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9/10/2007 01:18:00 PM
The Decline of the Illini
After an impressive 2005 season that ended in a national-tile game, coach Bruce Weber has watched his program -- and luck -- spiral down.
Fans outside the die-hard basketball contingents of Illinois and Kentucky may have missed an innocuous headline from late last week: Tracy Webster, the Illini's third assistant, opted to depart for an identical position on BillyGillispie's staff at Kentucky. It was the sort of low-level carousel move that tends to get coaching job applicants more excited than reporters.
The ripple effects of the move lent it importance. To make room for Webster on his staff, Gillispie had to give Alvin Brooks, one of his assistants who followed from Texas A&M, what essentially amounted to a demotion to director of basketball operations. Two days later it was clear why Webster had so much clout: Darius Miller, a four-star small forward from the Class of 2008 who had been recruited by Illinois, Louisville, Kentucky and Texas, committed to the Wildcats. Webster had been his primary recruiter for the Illini, and Miller's father told the The (Louisville) Courier-Journal that "it really helped " when UK added the former Wisconsin guard as an assistant.
In Lexington, it was rightfully received as yet another sign of the empire Gillispie is building posthaste, having already inked a quartet four- and five-star recruits since Tubby Smith left for Minnesota in April. In Champaign it was lamented that an Illinois assistant had finally inked a big-time recruit for the Class of 2008 ... except it was for another team. The Illini still have zero '08 signees for their two open scholarships.
Webster is far from a big name in the industry, although he was regarded as the best recruiter on a star-crossed Illinois staff. Weber is now scrambling to find a replacement, with former player Jerrence Howard -- Gillispie's initial director of basketball ops at Kentucky -- rumored to be a lead candidate. The move itself won't be devastating for Illinois if Howard can make inroads into the recently unfriendly territory of the Chicago Public League, but the scales in that "swap" -- seeing that UK got Webster and two players he recruited, Miller and five-star point guard DeAndre Liggins of Chicago, and gave up someone with no coaching experience -- would be extremely unbalanced.
Then there's the issue of Webster's motive: Was he merely helping his career prospects by getting on the Gillispie bandwagon before UK returns to juggernaut status ... or was he also shrewdly jumping off the Illinois ship before it sinks?
As much as Weber still gets results on the floor -- he is one of the game's top defensive coaches, and has 80 wins over the past three seasons -- cracks are developing in his program's foundation. The momentum he was expected to gain from 2005's magical 32-1 season has never materialized.
Consider the fortunes of the three other teams that joined Weber's Illini in the '05 Final Four: National champ North Carolina lost nearly its entire team, including four first-rounders, yet rebounded to finish a surprise second in the ACC in '06, win the league in '07 and come within a botched overtime of the Final Four. The Tar Heels, now completely replenished with five-star talent, are a strong candidate to begin the '07-08 season ranked No. 1.
Louisville suffered through an abysmal follow-up season, missing the NCAA tournament in '06, but rode its next wave of young stars -- Edgar Sosa, Terrence Williams, Derrick Caracter, et al. -- to a second-round trip in '07, and will start this season in the everyone's top 10.
Michigan State has finished lower than the Illini in the Big Ten each of the past two seasons, but enters '07-08 as a fringe top-10 team after surrounding senior star Drew Neitzel with a trio of elite freshmen.
It took North Carolina one year, Louisville two years, and Michigan State three, but they all reloaded to a point where they're contending for conference titles and the Final Fours once again. Instead of reloading, Illinois stagnated -- and it now faces the prospect of entering an '07-08 season in which it's unlikely to contend in the Big Ten.
How did this happen? What began as a juicy war between Weber and Illinois-turned-Kansas coach Bill Self over recruits -- Chicagoans Julian Wright and Sherron Collins, and Kansas City's Brandon Rush -- turned into an all-out raid. Everyone started pillaging prospects from the Land of Lincoln. Duke. Memphis. Kentucky. Even Oregon. And Illinois wasn't able to return the favor by raiding other states, either. Take a look at the list of the Illini's primary four- and five-star targets since that Final Four, and where they ended up (** indicates an in-state recruit):
2008 DeAndre Liggins: Kentucky ** Darius Miller: Kentucky Matthew Humphrey: Oregon ** Michael Dunigan: Oregon **
Weber should have strong selling points. Illinois has a rabid fan base with one of the nation's top home-court atmospheres, and most importantly, all three guards from that '05 team are in the NBA. Deron Williams has emerged as one of the league's most exciting young stars. Wouldn't it follow, then, that a versatile point guard such as Collins would be better off developing in that atmosphere than coming off the bench at KU? Or that an NBA-bound talent such as Rose would be better suited in a program that produced Williams and Dee Brown than one that churned out Darius Washington? Somehow -- perhaps as a result of negative recruiting from the incident in which Brown's initial NBA bid didn't receive Weber's full support, or unwillingness to play ball in the AAU underworld -- Weber has been unable to parlay his resume as a handler of pro talent into players who could fill the shoes of Williams, Brown and Luther Head.
The most devastating blow was the loss of the one mega-recruit Weber did land, Indianapolis two-guard Eric Gordon, a future lottery pick. Gordon was to be the recruit that stopped the bleeding from the losses of Wright, Rush, Collins and Scheyer. Yet last October, in one of the most controversial recruiting-war developments of the decade, Gordon de-committed from the Illini and signed with new Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson -- who, the record should note, does not have a single guard in the NBA.
The Gordon devastation was the beginning of an ugly chain of events. A few weeks later, in November, Rose opted to sign with Memphis, making Illinois 0-for-2 on five-star guards. In February, the Illini's best shooter, two-guard Jamar Smith, crashed his car into a tree while drunk, then left the scene while seriously injured teammate Brian Carlwell, the team's top 2006 recruit, was still in the car. Smith plead to an aggravated DUI charge, still a felony, and spent time in jail this summer. In August, he was controversially allowed to remain on the team -- the school newspaper called the decision "disgraceful" -- but will redshirt next season.
