Cal men’s basketball head coach Cuonzo Martin has been widely recommended for an open head coaching position at Illinois, and during an interview Sunday about the Bears’ upcoming play in the NIT, he did not refute rumors that there is mutual interest between him and the Fighting Illini.
“For me, the most important thing is being here at Cal and coaching our basketball team,” Martin said. “All that other stuff … we’ll deal with that when we get to that point.”
Martin also confirmed that Illinois was one of his top choices when he was being recruited as a point guard out of high school. But the team faced NCAA sanctions over allegations that the school paid a player to commit, and Martin ultimately chose to attend Purdue, where he became an All-Big Ten player.
Martin, who grew up in East St. Louis, Illinois, has been linked to the job with Illinois in the past — particularly in 2012, while he was coaching at Tennessee.
While Martin’s statement was a nondenial of his interest in the Illinois job, he has not openly sought other coaching opportunities as former Cal football head coach Sonny Dykes did, the latter of whom was fired in January. The Cal Athletics administration reportedly was unhappy with Dykes’ wandering eye, but Martin may have more of a leash.
Although missing out on the NCAA Tournament has been a disappointment for the Bears, Martin revitalized the program with his recruitment of top talents such as now-Boston Celtic rookie Jaylen Brown and Cal sophomore Ivan Rabb. Cal had no qualms when parting with Dykes, but replacing both of the head coaches for the two biggest athletics programs on campus would be an enormous task.
A previous version of this article misspelled Jaylen Brown’s name.