PRODUCTS: Bruce Weber (1998-2003); Matt Painter (2003-04); Chris Lowery (2004- )
When Bruce Weber got his first head coaching opportunity at Southern Illinois, after 18 years as an assistant, he instituted a philosophy that went from the head coach down to the student managers: Share the Juices.
Weber wanted everyone involved in the program to feel they were contributing, and whatever successes the Salukis had would be shared. This was especially true of Weber's assistants, to whom he gave power and autonomy. There were many successes in Weber's tenure at SIU. Not only did he lead the Salukis into the Sweet 16 of the 2002 NCAA tournament, with wins over Texas Tech and Georgia, but he also laid the groundwork for a coaching factory.
After Weber left for Illinois in 2003, assistant Matt Painter took over and went 25-5 in his first and only season at SIU. Painter bolted for Purdue, where he served a one-year apprenticeship under Boilermakers head coach Gene Keady and takes the reins this season. Replacing Painter at SIU was Chris Lowery, a Weber assistant who had spent five seasons with him in Carbondale and one year with him at Illinois.
"When coach Weber first took the job at Southern Illinois [in 1998], we all knew he was building something special," says Lowery. "We had a hard-hat mentality and went after athletic kids who were overlooked by the high-major programs. The guys really became engulfed in the way we play and we were able to succeed with an up-tempo motion offense. We showed teams early on that we were going to push it, but we were also going to guard you."
Lowery and Painter had become friends several years earlier when they were coaching AAU ball and trying to work their way up the ladder. They shared the same philosophy and knew they would be head coaches one day. "Every coach has an ego," says Lowery. "Fortunately, Matt and I never shared ours with each other. We are kindred spirits and have a lot of respect for each other. I've always been happy for Matt and he's always been happy for me."
Southern Illinois has reached the point where it is expected to win its conference and advance in the NCAA tournament. In fact, the Salukis have helped make the Missouri Valley Conference a big enough draw that CBS is televising the conference championship game this season. Lowery knows SIU's success is the result of a solid foundation built by Weber and says he will never forget that.
"It makes us all feel good to see each other being successful," says Lowery. "Guys like Tom Izzo at Michigan State, Dean Smith at North Carolina and Coach K at Duke have developed a long line of great coaches and you're starting to see a little bit of that here. When I got the SIU job, coach Weber told me that he had 'tried to get a head coaching job every year for 18 years and couldn't get one. And now two of my assistants get jobs in two years.' That's a sign you're doing something right."