The problems didn't end with Smith. Quinton Watkins, one of Weber's two four-star backcourt recruits in '07, was ruled academically ineligible in August and must attend prep school before he can re-enroll in a college, which won't necessarily be Illinois. And on the team's Labor Day-weekend exhibition trip to Canada -- held at the same time Gordon was averaging 27.7 points for Indiana on a trip to the Bahamas -- the U of I managed to lose to a school named Concordia, and need overtime to beat both McGill and Carleton, all of which are a far cry from any of the Big Ten teams on their schedule.
Amid all this there are, actually, some reasons for optimism in Champaign. Four-star guard Demetri McCamey is the first big-time backcourt addition to the team since Brown's graduation. If McCamey can quickly get a handle on the Illini offense -- and they need him to, given how thin their backcourt is -- and become one of the league's top freshmen, they could surprise a few teams in the Big Ten. Also, last weekend for the football team's win over Western Illinois, Weber had a number of key recruits on campus -- and former stars Brown and Head there to play pickup with them. Homegrown class of 2009 prospects Diamond Taylor and Joseph Bertrand were in Champaign, as was a crop of 2010 players that included the younger brothers of Head and McCamey, and elite shooting guard Anthony Johnson. Not present -- but already verbally committed to Illinois -- among the 2010 group was Jereme Richmond, a five-star shooting guard ... who was initially recruited by Webster. All are homegrown, and they represent the state's next big wave of talent.
Weber has the coaching acumen to get a group like that back to the Final Four. Give him talent, and he succeeds. Getting the talent has been the problem. Things may sound promising for 2010, but that's three years away. Plenty of time for the vultures to swoop back in.
That's really too bad for the Illini. Bruce Weber seemed like a really nice guy whom you'd want to succeed. What do you think is the problem in recruiting? Is it Weber, the University, lack of "heavyweight" prestige like UNC, Duke, etc.?
I think the issue isn't with Illinois. They have plenty to sell...even as a Kentucky fan, I can say that they have a very good program that has the ability to compete with almost any other program in the country. The problem seems to be Weber's inability to play the AAU game. Hopefully for Illini fans he learns to and FAST, or he'll be forced out of Champaign.
How is it that everyone, Mr. Winn included, can say, "Look at how the other three Final Four teams form '05 did..." and then say how Louisville missed the tournament and Michigan State has finished lower than Illinois every year since?
I'm confused. How do those facts point out that Illinois is in worse shape since the Final Four than Louisville and MSU, when Louisville's missed a tournament (Illinois hasn't) and MSU has finished below Illinois in the Big 10 every year since? I'm confused.
While Illinois is not an Elite team like they were in '05, their demise has been greatly exaggerated. Base results on the court, not on the recruiting trail. When Illinois fails to make the tournament or be above .500 in the Big 10, THEN you may start writing about how they've dropped.
If Weber cannot recruit, then he will fail. No one can truly win - meaning contend for national championships and make Final Fours - without top recruiting. However, he will not, and should not, be fired unless/until his teams do poorly - which in this case is squeaking into the NCAAs and exiting early, or failing to make it at all. Too bad for us Illini fans - we expect far more than that.
KU's pay is much more than Illinois. Webster will be making over double what he was making at Illinois. The Canada trip was nothing more than glorified practice time. One of the teams best players was injured and held out and several freshmen were not allowed to play as they would not be able to redshirt, should they chose to do so. The program is in good shape under the direction of Bruce Weber.
Interesting summary of some strange recruiting situations to say the least.
But I wouldn't bet against Weber just yet. Had it not been for the deception of Gordon and the NCAA Clearinghouse deal with Q, the 07 class would've been great with a top PG, top SG, top JUCO wing and two promising big guys.
We'll see who we get to replace Webster (a recruiter whose targets didn't seem to find their way here anyway.)
You forgot to mention, Mr. Winn, when you were pointing out the success certain schools have had with sending guards to the NBA that Weber didn't recruit Williams, Head, or Brown. Not a one of them. He inherited all three of them from Self. I don't think anyone out there would say any of the three wouldn't be in the NBA without Weber's coaching and/or if Self had stayed at Illinois. Bottom line, Weber, although a good X's and O's guy, inherited a stocked cupboard upon his Champaign arrival. He certainly did well with what he had, but now that the requirement to maintain a program at an optimal level falls solely on his shoulders, he isn't getting it done.
The author is saying right now UNC, Louisville and MSU are in better shape than the Illini and he is right. The inference also being that the future doesn't look that bright when you have no recruits for '08 signed and other schools are raiding the state and leaving Illinois with Plan C and D recruits.
There are a few Illinois fans I feel bad for, but most of them are getting a nice doese of karma.
While I understand Illinois seems to be losing in the recruiting game, this has yet to translate into "the Decline of the Illini." Illinois quite literally limped through last season, yet still made the NCAAs. UConn and many other top programs should be so lucky. Until Illinois' recruiting losses translate into losing seasons - which very well may happen - perhaps SI should wait on such hyperbolic proclamations.
Illinois fans: welcome to the world of UK fans from 2005-2007. Yeah, we made the tournament, won 20 games...whoo! Just enough for the coach to stick around and continue abysmal recruiting. Somehow, he's now gone and we have a guy who is winning recruiting battles instead of being on the losing end.
Maybe you Illini fans will be as lucky as we Kentucky fans were on March 22nd.
I'm a huge Illini fan, and I completely agree with everything written here.
