Illinois Public Media News
University of Illinois Athletic Director Ron Guenther says he will retire after his contract runs out June 30th.
Guenther said in a news release Monday that he's been working with the university on a succession plan and a search committee has started looking for his replacement. Guenther had talked recently about possibly staying on after June to begin work on a planned renovation of the Assembly Hall.
Guenther's 19 years on the job have been marked by a number of sports-related construction projects. They include the recent $121 million renovation of Memorial Stadium. Interim Vice President and Chancellor Bob Easter praised Guenther for his integrity and high athlete graduation rates.
Guenther is a University of Illinois graduate and played on the football team in the early 1960s.
For Frank Shorter and Lorraine Moller, victory in a marathon was beating the other runners. But the two Olympic medalists note with approval the increase in people who run marathons to achieve their "personal best".
Shorter and Moller are guests at this weekend's Illinois Marathon in Champaign-Urbana. Shorter said that when he started competing, the marathon was a sport mostly for competitive runners --- but he said that's changed.
"The race has become de-mystified in a good way," Shorter explained. "It's the idea that if you just put in the time, and you just put in the effort and put in the training, you can actually run a marathon. So we're actually at the point where everybody benefits from that."
Moller said she came to understand those benefits as her competitive running career came to a close. While she could no compete against the world's top runners, Moller said she discovered intrinsic rewards from running that didn't require being among the top performers.
"And gradually those intrinsic rewards, such as just the joy of moving, and running and feeling good --- and having that communion with nature and with my higher self while I was out running --- were rewards in themselves," Moller said. "And those are the things that, when I retired, that still get me out the door to go out for a run."
Frank Shorter took the gold and the silver medals in the marathon at the 1972 and '76 Olympics respectively --- while Moller earned a Bronze medal at age 37, in the 1992 women's marathon in Barcelona. Both were speakers Friday at the Illinois Marathon's Health and Fitness Expo on the University of Illinois Urbana campus. In addition, Shorter will be running in the 10K race Saturday morning.
About 19,000 people have registered for this year's Illinois Marathon events. That includes the marathon itself on Saturday morning, a Half Marathon, a Wheelchair Half-Marathon, a Marathon Relay, a Youth Run, the 10K Run and Walk, and a 5K run on Friday evening.
Elite athletes in this 3rd annual Illinois Marathon include Kipkurul Geofry, Siyoum Debele Lemma and Jeffrey McClellan among the men, and Habtamnesh Gashaw, Holly Fearing and Lucie Mays-Sulewski among the women.
The Illinois High School Association board revised a policy this week regarding high school athletes who sustain head injuries during a game.
IHSA executive Kurt Gibson said students in Illinois have traditionally not been required to seek medical care the day after a head injury. He said according to the new policy, athletes must get care in the days after an incident happens, and they can only take part in a game if given clearance to do so by a licensed health care provider.
"We know so much more about concussions now than we did even a decade ago," Gibson said. "We realize and can see the need to have clear return to play policies in place in order to protect the safety of student athletes."
The policy change follows months of reports about long-term injuries sustained by athletes. The Center for Injury Research and Policy reports that about 20 percent of injuries during high school athletic competitions last year were diagnosed as concussions.
Scott Hamilton, the athletic director at Unity High School in Tolono, said he hopes the guidelines bring to the light the seriousness of sports-related injuries.
"There are so many different degrees of a kid getting hit or a kid falling or a kid bumping his head or two kids running into each other," Tolono said. "I think the important thing that's happening with all this is just awareness.
A native of England is bringing his vision of year round soccer to Urbana.
The city council has accepted Developer Graham Berry's plans for a 24,000 square foot facility on North Willow Road, west of O'Brien Auto Park.
Berry says he expects to break ground on 'Soccer Planet' next month. He says the visibility from the interstate was a big bonus for the location, as well as the Tax Increment Financing incentives tied to that location. Berry has played in adult soccer leagues that require him to drive to Decatur. Other kids in the area play soccer in cities like Bloomington and Springfield.
But Berry says a local indoor facility built specifically for the sport will open new opportunities for many ages, "...Whether it be a recreational player, a 4-year old who wants to be in a developmental program, learning the game but it's more a social thing between him and his parent or guardian.." he said. "So the competitive player who wants to play year round, this facility is going to provide that."
Berry says the site in Urbana will be state of the art, with a playing surface less susceptible to injuries. "It's not astro turf," he said. "It's field turf. So it's actually a synthetic grass that actually has blades and either rubber infill or matting to protect players when they fall because there's some cushion there."
