CHICAGO — Simeon basketball coach Robert Smith is defending his former standout guards, Jaylon Tate and Kendrick Nunn, who were both suspended indefinitely from the University of Illinois' basketball team after being charged with battery.
"I know they're two great young men," Smith told DNAinfo on Thursday, just before Illinois had a news conference to discuss the current state of the Illini basketball program. Though Smith has no way of knowing what happened during the alleged assaults, he said he believes the players are innocent.
"It's unfortunate, no matter what comes of it, because [Tate and Nunn] are going to have to deal with this the rest of their careers."
Tate and Nunn, both Simeon grads and Illinois standouts, are due in Champaign County court on April 20 on separate charges, according to the News-Gazette. Tate is charged with domestic battery against a 19-year-old woman, while Nunn is charged with two counts of misdemeanor battery after allegedly hitting a 20-year-old woman in her campus apartment, the News-Gazette reported.
Nunn and the woman were "arguing about their relationship and whether or not she owed him money and at some point he did push her and strike her in the back of the head. During the physical part of the altercation is when Champaign police showed up,” First Assistant State’s Attorney Steve Ziegler told the News-Gazette. Champaign police told prosecutors the woman had red marks on her neck and shoulder, which were photographed.
In the Tate case, a 19-year-old woman who is also an athlete at the school was seen spitting out blood and with a swollen face after the basketball player allegedly attacked her, the News-Gazette reported.
Smith said he talked to both players and told them, "You know you didn't do what you're accused of doing."
"I just told them to let the legal part do what it's supposed to do and be ready for that and just keep your head up high," Smith said. "And I told them you have to watch who you're around because everybody doesn't have their best interests in mind. People look at athletes and they think of money."
Last week, Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman and basketball coach John Groce issued separate statements that Tate and Nunn were suspended indefinitely from all team-related activities.
Thursday, Whitman and Groce said they couldn't comment on any current legal cases involving players, and said any possible disciplinary actions would be addressed later on.
"It would be hard to dismiss [Tate and Nunn] until after their court cases," Smith said. "I may be biased because I know those kids. ... They're two good young athletes, and they'll be fine."
Smith also said he has no problem continuing to send Simeon players to Urbana-Champaign, even with Illinois' recent struggles. The Illini finished 15-19 this season and missed the NCAA tournament for the third straight year.
"I would still send my kids there," Smith said. "The program is a gold mine. Groce is doing a pretty good job, especially with all the injuries he had this year. It's hard to play a whole season with three or four backup starters."
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