The article actually made Weber's recruiting seem better it has been. It failed to mention that Weber also whiffed on four star shooting guard Scott Suggs, a self-professed life long Illini fan who everyone in Champaign though was in the bag (turns out we didn't even finish second in the recruitment), and Iman Shumpert, a five star shooting guard from Illinois who cut the Illini from his list in August.
Weber's recruiting has been absolutely abysmal, and the results will begin to show this season. He needs to hit a home run with this hire or he will be done by the time those 2010 recruits are on campus.
Bruce Weber lied about Eric Gordon to the public and he is paying for it with this dose of karma. Eric Gordon told Bruce Weber what he was going to do early, but Weber would never acknowledge it to the public. Southern Illinois has better talent compared to the Illini right now. The Illanoy will continue to be the laughing stock of the NCAA and they should cite Bruce Weber for lack of control when it comes to his program. Billy G. saw how weak Weber was and took his girlfriend. The next question is what coach with steal Jerome Richmond from Weber. His father is lying about him staying put. We should clap for Webster leaving the Illanoy. It was time to jump ship and he did it the right way leaving them high and dry.
Let's not forget that the "well stocked" talent that Self left had only one 5 star recruit: Dee Brown. Deron Williams wasn't the best player on his high school team (Bracey Wright was the 5 star guy), and Luther Head's only big time college offer was from Illinois. The one common thread was that after a change in coach and philosphy on offense ALL of those guys OUTPLAYED their rank (except for Brown). Let's see what our guys do on the court before we "jump ship." It's not all about a high school ranking. Just win.
goes to show what a disgrace college basketball is. The best basketball program money can buy will be in the final 4. Weber won't play the AAU & I'm glad he doesn't, he has some integrity unlike the Self and Sampson contingent to name a few
The 2007 recruiting class for Illinois is highly underrated... mark my words...
Tisdale is a stud and will play in the NBA. He is 7'1" and has the combined skills of a guard, forward, and center. I watched him in high school as a junior personally put his team on his back when down by nine, take over the game, and put the game into overtime with a three pointer. Then he scored all of his team's points in overtime and they won.
Alexander, a small forward, will be a workhorse powerhouse for the Illini.
Cole is very fundamentally sound and will be a seldom noticed but highly effective player his junior and senior years. He will rack up stats but he will do it quietly.
McCammey will at very least be an NBA backup PG someday. He is Deron Williams lite and will dominate at PG nationally by his junior year.
Holdren is a transfer who was SDSU leading scorer before an injury. He has three years of elgibility and will board and score as an effective role player on the Illini.
Jeff Jordan is a winner and will develop into a very effective backup point guard.
SI, this print could make good toilet paper. The Illini haven't lost much at all right now. When we cannot make the tourney, write your crap.
We are the 11th winningiest program in NCAA history. We have the most wins in big 10 history. What we are missing are national titles. We had one in 1917.
Illinois coached by Weber has had more wins over the last 4 seasons than any other program in the country. If we are in decline so is Duke.
Yes we have had a few big strikeouts with recruits, but Weber has some fine kids on board. Deal with it SI and report back how we stink when it shows on the court.
I would take Tisdale and McCamey over just about anybody. Do your research.
Bruce Weber will find a way to win with the talent he has, always has and always will. Some have proclaimed that had Self coached the Illini in 05 they would have had the same results is foolishly crazy! The players Self recruited have since stated they learned and improved far more under Weber. Self has always been a great recruiter and a good coach. His players talents have carried him. Weber on the other hand is an average recruiter, but a great coach. Don't be surprised to see him and his "so-called" marginal players in the top tier of the Big Ten and taking yet another trip to the Big Dance. Indiana, Michigan State and Ohio State are good teams, but at least one, perhaps two will finish the Big Ten beneath Illinois. Illini fans need to be patient and Bruce will produce!
Doese is not a word; and what does this have to do with Karma? I can think of no major recruiting coup's that Illinois perpetrated. Weber is an unbelievable coach with a passion for the University of Illinois. He just refuses to bow down to this insane amount of power AAU coaches have. In my opinion, AAU coaches and the whole system is hurting all of basketball. I played AAU ball and it was just a joke how much money coaches received for basically doing nothing but having talented teams.
I think the noise from the message boards is creeping into the overall perception of the college basketball landscape. It is a community that obsesses over the recruiting game. Weber has had a number of dramatic defeats off the baketball court if you have been watching as intently as you would an NCAA tournament. The rest of the sane world will notice Illinois fade from the radar for a few years only to re-emerge before they were ever missed. Jim Boeheim has been doing it for twenty years now. Weber will be at Illinois and will have a great program for a long time to come.
Maybe the Illwhini should have handled the Eric Gordon recruitment a little better--I think they chased off any chance of landing anyone of value by acting like complete babies---i.e. sending hate mail to Gordon, Webber not shaking Sampson's hand at the IU-ILL game, etc.. your troubles have come to roost.
I don't think anyone out there would say any of the three wouldn't be in the NBA without Weber's coaching and/or if Self had stayed at Illinois.
Well then you would be wrong. Despite your double (or is it triple?) negative, there are a ton of folks who would say exactly that. Especially with regard to Luther Head. Any one who knows Head's history would acknowledge that Weber did a ton for him both on and off the court. Williams is a fantastic talent but it wasn't always a given that he would be where he is now. He doesn't call Self to get advice he calls Coach Weber. Frank Williams is/was arguably a more naturally talented player than any of those three and where is that Self coached product?
Poor Brucie. I really feel bad for you. HA. NOT. The biggest loss for Illinois wasn't the graduation of Williams, Brown and Head. It was the firing of IU's Mike Davis. IU gets a real head coach and EJ Gordon gets to go to his dream school.
