NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament Championship-Wisconsin vs Illinois

Illinois coach Brad Underwood was asked Thursday about Fighting Illini star Terrence Shannon Jr. playing in the NCAA Tournament despite being arrested on a rape charge in December.

Shannon missed six games while suspended by the university, but successfully sued his school and was cleared to return to play after his arrest after the incident in Kansas. While the case with the school is settled, the criminal case remains ongoing, opening up the spectacle of controversy for No. 3 seed Illinois during the NCAA Tournament as it heads into the Sweet 16 on Thursday vs. No. 2 seed Iowa State.

"I've said many times I'm a college basketball coach," Underwood said ahead of the team's game vs. the Cyclones. "When we found out, it was our athletic director Josh Whitman that informed me. Then it was to a decision that was made by the university, and then obviously taken to the courts, and I've said all along I was going to coach the guys I had in the locker room. I was going to be the best supporter of those guys that I coach every day. We had to find a way to flourish through those tough times.

"Then when he came back and joined us, he was a part of our team again. He has always been a great teammate. We got him back, and here we sit today."

Here's what we know about the timeline and details of the case against Shannon, who has maintained his innocence since charges were brought against him in December. 

Dec. 5, 2023: Shannon is charged with one count of rape or an alternative count of sexual battery after a woman alleged that he grabbed her buttocks, reached under her skirt and touched her inappropriately on Sept. 8 in Lawrence, Kansas. 

Dec. 28, 2023: Shannon turns himself in and is arrested one day after a warrant is issued. He is released on $50,000 bail. Illinois suspends Shannon indefinitely, citing a zero-tolerance sexual conduct policy. Shannon's attorney, Mark P. Sutter, issues a statement acknowledging the accusation surfaced in September 2023 but that his client has declared his innocence since the beginning. 

Jan. 2, 2024: Shannon Jr. writes a 1,366-word letter addressed to the University of Illinois student-athlete conduct panel, in which he continues to declare his innocence and pleads for the suspension to be overturned. The letter reads in part: 

As to the criminal charges against me, I am declaring my innocence, as I did back in September. I have totally cooperated with that process and will continue to do so. While I appreciate my lawyers and their ability to fight the case in court, I know that the criminal justice system takes time. So my day in court will not come about for a long time, most likely long after the NBA draft, and I may not be cleared of the charges until it's too late. The harm that I will suffer from an immediate suspension can never be undone, and I will never have this opportunity to further my collegiate career or fulfill my lifelong dream to play in the NBA. Going forward, I want nothing more than to play basketball for the University of Illinois, and I remain hopeful that my due process rights will be honored and allow for a full reinstatement while this case is pending.

Jan. 8, 2024: Shannon's attorneys file a temporary restraining order against the University of Illinois seeking immediate reinstatement. The suit claims Shannon was not granted due process before being suspended from the team.

Jan. 19, 2024: U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Lawless hears Shannon's case and rules the school violated his civil rights with the suspension. Lawless grants an injunction asserting Shannon "will suffer irreparable harm" without it. Illinois abides by the ruling, reinstating him to full status. 

Jan. 21, 2024: Shannon returns to play after missing six games and scores 16 points in an 86-63 home win over Rutgers.

Feb. 23, 2024: A preliminary hearing date for the rape case against Shannon is initially scheduled but later moved to May 10.

March 17, 2024: Illinois wins the Big Ten Tournament after three wins in three days. Shannon scores 28, 40 and 34 points in the three wins while earning Most Outstanding Player but is unavailable to the media. Illinois coach Brad Underwood comments only that he is coaching the players in the locker room, which at the time includes Shannon. 

"I'm the basketball coach, and a lot of this stuff was put in play by our university, the courts, and I'm not going to consume myself with it," said Underwood. "I've got a locker room full of players that I said, when he was suspended, I was going to coach the guys in the locker room. He's in the locker room. I'm going to coach him."

March 21, 2024: No. 3 seed Illinois defeats Morehead State in the first round of the 2024 NCAA Tournament. Shannon scores 26 points.

March 23, 2024: No. 3 seed Illinois defeats Duquesne to advance into the Sweet 16. Shannon scores 30 points for the third time in his last four outings.