Berry says the surface will also produce a better bounce for soccer balls. Soccer Planet should be finished by the end of September.
The University of Illinois has taken preliminary steps toward renovating the Assembly Hall and says it hopes to start construction in 2013.
The university has asked for bids from construction managers looking to take on the project and design work. The requests tentatively list the start date as January 2012 with a completion date of June 2015. They indicate the school would like to have the work done in phases so men's and women's teams could continue to play basketball in the arena.
Illinois spokesman Kent Brown said Monday that the school doesn't yet have a good cost estimate. The project still needs the approval of university trustees.
Brown said Illinois is talking with Midwest-based companies about naming rights for the 48-year-old arena but he wouldn't identify them.
The University of Illinois will permanently remove about 2,200 seats from Memorial Stadium because the bleacher seats are getting too old to use.
Illinois spokesman Kent Brown said Tuesday the move will drop the stadium's capacity from 62,870 to about 60,600.
Brown said the aluminum bleacher seats in the stadium's south end zone were installed in 1982 and intended to be temporary.
Engineers who have examined the seats say they should be removed. Brown said the seats aren't unsafe yet, but might be in a few years.
He added that the next phase of stadium renovation could include work in the south end zone so there's no point in replacing the seats yet.
University of Illinois freshman guard/forward Jereme Richmond will enter the 2011 NBA draft, and he says he doesn't plan on returning to school
Richmond earned Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors after averaging 7.6 points and 5.0 rebounds in 31 games for the Illini during the 2010-11 season. Richmond is working out in Chicago and will weigh his options regarding signing with an agent.
"I enjoyed my time at the University of Illinois and would like to thank the coaching staff and my teammates for everything they've done for me," Richmond said. "At this time, I'm ready to follow my dreams and achieve my life-long goal of playing in the NBA."
Richmond earned Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors after averaging 7.6 points and 5.0 rebounds in 31 games for the Illini during the 2010-11 season. He shot 52.8 percent from the field and ranked third in the Big Ten in field goal shooting during conference play at 60.4 percent. Richmond scored in double figures 10 times, led by a career-high 18 points on 9-of-12 shooting against Ohio State on Jan. 22. The team's third-leading rebounder on the season, Richmond led the Illini in rebounding in six games, highlighted by a career-best 12 boards versus UIC on Dec. 18.
"Jereme is an extremely talented player who helped us at nearly every position," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "His versatility and ability to impact the game in a number of different areas are skills that will help him greatly as he pursues his dream of playing professional basketball."
The only thing that could stop Kemba Walker and Connecticut's amazing run was the final buzzer.
On a night when the massive arena felt like a dusty old gym, UConn made Butler look like the underdog it really was, winning the national championship Monday night with an old-fashioned, grinding 53-41 beatdown of the Bulldogs.
Walker finished with 16 points for the Huskies (32-9), who won their 11th straight game since closing the regular season with a 9-9 Big East record that foreshadowed none of this.
They closed it out with a defensive showing for the ages, holding Butler to a 12-for-64 shooting. That's 18.8 percent, the worst ever in a title game.
It was one of the ugliest games anyone can remember on the sport's biggest stage. But definitely the kind of game a grizzled old coach like Jim Calhoun could love.
At age 68, he became the oldest coach to win the NCAA championship and joined John Wooden, Adolph Rupp, Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight as only the fifth coach to win three NCAA titles.
"It may be the happiest moment of my life," Calhoun said.
Calhoun coaxed this win out of his team by accepting the reality that the rim looked about as wide as a pancake on a cold-shooting, defensive-minded night in Houston. He did it by making his players pound the ball inside and insisting on the kind of defense that UConn played during this remarkable run, but which often got overshadowed by Walker's theatrics.
UConn trailed 22-19 after a first half that came straight out of the '40s.
"The halftime speech was rather interesting," Calhoun said. "The adjustment was, we were going to out-will them and outwork them." And so they did.
Connecticut outscored Butler by an unthinkable 26-2 in the paint. The Bulldogs (28-10), in their second straight title game and hoping to put the closing chapter on the ultimate "Hoosiers" story, went a mind-numbing 13 minutes, 26 seconds in the second half making only one field goal.
During that time, a 25-19 lead turned into a 41-28 deficit. This for a team that never trailed Duke by more than six during last year's epic final.
That time, Gordon Hayward's desperation halfcourt heave bounced off the backboard and rim, barely missing. This time, UConn was celebrating before the buzzer sounded, Calhoun pumping his fists and hugging an assistant while the Huskies ran to the sideline and soaked in the confetti.