THE REAL FACT OF THE MATTER IS, POLITICS HAVE REARED IT'S UGLY HEAD ONCE AGAIN. THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, THOUGH LONG ON TALENT IS SHORT ON TRUTHS. AND HAS AFFECTED THE RECRUITING PROCESS. IN A PLACE WHERE NEARLY ANY AND EVERYBODY IS A "ANALYST" OF THE GAME. YOU CAN BET THERE ARE SOME RECRUITS WHOM ARE INFLUENCED BY THE POWERS THAT BE. I PERSONALLY BELIEVE THAT THE IRVIN'S AND STINETTE'S OF THE BASKETBALL WORLD DO MORE HARM THAN GOOD. MUCH LOVE TO THE MANY TALENTED YOUNG ATHLETES THAT ARE NOT CHOSEN BY THESE "ANALYSTS" TO REPRESENT CHICAGO AND ALL OF ILLINOIS, THE GREAT I AM SEE'S YOU AND SO DO I.
Your knowledge of Canadian basketball is sadlylacking. The teams that Illinois played would give most Big 10 teams a good go. Only the top two or three teams would breeze by. Learn a bit more about the opposition before you speak in a patronizing manner. Maybe it would be better to just say that Illinois is a weak team.
While there IS a grain of truth into Mr. Winn's analysis of Coach Weber, in terms of his skill as a coach GREATLY exceeding his skill as a recruiter, saying that the Illini are on a "decline" is preposterous rhetoric, and a bit dissapointing at that. With seniors Bryan Randle and Sean Pruitt returning, the Illini, though they may fail to be genuine title contendors, will have a satisfying season for us fans.
Also, in regards to the comment regarding Self's recruting at the U of I - would you happen to remember, of the class that produced Deron, Dee, and James, who the so-called "star" was? The hyped recruit? Aaron Spears. Bill Self, while a great recruiter, truly doesn't have the coaching skill to carry a team "all the way" (like another, current Illini coach, but that's a different story)...We Illini students and faithful are more than happy to keep Bruce any day of the week.
I have nothing against the Illini, I am an alum, but Illinois is not on the level of Kansas, UNC, Duke, or Kentucky- look at the rafters. Additionally, the past year has killed Weber's "genuine, great guy that anyone would trust their son with" image. Multiple DUIs and a situation where a teammate leaves another for dead requiring an onlooker to call for help are not things that would make parents want to send their sons to Champaign.
On the court, Weber is a great defensive coach, but has a mid-major approach, and not just in regard to playing ball with the AAU system. The style he plays at Illinois mirrors what one would see in the Valley, hard-nosed defense and all the offense goes through point penetration. While it can be effective when the team has great guard play (Deron, Luther, and Dee), it isn't exciting or endeering to wings and bigs with NBA aspirations. Weber can coach an NIT team to the top half of the Big Ten, but I don't think he has the style or sexiness to recruit Illinois into a perennial Sweet Sixteen/Elite Eight program.
Regarding an assistant coach: ROB JUDSON, ROB JUDSON, ROB JUDSON! Bruce, bring in someone with loads of experience and undying loyalty to the U of I. ROB JUDSON is perfect for the job again.
Bill Self's teams including Illinois underachieved because of their laziness defensively. I have yet to see a Bill Self coached team truly commit itself to both ends of the floor. In additon, the hi-low is a predictable offense that other teams can prepare for.
Coach Weber is such a honorable man first and foremost. Second, he is one of the best coaches in the nation with his on the court decisions and his results. I have followed Illinois basketball for over 50 years and love the Fighting Illini as well as my family. I am proud of the recuits that we have for this year. It may be a growing year for the freshman, but they WILL be a very exciting group to watch and support. I would not want Coach Weber to be the kind of man to be dishonest with promises, to be sleezy with handlers, or any of the other things that are underhanded in the world of recruiting. The problem with recruiting since the new ruling in the NBA is that high school basketball players HAVE to go to at least 1 year of college. Most of the 5-star recruits are looking for the fast track method. The promise me so many touches and minutes,and give me, give me and give me.... The future of the 3 and 4 year players are not feasible for many nowdays. I love the commitment from the players that come to Illinois to be taught by one of the best teachers in the world of college basketball. The hard work of these young men that love the Fighting Illini and choose such a great University to play for, together as a TEAM, will be worth more to me as an Illini fan than how other college teams are selling their souls for 1 year players. To Coach Weber, keep up the great work in teaching young men the game of basketball and life. We love everything about your honesty and coaching. Go Illini!
For those of us who have been fans of the Illini for years in the past, we know that the glories of recruiting are highly overrated. We lived for years with a decent guy who could recruit well enough but could never take that phenomenal talent to winning the Championship. Anyone remember Lou Henson? Bruce and the Illini faithful will survive and rally. Oh and whoever the snarky anonymous commenter who thinks he's being sly trying to offend the Illini and their fans with his lame play on words should take advantage of excellent 4 year education at the University of Illinois, perhaps then he'd learn how to spell his attempted insults correctly.
People really need to cut Weber some slack. Who is the toast of Champaign right now? A guy who has gone 4-19 in his first two years, but he can recruit(Zook). I love Illini hoops, but they are what they are. Weber can coach 'em up, they will continue to be a tournament team that wins 20-25 games a year. Luckily for us, this state produces a plethora of talent, and a couple of times a decade the big time kid will come here because he grew up loving the Illini. They'll compete for a Final Four in those times, and be solid the rest of the time. Beats the heck out of Self dragging half of the McD's team into KU and not being able to coach a lick.
