- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 21, 2012

CHAMPAIGN, ILL. (AP) - Virginia Commonwealth basketball coach Shaka Smart on Wednesday ended speculation that he might take the open job at Illinois by announcing that he’ll stay with the Rams.

The decision by the young coach was cause for celebration among VCU fans and disappointment for their Illini counterparts _ Illinois’ search for a replacement for fired coach Bruce Weber has begun to resemble the search last year for a new football coach, when the school’s top choices reportedly turned down the Illini.

VCU said in a news release that Smart’s $1.2 million contract will be adjusted, but provided no details.

He said in the release that he appreciates VCU’s support of him and his staff.

“There are great things to accomplish at VCU and I’m looking forward to building on the successes of our program and university,” the 34-year-old Smart said.

“Coach Smart recognizes _ as do the rest of the university community, alumni and fans _ that VCU is the place to be right now,” VCU President Michael Rao added.

At Illinois, Athletic Director Mike Thomas declined comment through a school spokesman.

Smart will bring back one of the country’s youngest teams. The Rams went 29-7 (15-3 in the Colonial Athletic Association) and were eliminated in the second round of the NCAA tournament this year after making an improbable Final Four run last season.

Neither school would say how much money Illinois offered Smart.

While VCU fans took to Twitter to celebrate _ “Shaka is here to stay!” one wrote Wednesday afternoon _ Illinois’ fans were dejected.

“So which stage of grief are we in right now?” one wrote.

“Still anger here,” came the quick answer.

Thomas now continues to look for a replacement for Weber from a field that reportedly includes Alabama coach Anthony Grant and Stanford’s Johnny Dawkins.

Alabama spokesman Ty Patton declined comment, as did Stanford spokesman Jim Young.

In Chicago, where some of Weber’s toughest critics found ammunition in the fact that he didn’t land the basketball-rich city’s top players, an AAU coach with a number of former players on the Illini roster said Smart’s decision would likely fuel skepticism about both Thomas and the Illini program.

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