The version of "Hoosiers" with the happy ending is still available on DVD.
UConn, meanwhile, gets the real celebration.
"You see the tears on my face," Walker said. "I have so much joy in me, it's unreal. It's surreal. I'm so happy right now."
Joining Walker, the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, in double figures were Jeremy Lamb with 12 points, including six during UConn's pullaway run, and Alex Oriakhi with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Just as impressive were the stats UConn piled up on defense. Four steals and 10 blocks, including four each by Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith, and a total clampdown of Butler's biggest stars, Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack. Howard went 1 for 13 and Mack went 4 for 15.
"You just hope the shots go in," Butler guard Zach Hahn said. "That's how it's been all tournament. Whenever we needed a big shot, somebody came up with it. I guess we just ran out of steam. Nobody could make 'em."
Butler's 41 points were 10 points fewer than the worst showing in the shot-clock era in a championship game. (Michigan scored 51 in a loss to Duke in 1992), and the 18.8 percent shooting broke a record that had stood since 1941.
"Without question, 41 points and 12 of 64 is not good enough to win any game, let alone the national championship," Butler coach Brad Stevens said.
While Stevens made history by doing it "The Butler Way" and bringing this school with 4,500 students within a win of the championship for two straight years, UConn played big-boy basketball in a big-boy league and suffered through some big-time problems.
Aside from the .500 Big East record, it was a rough year off the court for the Huskies and their coaching lifer, whose season was tarnished by an NCAA investigation that found Calhoun failed to create an atmosphere of compliance in the program. He admitted he wasn't perfect and has begrudgingly accepted the three-game suspension he'll have to serve when the conference season starts next year.
Then again, given this performance, it's clear UConn does its best work when it's all-or-nothing, one-and-done.
Counting three wins at the Maui Invitational, Connecticut finished 14-0 in tournament games this year - including an unprecedented five-wins-in-five-nights success at the Big East tournament, then six games - two each week - in the one that really counts, one of the most unpredictable versions of March Madness ever.
It closed with 11th-seeded VCU in the Final Four and with eighth-seeded Butler joining the 1985 Villanova team as the highest seed to play in a championship game.
Villanova won that game by taking the air out of the ball and upsetting Georgetown.
Butler tried to do it in a most un-Butler way - by running a little and jacking up 3s.
Didn't work, and when the Bulldogs tried later to make baskets in the paint, it really looked like there was a lid there. During their dry spell, Howard, Garrett Butcher and Andrew Smith all missed open shots from under the bucket. It just wasn't their day.
Wasn't perfect for Connecticut, either.
The Huskies only made 19 of 55 shots, and Walker's 16 points came on 5-for-19 shooting. But through the ups and downs of the junior's college career, he has shown there are lots of way to lead - with words in the locker room, by example in the weight room and by doing the little things like playing defense and grabbing rebounds. He had nine on this night and finished with 15 in two games, including the 56-55 win over Kentucky in the semifinals.
His biggest offensive highlight: Probably the twisting, scooping layup he made with 10:15 left that put UConn ahead 39-28 - a double-digit lead that was essentially insurmountable in this kind of contest.
"It was tough shooting in the first half, but in the second half, we stuck with each other," Walker said. "We told each other we were going to make shots, and that's what we did."
It was the final, successful chapter in a season defined by believing even when things weren't going so great. This team lost its last two regular-season games and looked like it would spend a short time in the March Madness bracket. Instead, the Huskies were the team cutting down the last set of nets.
"We've been down that road before throughout the whole tournament," Oriakhi said. "We just keep playing basketball and we stick together, and I think that's what's most important."
(AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Butler coach Brad Stevens loves an underdog, whether it's his team back in the Final Four or Connecticut making an unprecedented five-games-in-five-nights run through the Big East tournament.
A Big East team as an underdog? The coach at tiny Butler cheering for big, bad UConn?
Welcome to the bizarro world of college basketball in 2011 - a sport where not only is anything possible, but where nothing quite makes sense. A sport in which the story of a small school from a small conference making a run to a title is no more rare than that of the late-season magic conjured by a power program with one of the nation's best players.
Butler and Connecticut will meet Monday in the national title game - the eighth-seeded Bulldogs trying to finish the deal after coming oh-so-close last season and the third-seeded Huskies (31-9), led by Kemba Walker, talking about shocking the world with their 11th straight victory after a regular season that foreshadowed none of this.
"We were all rooting for UConn because it was a great story," Stevens said, "a lot of fun to follow."