The problem with Illinois recruiting is how they do things. This is from top Illinois high school players on mouth. Maybe you guys havn't heard this living out of state. Illinois treat top in state recruits like second best players. they held out on offering Derrick Rose a scholarship until everyone else wanted him and still treated Eric Gordon like he was their top focus. that kid that committed to Oregon this year I believe Shumpert said to a Chicago Newspaper that ILLINOIS didnt offer him a scholarship until Oregon and everyone else gotten involved. He said they had him at their midnight madness and he thought they would make a offer but that never happen.Look at Jeremy Pargo a great playerstarting at Gonzaga. He said openly in Chicago newspaper he would love to go to Illinois but still no offer. Even though you could see his talent from a mile away. Other inj state recruits has said the same thing. Illinois treats top in state recruit like they is second to kids from New York and other states.
As a Wisconsin alum, I rarely root for the Illini. But it does strike me as asinine that these kids, who would have the ability to start at a high profile program with all of the attributes that Luke Winn brought up, would choose to ride the bench in Chapel Hill or Durham. Perhaps it's Weber's unwillingness to delve into the dark world of AAU basketball, or it could just be that he is too nice a guy. It's a shame that a program like Illinois has had so much trouble recruiting from the Chicago Public League.
I don't understand how Weber has lost his AAU contacts. His staf at Southern Illinois was know for finding diamond in the rough players through AAU teams. I think people forget that Weber and his kin were all schooled by Gene Keady. They are great coaches. They are really good at deveolping players over four years. Often it only takes one star for the team to get over the top--ie Glen Robinson for Purdue.
Bruce Weber is a decent coach, but he really does need to start recruiting better, especially in state. I don't know anything about the AAU process, but I know the AAU coaches are showcasing players to coaches and if Weber isn't participating, then there is no reason for those coaches to push for the Illini. Regarding Eric Gordon, I don't think he ever wanted to attend Illinois, but didn't want to play for Davis at Indiana. It's not the huge recruiting failure that people think it is. Weber is making the right move (although I don't like the trend) of recruiting younger players. I think Jereme Richmond's commitment will hold and it may parlay into other high profile recruits in '09 - '11. Weber deserves a little bit of leeway here, but some progress needs to be made to keep the Illini on the national radar.
TO ALL ILLINOIS FANS AND BEYOND,ERIC GORDON(NORTH CENTRAL H.S./INDIANAPOLIS)NEVER REALLY WANTED TO GO TO(ILLINOIS)OR ANY OTHER SCHOOL EXCEPT(INDIANA).HE DID NOT WANT TO PLAY FOR COACH(MIKE DAVIS)END OF STORY!
* First, thanks for all your comments on this. I hope it's not unnecessarily harsh, but the overall point is that Illinois has -- either through bad luck or bad experiences in recruiting -- missed out on opportunities to reposition itself as a contender.
* To the "anon" in the third comment - by no means am I saying Illinois was outperformed by Michigan State and Louisville for each of the past two years. What I mean is, those two teams have rebuilt themselves as top-10-caliber squads over a three-year period, while the Illini have not. I think that's a reasonable statement, given what the Spartans and Cards have coming back this season.
* Also, one edit: I've added in a note about Jereme Richmond, who wasn't part of last weekend's visiting party, but is relevant to the Class of 2010 discussion for Illinois/Webster/Weber. He's currently rated the No. 4 prospect in the nation for that class ... but he was initially recruited by Webster.
Here's a link to his Rivals profile: http://rivalshoops.rivals.com/viewprospect.asp?sport=2&pr_key=59258
Ahhh thats too bad for the Illini. I really hate to hear all this bad news. This means the Illini fans have even more excuses for their team to be horrible. While you guys watch your Illini in the NIT this coming yr I will be cheering on a team thats going to win it ALL. GO HOOSIERS!!!
Weber didn't put those 3 guards in the NBA. They were NBA talent. Dee Brown was projected to be first team all-america and had a disapointing senior year, not even a first round pick. Luther Head was great before Weber arrived and Williams had a great freshman year for Bill Self. Many coaches develop their players but usually only elite athletes play in the NBA, more a function of recruiting than coaching.
To anonymous at 6:41 who claims Weber lied, but then goes on to say what he really did was not tell the public Gordon's decision. First of all, he wasn't the one who was dishonest, as Gordon himself kept calling Weber and listing 10 reasons why he should choose Illinois over Indiana. However, even if we accept your version of events, I'm guessing you're pretty ignorant of NCAA rules, because it would be a major violation for Weber to discuss ANY RECRUIT before they've signed a letter of intent.
Carolina only tied for the ACC hoops title this year...people seem to forget that. (Although the Heels did win the tournament.) The regular-season tie sparked one of my favorite Roy Williams lines. He was talking about how they usually cut down the nets when they clinch the title, and they only cut down one net. He said "Virginia can come down and cut down the other net if they want."
Bruce Weber is a solid respectable college coach. He has had an excellent reputation at Southern Illinois and so far at Illinois. The problem is his "glitter" factor sucks and this does matter in present day college basketball. Perception plays an integral part in the media and in recruiting todays 4 and 5 star players. Many coachs who are good honest coaches like Bruce Webber have been fired from the college ranks by not being as "glittery" as rabid alumni ,the media and new recruits expect. He has made mistakes but I believe he did it for the best interest of the university and his team. Im a graduate from Indiana and wish him the best.Go Hoosiers
I love when people say that Weber doesn't "play" the AAU game. AAU is what exactly what is wrong with the kids these days. They have been told how great they are from the time they could pick up a ball. Nobody tells them the "WHAT IFS" in life. All AAU is summer pick-up games played in a gym instead of a park and coached by someone whose playing the "game" of lining their own back pocket.
Weber's "game" is the kids will go class and graduate from a top university and along the way become better basketball players.
