December 2009 Archives

Junior guard Alex Legion is leaving Illinois, the basketball program announced Tuesday.
A highly publicized transfer from Kentucky who was a Parade Magazine All-American in 2007, Legion was unable to assert himself at Illinois, where he only played for two semesters.
``Alex is a good kid who faced a difficult situation in returning to the court last year at semester break,'' coach Bruce Weber said. ``He worked hard during his time here and gave great effort. We wish him the best and we'll do whatever we can to help him in his transition.''
It wouldn't be surprising if Legion followed the route of former Illini guard Jamar Smith and wound up at a Division II school. Smith is averaging 23.4 points a game for Southern Indiana.
``I appreciate the support from the U of I fans, my teammates and coaches,'' Legion said. ``I look forward to the next step in my collegiate career.''
A Detroit native, Legion finished his high-school career at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, where he attracted national attention by averaging 19.6 points on 53 percent shooting. But he never was able to become a dependable offensive threat at Illinois. And not being a strong defender, he had difficulty cracking Illinois' rotation.
Legion played in 33 games at Illinois, averaging 3.2 points a game. He scored a career-high 15 points last year at Michigan State, and had a season-high 11 points vs. Presbyterian on Nov. 21.

Ron Zook tried to keep Reggie Mitchell. But Illinois' assistant head coach, running backs coach and recruiting coordinator has decided to join the staff of new Kansas coach Turner Gill, several media outlets in Kansas are reporting. Mitchell brings a wealth of recruiting contacts, especially in Chicago and St. Louis, that will be missed by Zook's staff.
But the lure of working for new Jayhawks coach Turner Gill was too strong for Mitchell, who coached defensive line and running backs at Kansas under Glen Mason in 1988-1996.
The overhaul of the Illinois staff might not be completed yet. Demoted co-defensive coordinator Curt Mallory has surfaced as a candidate at several other schools. And Dan Disch, Illinos' other former co-defensive coordinator, also might be making inquiries.
Reggie Mitchell--Illinois' assistant head coach, running backs coach and recruiting coordinator--is weighing an offer to join the staff of new Kansas coach Turner Gill. Contrary to some online reports, the move is not a done deal, sources said, but Mitchell probably is leaning toward making the move. He coached at Kansas under Glen Mason, and is familiar with the area.
While Zook is trying to keep Mitchell, the sources said, the role of recruiting coordinator isn't as all-encompassing as it sounds. It's important from an administrative standpoint, but Illinois has several staffers who are experienced at that. And while Mitchell has been a key Zook assistant, it might be time for a change, from both sides of that equation.
In addition, it wouldn't be surprising if Illinois' demoted defensive coordinators, Curt Mallory and Dan Disch, also left the staff. New coordinator Vic Koenning probably would like to make his own hires. Koenning also wants to handle the linebackers, which has been Disch's domain.

Vic Koenning, who helped improve Kansas State's defense dramatically this fall in his one season there, will be Illinois' new defensive coordinator after all. Georgia made a late run at Koenning, but he finally agreed to come to Illinois in a two-year deal that's worth $325,000 a year. Koenning will be introduced later today.
With Koenning and Chris Cosh as co-coordinators, the Wildcats' defense was 16th in run defense (105.4 yards) and 48th in scoring defense (23.3) in 2009. It was 112th in run defense (217.7) and 110th in scoring (35.8) in 2008.
Koenning, who likes the 4-2-5 scheme, was paid $265,000 at Kansas State this year. He will be Illinois' second highest-paid assistant, behind offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, who will make $475,000 annually. Both have two-year deals that would make it costly for Illinois to make any major coaching changes in a year, even if the alumni and fan discontent with head coach Ron Zook continues.
Koenning previously was defensive coordinator in 2005-08 at Clemson, which finished in the top 25 in scoring defense, total defense, and pass efficiency defense in each of his four seasons there. Koenning will replace co-coordinators Curt Mallory and Dan Disch, who have been given position-coach assignments on the Illinois defense.

Juice Williams signed with Chicago-based Ian Greengross after his final game at Illinois Saturday, with an eye toward improving his chances of attracting some NFL attention. The plan is to have Williams work with a quarterback coach to improve his skills for NFL evaluators. Greengross believes the growing use of the wildcat offense will make Juice more attractive, but is open to a position change. Running back or receiver are the most likely moves.
Despite owning a stack of impressive Big Ten and Illinois offensive records, Williams shapes up as an undrafted free agent, NFL analysts say.
``Logically, he'd be a free agent. But as soon as I tell you no [one will draft him], somebody will grab him,'' said Dan Shonka, a former NFL team scout who's now general manager of scouting service. ``I just feel there's too many guys like him that have failed in the past. And he isn't in the same stratosphere as some of those other guys. But all it takes is one coach to say, `Hey, I can do something with Juice.' ''

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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