with Gene Siskel -- he was very content delving into movies and being one of us.

A couple of years after the show had become a hit, a few of us went to Uno's or Due's for pizza after work. People kept coming up to Roger, for an autograph
 or to shake hands, and he found that amusing.

''I win a Pulitzer Prize and nobody knows who I am,'' he said. ''I go on TV a few times and I'm a celebrity.''

Occasionally, when the Sun-Times softball team was solving the world's problems in Billy Goat's after a game, Roger and Gene would be there and join us. Our fearless softball leader, Royko, considered himself an expert on movies. And so did many of us, especially after a few beers.

Mike and Roger had been drinking buddies when Roger first came to Chicago, but Roger had quit drinking by the time I met him in the mid-'70s.

''There ought to be a law against movies that don't have happy endings,'' Royko said, and Gene and Roger sat there rolling their eyes.

''Best Western,'' Mike said. ''The Magnificent Seven.''

''Derivative,'' Roger said. ''A copy of 'The Seven Samurai.' Only Kurosawa did it much better.''

''Better than Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen? Nonsense!'' Royko said, although he used words a little stronger.

From there, Gene Siskel tried to debate the point, but he was unable to get anywhere against an entire softball team.

Roger just sat there bemused, taking in the scene.

One Saturday night, I gave Roger a ride home from a party. He asked me to stop at the news stand at Halsted and Fullerton so he could pick up an early edition of the Sunday paper. He asked me if I wanted a paper and I said, No I like to wait till Sunday morning, because I like the latest sports stories.

He got me one, anyway.

Thanks, Roger. We miss you. Already.

       It's understandable that there's a good vibe around Illinois basketball. Its NCAA win over Colorado equalled the school's Big Dance win total for the previous six years, a big reason John Groce replaced Bruce Weber.

         But now the work begins to improve on this year, when Illinois' roller-coaster 23-13 season ended with a tough loss to Miami in Austin, Tex.

         ``We're excited,'' Groce said Tuesday. ``The momentum and buzz around our program is not something I take for granted. The players and staff deserve a lot of credit. We still have a long way to go, but I love the direction we're headed. We're just going to keep grinding. As I say to the players, keep swinging that hammer every day, keep getting better every day. Because that's what we can control.''

         For Groce and his staff, that means keeping an unblinking eye out for possible roster additions. Only four players who saw significant minutes return, starters Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu, plus Joseph Bertrand and Myke Henry. Those four, plus Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice, are the projected starters. Five promising freshmen all will be given opportunities to earn roles, Groce said.

         With three Weber-recruited players transferring out, Groce has three scholarships, and he sounds like he's pretty much decided to use at least one of those very soon.

         ``What are the chances I'll use at least one? Very strong,'' Groce said, adding that he's uncertain which direction he'll go.

         It could be a fifth-year grad student who can play right away, as Sam McLaurin did this season, a traditional high-school recruit or anything in between.

         ``All options [are open], to be honest,'' Groce said. ``Every possible scenario you can imagine. Right now it's more about us trying to find the right fit for our program.''

         One player on the radar is 6-3 guard Aaron Cosby, who's transferring from Seton Hall and reportedly has narrowed his choices to Illinois or Missouri. A Louisville, Ky., native, Cosby is an excellent shooter whom Groce tried to sign when Groce was at Ohio. Cosby would need to sit out a year, and would have two years of eligibility after that.

         Rice, a home-grown 6-4 guard from Champaign Centennial, has made the most of his transfer season in the weight room and classroom as well as on the practice court, Groce said.

         ``He can play a big role,'' the coach said, ``because he has the ability to affect game in so many areas. He rebound, he can defend, he's a great athlete, he's physically strong, he can score. He's very versatile. On a given night, if his shot's not going, he can get you on the glass, and be a dominant defender out there. We expect a lot out of him. He expects a lot out of himself. He has a very bright future.''

         Illinois' top-25 recruiting class also will have a big impact, one way or another, on the team next year. The group includes Malcolm Hill, a 6-5 wing from Belleville; two guards from Simeon, Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate; athletic 6-9 forward Austin Colbert, from New Jersey, and 6-10, 240-pound true center Maverick Morgan, from Ohio.

         ``Right now they're all in play,'' Groce said. ``They have to go out and earn it. But we'll let those guys battle for [playing opportunities].''

         Groce also has lost a staffer. Brandon Miller, who was a special assistant to Groce, is returning to Butler, his alma mater, as an assistant coach.

            Just so it's clear: There should be nothing disturbing about the announcement Friday that three Illini players are transferring, rather than languishing on the bench.

            The trio--sophomores Mike Shaw, from De La Salle, and Ibby Djimde, from West Virginia, and redshirt freshman Devin Langford, from Alabama--were all recruited by Bruce Weber and were not suited to Groce's system.

            Situations like this sometimes cast coaches in a bad light. That should not be the case here. There was a coaching change, and this is a tough business. More importantly, it seems natural that talented young men would want to be somewhere where they have a chance to fulfill their basketball dreams.

            The transfers mean Illinois is likely to be relying on five freshmen behind the expected starters: returnees Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu, sixth-man Joseph Bertrand and Myke Henry, plus Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice.

            But that would probably have been pretty much the case even if Shaw, Djimde and Langford had remained in the picture.