It will be intresting to see if Weber's "misses" go on (besides Gordon) to greener paths or try to play the "game" with someone else? I like Weber's "game"
Weber seems like an honorable guy. It is a shame that this trait may not be consistent with success in D1 college hoops. I must say the most striking "miss" on the recruiting trail to my eyes was the fact that Jon Scheyer chose Duke even though his high school coach was Weber's brother!
Anonymous at 6:41: How could Coach Weber have *publicly* acknowledged Eric Gordon's decision to break his oral commitment to Illinois WITHOUT violating NCAA rules? Remember, Gordon had not signed a Letter of Intent. Perhaps he could have taken a page from Kelvin Sampson's ignore the NCAA rules and text messaged the world.
I must agree that as a Big Ten fan we don't want our conference to lose the honorable Mr. Weber. His antics and his voice are pure comedy and his childish pouting makes the Illini a real joy to beat (and twice as painful to lose to) ...similar to Gene Keady, but without the awesome comb-over.
Let's look at Weber's track record. While he compiled good numbers at S. Illinois, he didn't exactly recruit the 5 star players there, because he had to take the best of the rest. If you're a 4-5 star recruit are you honestly going to S. Illinois over, UNC, Duke, Kentucky, or any other major conference school? No. Therefore Weber doesn't have a track record of landing big time recruits. Correct me if I'm wrong, but none of Williams, Brown, or Head were his recruits. They were Self's right? So it shouldn't come as a surprise that he is having trouble landing the nations top recruits. Marty - NC
the article about illini basketball was a good one.it had it's merits.Illinois under lou henson used to get all of the mr Illinois basketball recruits, that was great,but they never went very far in the tournament. Self is a good recruiter,but has never gone to the final four and the three guards that took the Illini to the final game wouldn't have under self. As for Eric Gordon he used the Illini and went to go play basketball for a school who hired a coach who committed recruiting vilolation while at oklahoma sampson is a snake.The illini had a bunch of injuries last year and still made the tournament.Look atDuke illinois has been a better team the last couple of years. Weber will be fine.they will finish in the top for in the big 10 and make the tournament again.
Hey 9:50 AM anonymous. Get a freakin clue. Any real illini fan wondered who Deron Williams was his freshmen year. Luther Head was talented but not a great basketball player. They developed under Bruce. If it is all about recruiting why doesn't the great Bill Self win the title every year?
Wow, where there ever some stupid comments on this blog. Obviously some people do not know basketball. One guy who claims to be an Illini fan says that Weber's offense is built on point penetration...Huh ??? He runs a motion offense built on passing to the open guy, hitting the open shot and rebounding. Yes he has missed on several good recruits, but the article talks about losing Webster as a major problem. Who exeactly did Webster bring to Illinois? Next there is anopther knuclehead on here saying 2010 recruit Richardson's dad is lying that his son is still committed to Illinois...based on what? Finally to all the Hoosier fans, enjoy this year, because next year when Gordon and White are gone its back to losing to Illinois, just like you did two out of three times last year to a wounded Illini team!!
Poor Bruce, you crybaby. I love it, what do you expect hiring a Purdue guy. Quit whining about EJ and get ready to take some whippings. A second tier coach and a second tier program- what do you expect?
All I can say is there are going to be an awful lot of disappointed opposition fans this coming season. I think everyone, including many Illini fans, are setting the achivement bar too low for this team. Fortunately Bruce Weber does not, that is why he produces 20-win plus teams year-after-year and 07/08 will be no different. Can you say - Bruce Almighty!
Bruce Weber is clean. The Indiana coach is not, what goes around, comes around. Mark my words,Indiana will regret hiring a coach who cheats. When you meet a Indiana fan in a tee shirt, ask him if it comes in man size.
Illini fans need to be patient. Unlike Self you have a coach in Weber who actually wants to call Champaign home. He's a great game time coach with a ton of integrity that will eventually win out in the recruiting war - even against tactics used by the likes of slimes like Sampson. Great coaches produce assistants that make great coaches. Lowery and Painter are Weber off spring. Good Luck Coach-don't let the vipers get the best of you.
Until the Illini start consistently losing, I think that Bruce Weber's record speaks for itself.
What your article shows, however, is that recruiting back stories are the ugly side of successful NCAA basketball programs. I am a long time Tar Heels fan, but I do not doubt that they and every other successful program uses whatever means possible to land that 5 star stud.
However, do not judge Illinois too harshly regarding their recent trip to Canada. I live in Ottawa and attended the Carleton vs. Villanova Wildcats game. Carleton is no walkover for any team, be they NCAA or not. Are they Big Ten quality? No. But a good equivalent would be Butler or any other mid-major. Carleton has won five successive CIS men's national basketball championships (Canada's Equivalent of NCAA Div. 1) and beat Alabama on the same weekend they lost to Illionois in OT. For more info visit goravens.ca.
I guess I'm just confused. Since when is Illinois considered an elite hoops school? I mean they are certainly respectable and have a great crowd and generally make the NCAA tournament but why is this even an article of any real debate? They had a great year in 05 and could have won it all but alot of schools have great years every now and then. It doesn't mean they will be top 10 teams every single year like a Duke or Kansas. I think people need to cut Weber some slack including people in the media. The guy is not coaching at Kentucky where there is no patience for 2nd place in the league, he is at Illinois. They will be solid again.
