Illinois making a pitch for Smart, as expected.

 

 The waiting game continued for Illinois basketball fans Monday, although there were indications athletic director Mike Thomas made a move.

A report by the Chicago Sun-Times said Thomas was pitching a lucrative offer for VCU coach Shaka Smart. Meanwhile, another source also said the Illini were making a serious play for Smart, "but I don't know if it will make a difference,'' he said.

Thomas would likely need a big cash offer to pull Smart from a program that gives him a lengthy shelf life, four starters back from a team that won a game in the NCAA Tournament and a shot at another run next season, but the buyout of Smart's contract is relatively modest. A school must pay $800,000 plus play VCU in a home-and-home series or dish out another $250,000.

Smart is the hot coaching prospect this spring, and he fills the profile for a search that placed diversity high on the priority list. Yet everyone is waiting for a response of Illinois' interest.

"I think Shaka is very pleased with where the contract is right now,'' VCU athletic director Norwood Teague told the Richmond Times-Dispatch for its Sunday paper. "We'll talk at the end of the year if anything needs to be changed.''

Smart was an assistant at Akron when Thomas as the school's athletic director.

If Smart is no longer on the wish list, for whatever reason, the leading candidates appear to be Alabama coach Anthony Grant and Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins. Florida State's Leonard Hamilton is an experienced recruiter, and Ohio coach John Groce fits the hiring pattern of Thomas, who has plucked mid-major coaches in his past moves.

Dawkins is a former Duke assistant who is getting support from Jerry Colangelo, sources said. The former owner of the Phoenix Suns is the director of USA Basketball and a former Illini captain. A survey conducted by Rivals showed Grant as the overwhelming choice among Illini fans as the best option other than Smart.

Parker Executive Search is also involved, and the job posting advised applications should have been made by Monday.

BASKETBALL: Illini center Meyers Leonard and guard Brandon Paul submitted their names to the NBA undergraduate advisory committee, the school announced Monday. The players receive feedback from the league that helps them weigh their options about entering the draft.

Leonard averaged 13.6 points and 8.2 rebounds. The mobile 7-foot-1 sophomore is predicted as a middle-first-round prospect by analysts. Paul averaged 14.7 points and 4.7 rebounds.

College players have until April 8 to enter the draft.

BUDGET: According to numbers compiled by The Business of College Sports, Illinois ranked ninth in the Big Ten in profit and and 11th in revenue among the 12 teams currently in the league during the 2010-11 school year. The Illini earned $57,539,367 and spent $55,723,771, leaving $1,815,596.

Northwestern and Minnesota broke even while Wisconsin banked $655,421. Meanwhile, Penn State had a profit of $31,619,687 to lead the league, ranking ahead of Michigan ($26,649,499) and Ohio State ($18,630,964).

Ohio State led the league in revenue ($131,815,819), ahead of Michigan ($122,486,490) and Penn State ($116,118,026). Northwestern ranked last in the Big Ten in revenue ($56,214,293).

The website compiled the numbers through the U.S. Department of Education.

BASEBALL: After raising $10,321 and 31,000 pounds of food and supplies plus $1,000 in gift cards for Harrisburg tornado relief, the Illini took three of four games over the weekend by splitting with Northern Illinois and sweeping Southern Illinois.

Illinois (10-7) has won nine of its last 12 games. The defending Big Ten regular-season and tournament champs, the Illini open conference play in a three-game series at Nebraska Friday through Sunday. The opener is televised by BTN (6:30 p.m.)

IN OTHER NEWS: Freshman Ashley Spencer clocked a 23.08 seconds in the 200 meters, the fastest time of the season nationally and third best on the school's all-time list, at the Black and Gold Invitational at Central Florida Saturday. . . 

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnSupinie.