Replacing Isaac Chew at Illinois: Deon Thomas?

Replacing Isaac Chew at Illinois: Deon Thomas?

With Assistant Coach Isaac Chew departing Illinois for Marquette, just weeks after he left Mizzou to join the Illini (More on the questionable professionalism of jumping ship like that so early here), the asst. gig is now opened up again.

Top candidates include, surprisingly not Simeon coach Robert Smith, but Illinois State assistant Paris Parham, Florida State assistant Dennis Gates. And Deon Thomas.

Yes, for Illini fans, Deon Thomas could soon become much more than just nostalgia and the answer to a trivia question.

All three of the candidates have Chicago Public League ties, and that will be prerequisite number one in the effort to replace Chew, who had strong CPL ties. As we enter the summer recruiting season, Illinois needs someone to get it going in the second city.

Thomas, a product of Chicago Simeon is the Illinois basketball all-time leading scorer and second all-time rebounder, starring in Champaign from 1990-94. He was selected by the Dallas Mavericks 28th overall in the 1994 NBA Draft. After attending Mavs mini camp, Thomas opted to play professional basketball in Europe and Israel instead of the NBA.

Thomas is one of the most successful American pros of all time in the European leagues and passed on several opportunities to play in the NBA.Since 2009, he’s been the head coach at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, Illinois.

Around the Final Four, there were rumors he could land on new coach John Groce’s staff. Thomas believed he has a good chance.

It would be a popular move with the Illini faithful and send a positive message to the Chicago Public League, two things the program badly needs. Dustin Ford and Jamall Walker, are the other two assistants, both following Groce from Ohio to Illinois.

For the sake of Illini basketball, Chew’s replacement really should be someone with a connection to the CPL; especially now that the idea of hiring Simeon coach Robert Smith is off-the-table. Hiring Thomas and giving him a gig that allows him to recruit off-campus, specifically Chicago all the time, would be advantageous.

Remember the good ol’ days when EVERYONE who starred at Simeon high committed to Illinois? Nick Anderson, Ben Wilson, Thomas, Bryant Notree, Kevin Turner…then Lon Kruger shut down the CPL pipeline and Derrick Rose picked Memphis and John Calipari instead of Illinois and Bruce Weber.

Thomas could re-open it.


Starting with Sports Illustrated cover boy Jabari Parker, the nation’s #1 junior, currently at Simeon. Getting Parker, just for his one season of college basketball would do wonders for recruiting. It would fire a shot heard round the CPL recruiting world.

It would fire a shot round the worlds of and Parker’s current coach has said that Jabari is indeed interested in Illinois. Landing him might also help land the #57 recruit in the nation, Parker’s teammate Kendrick Nunn.

Nunn made an unofficial visit to Illinois after de-committing from Texas A&M. And Nunn has shown interest.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports, an official Google News site generating millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports

A Fulbright scholar and MBA, Banks has appeared on live radio all over the world; and he’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America, U.S. Basketball Writers Association, and Society of Professional Journalists. The President of the United States follows him on Twitter (@Paul_M_BanksTSB) You should too.

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