Some of you guys dont know anything about basketball. Suggesting Weber put them three guys in the NBA. First off, Dee Brown was a top 15 recruit, Deron Williams was a top 50, Luther Head was a top 100 even though he played his senir year om one ankle most scouts thought he could have been a top 50 if he was healthy, Roger Powell was rank among the top 100, and Augustine in the top 125, So these was some talented players. If you questioned these rankings look it up. Weber didnt put them in the NBA most scouts liked Deron Williams as a freshman and as far as him putting Luther hEad there. Head started as a freshman but was slowed by a pelvic injury, He had the surgery before his junior year the year he started showing promised, not his senior year. Even, Weber said Head would have been All-Big 10 if he wouldnt have missed those games from that off the court trouble he was in. He played better with Weber because he wasnt hurt with that pelvic problem anymore. Dont get me wrong Weber is a great coach but give Deron, Dee and Luther their credit. Weber has nothing to do with them guys being able to play at the NBA level night in and night out.If thats the case look at all those Florida quarterbacks that was all- american in college what is they during they had a hall of fame coach. And please dont mention Grossman he throws two to three interceptions a game.
Kelvin Sampson couldnt hold Bruce Webers jockstrap. Look at all the NBA players he produced down there in Oklahoma. Oh wait.. there isnt any. If anybody can screw up this years hoosier team Kelvin can!!
A few thoughts directed at Luke and earlier posts:
--Webster was very well paid at UI; Weber has bypassed raises in the past to get more pay for his assistants.
--This was a well-researched list of Illinois' misses in recent years. But...wasn't Webster the lead recruiter for Chicago? If so, how is this a loss for Illinois? 0-for-6 this summer! Doesn't look like he did much for them.
--Since when do we refer to teams' records pre-NCAA tournament? So Florida went 29-5 (instead of 35-5) last year? This is new to me. I missed the memo.
--Weber scripted minutes for players on the Canada trip, so why should anyone care about their record?
--On the other hand, if you mention the Illinois loss in Canada, why ignore their win over the defending CIS (our version of NCAA) champion? Luke, you're better than this!
--It wasn't Shumpert, but Matt Humphrey who complained that UI didn't offer until Oregon did. Fact is, few offered Matt until he performed well in the April tournaments. He had a very sub-par jr. season and didn't earn those offers until the spring.
--The biggest misnomer is Self's recruiting "success" at Illinois. He brought ONE 5-star kid to C-U (Dee Brown).
--Say what you want about Weber's recruiting misses, but he took a team of no-names (out of H.S., that is) to the Final Four once - who says he can't do it again?
--Weber has an 11-of-11 graduation rate at Illinois.
Here are some suggestions for future stories/blog debates:
1) How could Duke fail to win 25 games and lose in the 1st round of the NCAAs with 6 McDonalds All-Americans on the roster? Great players + greatest coach=loss to VCU?
2) Will Kansas have to play with a bunch of walkons next year? Why can't the Great Recruiter give away his bevy of '08 scholarships?
3) Can a championship program be built when the lineup is constantly changing from year to year? If not, why the national love for Ohio State, who will have 3 starting point guards in 3 successive years (Conley, Butler, Crater in '08)?
I love the commenter that pointed out that Illinois had Jeffrey Jordan ... ... hello he's not a scholarship player Weber didn't think he was good enough to offer him a scholarship. The Jordan boys were toast after Eric Gordon played them last year with their daddy in the audience. I don't think either of them hit double digits in scoring.
As far as losing Rose....he's a perfect fit for Memphis and the Illini should be glad he's not around. Calipari pays well and allows his felons, I mean playas, I mean guys to do whatever they want. The bar brawl of a week or so ago broke across the wires but there have been multiple cases over the last couple of years of his guys just running amok. I live in Memphis - it's front page news here.
If Rose is attracted to the mess in Memphis then he is not the character guy we Illini would've wanted. Sure....the Illini have had some character issues recently too but I believe Weber's reactions have been far more disciplinary than Calipari's.
Memphis is simply a team of thugs. They'll blow through the pathetic Conference USA schedule then lose before the Final Four again this year because the HAVE NO DISCIPLINE OR CHARACTER.
You do know, iluvryno, that the Decline-I have a covicted felon on the roster. Some would say because the "discipline" and "character" weren't really applied when Rich McBride was arrested for his (D)UI.
Nothing says character like drunk driving and crashing into a tree followed by leaving your teammate to die in the car. I wonder what these articles would say if the bystander hadn't seen this and called the police. And where's that player now? Taking a redshirt when he should have been shown the door. BAM's honesty and integrity prevail over all!!!11!!!!1!!!
As a 2007 graduate of Illinois and a season ticket holder every year, the decline of the Illini is truly an issue. Part of the reason Weber has been in the spotlight for his lack of landing the big-name recruits is because of the appointment of our new football coach, Florida's Ron Zook. Zook has turned a disgraceful program into a haven of four and five-star recruits, and Weber needs to follow this example!
The real, underlying story is the sleaze associated with recruiting -- AAU. Having to hire AAU coaches, relatives or entourage members to be able to get the top recruits. Anyone with their eyes open can see recruiting has become an even bigger cesspool than it has been in the past, and that many top programs are now following practices that could have landed them on probation 10-20 years ago. It' all ok as long as the NCAA turns a blind eye to it?
Weber refuses to play the AAU game, and is paying the price. It' pretty much that simple.
Paying an assistant double his salary to leave a program and bring his recruit is shameful and what the article should have been about. How does the assistant tell his family he's turning down double his salary to stay - he can't. And just how did Indiana get Gordon. The hired one of his former coaches - or was it his dad. Both Indiana and Kentucky paid to steal Illinois players. Because Illinois won't pay for players that means Weber is a bad recruiter? Wake up Luke.
I am in the Izzone, and am fairly certain that nobody wants to play for him because he has an extremely whiny voice. He is always yelling and complaining in his high pitched voice and it would drive me (as a player) nuts. He should be given a few years though, he needs a chance to create his own identity as a coach before being cast aside. He hasn't been able to create a team of players that HE recruited yet.
