Illinois basketball: What could have been with Kendrick Nunn?

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 11: Kendrick Nunn
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 11: Kendrick Nunn /

Over recent years, the Illinois basketball fan base has gone through much devastation and frustration.

There has been so much change and disaster for the Illini that it has been hard to deal with.  One of the biggest disappointments for me, and many other Illini fans, was the dismissal of Kendrick Nunn from the team.

Now, I understand that Nunn’s actions were unacceptable.  He should have for sure gotten suspended like Leron Black did earlier in his career.  But should he have gotten kicked off of the team? I don’t know.  I know that I really wish he wouldn’t have, though.  Because Illinois was close – yet failed to make the NCAA tournament last year – and a question that I ask myself is: What could have been with Kendrick Nunn?

I remember watching Nunn play for Chicago Simeon High School at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, a tournament in central Illinois that brings in a lot of state powerhouses around Christmas time. The Wolverines were headlined by Duke recruit Jabari Parker, but also had guys like Jaylon Tate and Kendall Pollard on the squad as well.  But, although Parker was impressive, Nunn was the player that stood out to me the most in the tournament.  His athleticism was second-to-none, and he was an elite shooter.

These attributes eventually carried over to an Illini uniform.  He was one of my favorite, if not my favorite, player on the team when he was in the Orange and Blue.  He was really the only guy athletic enough to make energizing dunks and blocks, which was so much fun to watch.

By his junior season, Nunn really emerged into a solid scorer for the Illini, averaging 15.5 points per game.  He also contributed 5.0 rebounds per game at the shooting guard position. Unfortunately, this was the last season that Nunn would play for the Illini.

Nunn did make some boneheaded plays from time to time, don’t get me wrong.  Sometimes he didn’t give his all while on the court, especially on the defensive end.  But the majority of the time he was one of the best players on the floor for either team.  The Illini really missed his presence last season.

Just think, if Kendrick Nunn would’ve been on the team last year, where could they have gone?  He would’ve increased his scoring and playmaking ability from his junior season.  He would’ve added some athleticism that the Illini desperately needed, and would’ve given them another big-time shooter.  Also, Nunn had been getting solid minutes from the start of his career at Illinois, so he was very experienced as a player.  All of these would’ve been very helpful last season.

In my opinion, Nunn could find his way into the NBA.  This season thus far for the Oakland Grizzlies, he has proved that he can take his game to the next level.  Currently, he holds an average of 23.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game.  He also averages 1.8 steals per game.  I have always thought that he has the potential to be an elite defender when he wants to be, so this is no surprise.  All of these stats, along with his athletic ability, could help Nunn sneak into the NBA.

With all things about Nunn considered, if the Illini had Kendrick Nunn last year, I think they are a much better team.  I think they pull out a few more of those close losses they had last year.  Better yet, I think that the Illini make the NCAA tournament.  I say this without a doubt in my mind.

If the Illini would’ve made the tournament last year, think about how things would have changed for the program as well.  John Groce would likely be here still, and guys like Jeremiah Tillmon and Javon Pickett would probably be in Illinois uniforms this season.

Next: Good, bad and ugly from Wake Forest loss

As disappointing as it was to let Kendrick Nunn go, however, maybe this was best for the program in the long run.  Brad Underwood seems to have the program in good hands while John Groce may not have.  Still, as an Illinois fan, it is very hard not to think about what could have been with Kendrick Nunn on the Illini last season.