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A basketball coach is a basketball coach and Illinois needs one

ShakSmart (from left right) Anthony Grant Leonard Hamilton. | AP Getty Images

Shaka Smart (from left to right), Anthony Grant and Leonard Hamilton. | AP, Getty Images

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Updated: March 28, 2012 3:11PM

Illinois doesn’t need a black basketball coach, because there is no such thing any more.

They’re all just basketball coaches to me.

If you still see Shaka Smart or Anthony Grant or Leonard Hamilton as a ‘‘black basketball coach,’’ that’s your problem. The game of basketball, the coaching profession and I would like to think most of America and American sport have moved on.

Shaka Smart is a basketball coach. So is Anthony Grant. And Leonard Hamilton and even Robert Smith at Simeon high school on the South Side of Chicago. That Illinois never has had a black basketball coach is a trivial matter today. It’s only a racial issue if you make it one. What a shame that in 2012, there are members of the board of trustees at the University of Illinois more concerned with the color of a person’s skin than the content of his character. This has been a tough year for Illinois, but those trustees have done more damage to the reputation of the university than Ron Zook, Bruce Weber, Mike Thomas and Michael Hogan put together.

That Illinois doesn’t have a black head coach in football or basketball only matters if Illinois doesn’t want a black head coach. And that clearly is not the case. For the record, Illinois offered its football and basketball jobs to black coaches (Kevin Sumlin of Texas A & M and Shaka Smart of VCU) and both turned down the job. It didn’t occur to me that both are African-American until recently. In fact, nobody cared about it until the board of trustees got involved.

I’m sure the Black Coaches Association would love to have more head coaches who are black in Division I football and basketball. I would, too. We’re still a long way from the mountaintop. But, in sports anyway, we’re past the point of turning back. Illinois hiring a white guy to replace Bruce Weber won’t further the cause. But it won’t hurt the cause, either. Anthony Grant wasn’t a candidate at Illinois because he preferred to stay at ALABAMA. I think it’s pretty clear the stigma that prevented the advancement of black coaches is dead or dying and the good-ol’-boy network that served as a further impediment is irreversibly well on its way toward extinction.

So in the name of progress, let’s re-state the real issue here: Illinois needs a basketball coach. Period.

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