Thank you one and all for eulogies on the death of Illini basketball. It seems that many of you are really enjoying the death announcement. However, as the saying goes, "Notices of our death are premature." Bruce Weber will do just fine this year and there are still a large number of quality basketball players available for him to recruit. Personally, I feel that with all the hype five-star recruits have lavished on them, I would rather he recruited four/three star players; who are willing to listen and learn and want to play for four years while they receive a quality education. Let's see how long Rose/Gordon stay at their respective universities
Zook's recruits hadn't done a thing yet. Lots of 4 and 5 star recruits don't mean a thing if you can't be coached into playing as a cohesive team. How many 'Top 5' recruiting classes has LLLLLLoyd had up in Ann Arbor and look at the great job they're doing??
Zook had the great recruits at FL and didn't make it happen (I know...if he'd only had another couple of years....his team won the Nat'l Championship....blah blah blah). Lets not crown him king until his team does something in Champaign.
Very interesting responses. Bruce Weber and Illini Nation will be fine. I agree distractions such as DUIs and other infractions are serious and must be dealt with as such. I am an Illini fan who believe Smith should have been stripped of his eligibility. However, I hope he is appreciative of the second chance Coach Weber gave him and similar to L. Head, makes the best of the opportunity. As far as recruiting goes, the sum of the parts are more important than individual parts. Weber can flat out coach and this is why he has been and will continue to be successful.
Decline of the Illini...I think not. If Eric Gordon is any kind of a man and keeps his word by coming to Illinois then all would be fine with the Illini nation. I do concede that Weber isnt the best recruiter but he is a hell of a coach. Bill Self is a master recruiter but you would never see Illinois get beat in the 1st round with all the talent that Kansas did when they lost to Bucknell. McCamey will hold the fort down till we get a homegrown savior to take Illinois back to one of the elite teams in the nation. Jereme Richmond we cant wait!
Heres a fact that everyone here is overlooking. With the exception of Shaun Livingston (Howd everything turn out for him), Illinois and especially Wayne McClain are money when it comes to recruiting the peoria area. With DJ Richardson coming up all will be fine with the Illinois backcourt. And Indiana can have Matt Roth. The most overrated shooter in the history of high school basketball.
Anyone who has even a bit of a clue of college basketball, and who sits down and studies all 11 of the Big Ten rosters for the upcoming 2007-08 season, will pick Illinois to finish either third or fourth in the conference, and no lower.
I can't beleive how off some people are in their comments.
Michigan State is probably, on paper, the favorite, and Indiana might be there, if they somehow develop some depth. Illinois, Ohio State, Wisconsin and maybe Penn State are in the next group, but I wouldn't count them out to surprise.
Purdue has some young talent with a good coach. Michigan, Iowa, Northwestern and Minnesota are all in trouble.
If I could rank the top 40 teams in the nation this upcoming season out of the 330-plus Division I programs out there, Illinois would be in there in the 25-40 range. That's right, 330-plus teams. That's a lot of schools!
I don't think that is falling off the map too far.
To the person who posted at 12:13, you have been watching college sports, right???. How can you accuse Indiana and Kentucky of "paying to steal players"???. Webster moved on to greener pastures and took his recruiting prowess with him... GET OVER IT!! As far as Gordon and Miller are concerned, are you really going to penalize them for wanting to play at a university ,that has a real chance of competing for a national title??. Bruce Weber is a fine coach and a gentleman who has has earned the chance to bring his team back to their rightful place among the Big Ten elite.
I graduated from the Uof I in the early 1970's and my father was a professor for many years at the UoI. I have lived in Wisconsin since 1980. Look at the Uof I sports programs and how they are directly related to the importance the university puts on athletics. The question which should be asked is why havn't the powers that be accepted the fact that at the university level, sports are very important as a way to relate with everyone in the country and beyond who doesn't care about acedemic standing.
Hey anon 7:49. Funny how you mention greener pastures. That's exactly what they are - $greener. You don't have any information in your post that refutes what I have said. Kentucky and Indiana went on a major decline. Their Alums are furious, so they pay to get players. It has nothing to do with historic programs or chances at national titles. Neither Ind or Kent will win a national title with their current players.
To anon @ 7:49, check your facts. IU DID hire Eric Gordon Sr's college coach (Meyer) AND hired Gordon Jr's AAU coach (Steele) and it still took EJ 4 months to decommit.
Webster got paid big $$$ to leave UI for UK and the payoff was landing the in-state kid Miller. While I don't think either recruit or families received money, it would be naive for anyone to think these hires weren't made for these very specific reasons.
Something else that I read somewhere about Webster was that the Jereme Richmond kid committed to Illinois without ever meeting Bruce Weber. Not true. Weber went to visit the kid after his 1st high school game last November, and offered on the spot after a 2-hour workout. Richmond called Weber's cell and committed before the coach made it home that night.
Have to admit I am amused by the fanaticism of some of the fans posting. The person who said if Eric Gordon was any type of man especially. The point is, he isn't a man yet. We are talking about 14-18 year old kids who have a huge decision to make. The reality is that college bball is big business and while it hurts and would be wonderful to see Gordon playing for the Illini he did what was best for him and shouldn't be faulted. College coaches routinely offer scholarships and rescind these offers, they also don't renew scholarships as well as leave for "greener pastures" leaving kids and parents behind. Weber can coach, but if he is so "walk on water" great like some seem to think why hasn't Brian Randle become anything special. Bottom line is his recruiting has to improve if Illinois is to become a consistent national power. If not, 18-22 wins and two rounds of NCAA ball should be what is expected. That the Illini rank high in wins is somewhat skewed and once he does it with his players we will have a better idea of how good a coach he really is. p.s. For the clowns who accuse other schools of paying more, grow up and be original. After all, that was the same knock on Illinois for years.