As is Butler, the team from a 4,500-student campus in Indianapolis that practices at Hinkle Fieldhouse, used as the backdrop for the classic movie "Hoosiers" - the based-on-reality melodrama in which tiny Hickory High stares down the biggest schools in Indiana and wins the state championship. On its second try.
What seemed impossible in that movie is becoming more the norm, at least in the college game. Last season, Butler (28-9) came one desperation heave from toppling Duke to become the first true mid-major to win the championship. This season, Butler wasn't even the biggest longshot at the Final Four. That was VCU, an 11th seed that fell to the Bulldogs in Saturday's semifinal.
As recently as 2008, the NCAA tournament landed all four No. 1 seeds in the Final Four. This year, there wasn't a single 1 or 2 for the first time in the 33-year history of seeding.
UConn coach Jim Calhoun said this has been the natural progression since the NCAA started limiting scholarships and new NBA rules triggered a flood of players who would come to college for one year, then declare for the draft.
"It's as close to parity as there can be," Calhoun said. "It certainly can occur in a tournament a lot more than it could playing a Saturday night, then Big Monday. It's just the nature of things. ... The one-and-done thing, walking the tightrope is a hard thing, a very difficult thing."
If anyone can say they've mastered it this season, it's UConn. Led by Walker, the junior guard on the verge of becoming the best player to ever put on a Huskies uniform, Connecticut won five games in five nights against Big East competition to win the postseason tournament.
A remarkable accomplishment in any conference, but especially the Big East - the 16-team behemoth that placed a record 11 teams in the tournament this year. Maybe because of the grueling nature of its regular season, the Big East wore down and had a terrible showing, only moving two teams into the second weekend.
But Connecticut is still standing, a testament to Walker's playmaking ability (he's averaging 25.5 points during this 10-game winning streak) and Calhoun's ability to adjust on the fly to the fatigue that has predictably set in.
"Our code has been very simple: 'The hell with it, let's just go play basketball,'" Calhoun said. "Well, we wouldn't be doing all the things we did last night defensively to Kentucky if we just kind of rolled the thing out there. We worked very hard on it. But we worked on it in a different way."
Connecticut advanced to the final by holding the Wildcats to 33.9 percent shooting in a 56-55 victory Saturday night.
Butler, meanwhile, only needed two wins in four nights to capture the tournament title in the less-heralded Horizon League. Still, the Bulldogs are on a 14-game winning streak that began after losing their third straight back on Feb. 3. At that point, this was a team that had no guarantees it would even make the NCAA field. It looked nothing like the one that captured hearts as it made its run through last year's tournament.
In the final last April, Butler trailed Duke 61-59 with 3.6 seconds left when Gordon Hayward (now playing for Utah in the NBA) grabbed the rebound off an intentionally missed free throw, dribbled four times to the halfcourt line and launched a shot at the buzzer. It hit the backboard, the inside of the rim and bounced out. It could have been the greatest finish ever in sports. It wound up as something less, though Stevens insists he walked away that night feeling like a winner.
"Our guys played as well as they could have," Stevens said. "They represented themselves in an unbelievable manner throughout that whole game. That might be the reason why we had parades, too, even though we lost. It was remarkable the way people treated us even though we lost."
One win away from the pinnacle once again, the Bulldogs are talking about finishing the deal this time. They haven't turned their backs on the heart-tugging story lines that help define them, but they don't fall back on them, either.
"There are some connections to us and 'Hoosiers.' I understand that, and that's nice if people want to make those connections," senior forward Matt Howard said.
Calhoun, trying to become only the fifth coach to win three NCAA titles, says he appreciates Butler as much as the next guy. He sees the slow, steady improvement of mid-majors such as Butler and figures there will be more tournaments like this one and more nights like Monday - where the small school and the big school are on even footing.
Maybe one of those days, the little guy will win it all.
"I think it's good for college basketball," Calhoun said. "I think if it starts around 2012, 2013, it would be a wonderful thing."
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Butler has stopped a series of college basketball Goliaths on its way to consecutive national championship games, and Monday night will pose a unique challenge: stopping a superstar.
Connecticut's Kemba Walker has carried the Huskies to the finals on a run reminiscent of Danny Manning's performance at Kansas 23 years ago.
Butler's scouting report on the versatile Walker is long and detailed. Unlike Kentucky, which tried to slow Walker down with defensive stopper DeAndre Liggins, the Bulldogs will let a handful of players take a shot at keeping him in check.
Coach Brad Stevens says his team respects Walker but can't focus too much attention on him because it could leave room for other UConn players to get loose.
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