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Bob Asmussen | When considering the Shannon case, understand it's complicated

Jan. 10—CHAMPAIGN — The topic of the day — the playing status of Illinois men's basketball star Terrence Shannon Jr. — dominated WDWS' "SportsTalk" at Champaign's Esquire Lounge on Monday evening.

On Monday afternoon in Champaign County Court, a temporary restraining order was filed on Shannon's behalf. He is seeking a return to the team while he faces a rape charge in Kansas, with a hearing in federal court set for 1:30 p.m. on Friday.

During Monday's weekly show, host Steve Kelly posed a question to the crowd: "How many of you would like to see or do you think he should be in uniform and on the basketball court if this restraining order is upheld?"

Several hands shot up.

"How many of you think he should not be?"

Again, hands went up, though not as many.

Remember, this is about as pro-Illinois sports crowd as you will find. They wear the school colors and are proud fans of the program. They have been for years and decades.

And yet, there is a lack of unanimity about what should happen next. Put simply, it's complicated.

In order for Shannon to return to playing for Illinois, he filed suit against Illinois.

Some fans are caught in the middle. Of course, they want what is best for the team. But they also support the position of the school.

Multi-faceted issue

Taken strictly from a basketball standpoint, it is an easy call.

But considering the wishes of the school and administration of its policies, there are potential long-term ramifications.

Shannon is an All-American-level talent. Illinois has been fine without him, going 2-1 in the three games without him. But the 10th-ranked Illini are better with him on the court.

Even when you factor in the time it will take him to re-acclimate with his teammates, Shannon can quickly blend in with the other players.

He will be welcomed back by his teammates. They are on his side for reasons beyond what he will mean to the win-loss record. He is their friend and one of their leaders. They want him back.

Illinois plays two home games in the upcoming week, starting Thursday night against Michigan State and then again on Sunday afternoon when the Illini host Maryland at State Farm Center.

I don't know if Shannon would return to the court on Sunday afternoon. But if he does, the reception from the crowd will be positive. Will there be a few boos? Likely. It is America and everyone is free to express their concern or contempt.

I'm not judging. I will be there to observe and note and comment.

My task: What did I see? When he entered the arena, when he was introduced to the crowd and when he made his first basket.

If Shannon plays again while still facing a rape charge, it is national news in the sports world. The topic will be mentioned on "SportsCenter" and "BIG Today" and by all the other talking heads.

His presence on the court, if allowed, becomes the focal point of the game coverage.

Difficult to navigate

For the most part, Illinois can control what happens at State Farm Center when the Illini play there.

But next week, Illinois goes on the road. On Jan. 18, Illinois is scheduled to play at Michigan. That coincides with the next hearing in Lawrence, Kan., on Shannon's rape case.

His legal team can figure out where he needs to be. But if Shannon is on the court in Ann Arbor, Mich., with Illinois, the Michigan fans are going to let him have it.

Michigan is struggling on the court at the moment, with a 6-9 record. The Wolverines are going to see Illinois as beatable, especially if the new rotation is a bit out of sorts.

Illinois has two more trips before the end of January, to Northwestern and Ohio State. Every time away from C-U with Shannon on the court will include a showering of boos. Or worse. They already don't like Illinois because it is the opponent. Shannon's presence adds another layer to consider.

The crowd reaction is fine as long as the atmosphere is controlled. Sticks and stones ...

But the sooner the legal actions are resolved, the better for the Illinois program. If Shannon is cleared to return by a court, then the process is out of the school's hands. It will comply with the rulings.

Likewise, if Shannon's request is denied, the attempt to return to the court this season could be put on hold.

Again, it is complicated. And a situation no program wants to face. We are seeing the potential downside to athletics.

Maybe that can be Kelly's next question for the Esquire crowd: Who wants to continue college sports?

Most every hand will shoot up. Including mine.