Fighting Illini Coaching Search: A Legitimate Case For Anthony Grant
I know we all want Shaka Smart. He is the slam dunk candidate, the hire that would make a splash, and the guy that would get the fans back into the stands. Shaka Smart would be the statement that Illinois has put on their big boy pants and is ready to compete at basketball at the highest level.
Everyone is talking about how if Illinois doesn't get Shaka, it will be a total failure. That discounts the fact that, a week from now, we could be wanting someone completely different. After all, last February, who exactly wanted Shaka Smart for a high major coaching position? Not many if any.
As one columnist recently noted, Anthony Grant from Alabama was Shaka before Shaka was Shaka. He is really just one hot streak in March from perhaps being just as coveted a coach by big name schools. and best of all it has been said that there is some sincere interest on his part for the Illinois job.
It was after all Anthony Grant who built VCU up to the point where Shaka Smart could make a deep run to the Final Four with, yes, largely his players. Like Shaka Smart, Grant served as an assistant to Billy Donovan, (including during their big Championship run) and yes, like Shaka Smart, he runs the same style of uptempo full court press basketball, a change of style that many in Champaign are craving.
Since taking over at Bama in 2009, Grant has two 20+ win seasons, a runner up finish to the NIT, and taken them to the NCAA tournament this year. Combine that with his program building at VCU and it seems that he is a proven winner.
The biggest factor why Illinois fans should look at Grant is recruiting, something that cannot be overstated. Last year according to Rivals Grant brought in the 14th ranked class in the nation, one behind Illinois. In Alabama, a fully football recruiting bed, and at a fully football recruiting school. That is impressive.
Being second banana to Nick Saban's football team might be a key reason in fact why Grant is showing interest in moving north. Although it should be noted that, in all of his many years of coaching, Grant has never done so north of the Mason Dixon line, and he would need to set his staff up heavily for that.
Also take into consideration this. Alabama has a chance to make a real splash this tournament. The Tide will face Creighton in the opening round, and then get a shot at North Carolina. The Tar Heels are a flawed team this year, and frankly probably over-seeded. If Grant somehow takes them down and makes the Sweet Sixteen, will anyone doubt that he will be a hot coaching commodity himself?
That is, at the very least, something to keep in mind this weekend, when all of our eyes are glued to March Madness. Our next coach very well might make his case for the job on the court, as much as the interview.
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