            ``Mike, Ibby and Devin are outstanding young men who have always represented the University of Illinois in a first-class manner,'' Groce said in a statement. ``We will help them in any we can during this process to find the best fit, so that they are able to achieve their goals on the basketball court and in the classroom.''

            No question, Groce and the program will benefit from having the opportunity to re-deploy their scholarships. But this also gives the three players the chance to do what they want to do. That wasn't going to happen at Illinois.






            In a sign of burgeoning interest, the Big Ten men's basketball tournament, to be held at the United Center on March 14-17, is a sellout, conference officials announced Thursday.

            That's a big boost for the league. The buzz for the tourney has been declining lately, but the Big Ten is enjoying a resurgence this year, and fans are noticing. It's also a positive for Chicago, which is hosting the tourney for the first time since 2007.

            After its five-year run in Indianapolis, the tourney will alternate between Chicago (2013 and 2015) and Indy (2014, 2016) for four years.

            A big reason for the renewed interest is the resurgence of Indiana and Michigan, who are enjoying their best seasons in a while, combined with the continued strong play of perennials Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State.

            Illinois and Iowa also have been playing well lately, encouraging their supporters to look more closely at the conference tournament.

            Here's the full announcement from the Big Ten: 



Men's event returns to the United Center in Chicago from March 14-17


Park Ridge, Ill. - The conference office announced today that the 2013 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament, scheduled for March 14-17 at the United Center in Chicago, is now sold out. After the original allotment of general public tickets for the 2013 event sold out in January, the conference office made a limited number of additional all-session packages available on Feb. 1, but all tickets have now been sold.


The 2013 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament returns to Chicago, which hosted the inaugural event in 1998 and will serve as the site for the eighth time in the tournament's 16-year history. The conference tournament averaged 18,882 fans per session when the event was last held at the United Center in 2007. The men's tournament set total and average attendance records while in Chicago in 2001 with 109,769 fans in attendance for an average of 21,954 patrons per session.


The Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament features 11 games over four days, beginning with four games on Thursday, and the top four teams will receive byes into the quarterfinal round on Friday. Six different programs have won the Big Ten Tournament. Michigan State and Ohio State have won the title three times. Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin have each won the championship twice, and Purdue has won the tournament once.


Several fan events surround this year's men's tournament, including the Daley Plaza Hoops Fest, Tip-Off Luncheon, Big Ten Youth Fitness Program, Big Ten Books for Baskets and Restaurant Pairings Program. For more information on ancillary events, go to


Seven different Big Ten teams have been ranked among the nation's top 20 this season, including five programs currently among the top 20 in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches polls, more than any other conference. Indiana is currently the nation's top-ranked team, joining Michigan as the second Big Ten school to appear atop the national polls this season. Illinois, Michigan State, Minnesota and Ohio State have also appeared among the top 10 this season, while Wisconsin has been ranked among the top 20.


For more information, including a full bracket and lodging information, go to the men's basketball page on


Notice to Secondary Market Ticket Buyers: The Big Ten Conference and the United Center can only guarantee the validity of Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament tickets purchased from university ticket offices, Ticketmaster or the United Center Ticket office. Fans who obtain tickets from unauthorized dealers or from other fans run the risk of buying lost, stolen or counterfeit tickets which will not be honored for admission, and will not be eligible for any type of refund or exchange.


            It's no surprise that Billy Gonzales has left Tim Beckman's football staff. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen announced Wednesday that his former Florida Gator colleague will be joining him in Starkville.

            Rather, the surprise is that Gonzales didn't leave earlier.

            A highly regarded recruiter, Gonzales was lured away from LSU a year ago to be an offensive coordinator. As it turned out, Gonzales wound up being Illinois' co-offensive coordinator, Chris Beatty.

            But Beatty ended up being  the senior co-coordinator in responsibility, and sources said Gonzales never settled into a comfortable role in Champaign. Beatty took the fall for Illinois' sluggish offense, and was dismissed by Beckman to make room for fired Western coach Michigan Bill Cubit, who looks like a very promising addition.

            The hiring of Cubit, a veteran with a good track record of reviving ineffective offenses, left Gonzales even further from the coordinator role he coveted.

            To make room for Gonzales and his recruiting upside, Mullen bumped his tight ends coach to coordinator of scouting, and moved receivers coach Tim Brewster to tight ends. Which was Brewster's position when the former Minnesota head coach was a star on Illinois' 1983 Rose Bowl team. Brewster also received an assistant head coach title.

             ``I've had the chance to work with Billy, and the opportunity to add him to our staff was one we couldn't pass up,'' Mullen said in a statement released Wednesday. ``His experience in developing receivers speaks for itself and he has consistently and relentlessly recruited top players at every stop of his career.''

            The coaching-staff ball once again is in Beckman's court.

            Only Tuesday, Beckman welcomed in Greg Colby as defensive line coach to replace respected Zook holdover Keith Gilmore, who left for North Carolina, where he'll be reunited with Vic Koenning and Dan Disch, who also were on Zook's Illinois staff.

            A Danville native who was a three-year starter in both football and baseball in the early '70s at Illinois, Colby was an Illinois assistant from 1988 to 1995, when he worked with outside linebackers and special teams.

            For the last five years, Colby has been head coach at Millersville (Pa.) University, a Division II school.


About the blogger

Herb Gould started with the Sun-Times in 1977 and has covered several teams, including the Blackhawks. He is a long-time beat reporter covering the Fighting Illini and the Big Ten for the Sun-Times.


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