CHICAGO (WCIA) — More than a year into the job, Josh Whitman still has the respect of some the Illini’s biggest names and donors.
Mannie Jackson is the former owner of the Harlem Globetrotters, his $3 million naming gift headlines the Illinois basketball Hall of Fame room. Jerry Colangelo was the Director of USA basketball. They were Illini teammates during the 1960 season and were recognized at Friday night’s gala as first ballot Hall of Famers.
“Well I’ll put it this way, I wish Josh was sitting in the White House right now,” Jackson said Friday in downtown Chicago. “He has a sense of timing and a sense of purpose and energy like few that I’ve seen. Plus, he has this capacity to sit down and talk to people and get a consensus on things.
“You can tell he’s grown by spending quality time with people. This guy can’t help but be successful. The knobs have to be turned to succeed, he’s hit them all and it’s just a matter of time before we’re all better off for it.”
A large part of Whitman’s process has been the hiring and firing of the football and men’s basketball coaches. On his first official day on the job, Whitman fired Bill Cubit and turned around and hired Lovie Smith. In March, Whitman fired John Groce and replaced him with Brad Underwood. Colangelo was there to help Whitman every step of the way with the basketball search.
“I won’t say I consulted with Josh but Josh used me as a sounding board a little bit and I made myself available to him so we had a lot of discussion about the opening and the candidates and that type of thing,” Colangelo said. “I think Illinois fans should be very excited with the guy who got the job because I think he was considered one of the top young coaches in basketball but very experienced and he’s going to do a great job.”
A name thrown around before Whitman got the job, was former men’s tennis coach Craig Tiley. He won a national title with the Illini back in 2003. The Tennis Australia CEO saw those rumors but never interviewed for the position.
“All I know is we’ve made the right decision,” Tiley said. “Having Josh in charge and leading the program is fantastic. I did read a lot about my name being, I wasn’t, but I did read about my name being thrown around for the job and that was a privilege to be asked that too but I’m excited about Josh’s leadership and as I said before the excitement that’s been around just being back for now and seeing people, there’s no question that it’s on a trajectory for great success.”
That success might not be immediate, as the Illini are still operating in the red after Whitman’s first year. Several Hall of Fame members feel a turnaround isn’t too far away though.
“I think Josh is doing a lot of really fine, wonderful things for the university,” Colangelo added. “I think people should be excited about him in that position. You have to be aggressive, you have to be creative, you need to do things to bring attention to the university and he’s doing all of that.”