After VCU loss to Indiana, clock is ticking on landing Smart.
That must have been a tough choice for Illinois basketball fans. Cheer for VCU and coach Shaka Smart, thus extending the wait in the coaching search. Or rooting for an Indiana win to get the Illini process in high gear. With a 63-61 loss to Indiana Saturday, Smart's season is done, and the clock just started ticking. Before proving he was anything but a one-hit wonder with a win in the NCAA Tournament, Smart was already targeted by Illini fans as their leading candidate to fill the vacancy created by the dismissal of Bruce Weber earlier this month. Anybody else? It's not even close. Illini fans have a one-track mind. It's Smart. It's always good to win the press conference and roll into a new tenure with momentum. It will be hard for anyone other than Smart. Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas is bunkered. With Smart's buyout a relatively low $800,000, that might give plenty of room to bump an offer well over $2 million. Maybe $2.5 million. Maybe more. That's way more than his $1.2-million base salary. Q: So what's the timetable? A: Don't expect Thomas to waste much time before direct contact with Smart and/or his agent. Maybe Sunday. No later than Monday. Illinois contracted with Parker Executive Search, so the firm may serve as a link between Illinois and any prospects such as Smart. By the middle the week, it will become apparent if Smart is coming. If not, Thomas would have to move to plan B. Anything but yes would be a no. Illinois is the top opening at this point, but other jobs might come open. Smart doesn't have to jump. He's got four starters returning from a 29-game winner. He's built plenty of equity as an up-and-coming prospect. Smart has 110 pages of quotes stashed in a computer somewhere, such as "Be strong in body, clean in mind, lofty in ideals.'' That's from James Naismith, the inventor of the game. "Somebody said, 'Don't run away from happiness,' '' Smart said on the Dan Patrick Show earlier this season. Illini nation will know pretty soon if Smart will find happiness here. Q: What happens if Smart isn't the guy? A: There's an exhale, then everyone works down the short list. Alabama's Anthony Grant is still high on the pecking order, even if his team lost a heartbreaker to Creighton after a questionable decision on timeouts late by Grant. Don't overlook Memphis' Josh Pastner, Florida State's Leonard Hamilton and Butler's Brad Stevens. Stanford's Johnny Dawkins is getting a push from some influential alumni. One source said it was Jerry Colangelo. Dawkins made an appearance at the Class 4A state tournament to recruit Saturday, despite hosting Illinois State Monday in the NIT. This year's NCAA darlings include Ohio's John Groce, a former Ohio State assistant. Xavier coach Chris Mack may also get a chance to move up. And there's still a chance Thomas has a stealth candidate. Q: What's any update on Bruce Weber? A: The college basketball coaching community is watching Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus, who missed a game this month because he didn't take his medication. Majerus has a history of heart surgeries. If there's a change, Weber might be a good fit. John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnSupinie.