Matt Bollant Named New UI Women's Coach

Long-suffering Fighting Illini women's basketball fans may finally see a light at the end of the tunnel. Today athletic director Mike Thomas announced the hiring of Matt Bollant to be the new women's coach. Bollant brings an unbelievable record of success with him, most recently from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. And he made a tremendous first impression at his introduction.

Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas was glowing in his praise for new women's basketball coach Matt Bollant at his introductory press conference Wednesday.

"When you talk about Matt Bollant's accomplishments at UW-Green Bay, I have to sit there and say, 'This just can't be true.' He's won seven straight conference championships and had four straight NCAA championship appearances, including a trip to the Sweet 16.

"He's won 88.6% of his games at UW-Green Bay. He went 85-5 in conference play. His overall record is 282-55. That is not a misprint; that is real. He's done a great job at UW-Green Bay.

"He has Big Ten ties as an assistant at Indiana when they won a Big Ten championship in 2002. Another thing that is impressive is he's 17-9 against BCS schools, and he's 6-2 against the Big Ten. I can tell you the Big Ten isn't happy that Matt Bollant is getting introduced as our next women's basketball coach because he's going to do a wonderful job.

"He knows how to build a program. He knows what it takes to have a winning program. He's a quality person who's going to do it the right way. If you take the way he builds and intersect it with high-level student-athletes, kids that are really skilled, I think we are looking for a bright, bright future in the women's basketball program."

Bollant makes a great first impression. He has a strong, confident personality that commands both respect and optimism. He knows what it takes to be a head coach and compete at a high level, and he arrives at Illinois with a certainty that can inspire both players and fans.

"I'm just thrilled to be here. I'm hoping to be here for a lifetime. It's a great opportunity. I had some other opportunities, but from the start this is where I wanted to be because of the potential I see in this program."

Bollant had already met with Illini players prior to his introduction. He knows them and believes in their potential.

"You know, change is hard. Going through a transition is hard. But immediately, you could see the smiles on their faces. You could see the hope of a future and what we can build here.

"It was exciting to see them. I knew all these players because I recruited them coming out of high school. But we couldn't get those players at Green Bay. Those players were ranked way higher than our players at Green Bay.

"So I think if we practice right, we'll learn to play right. When we do those things with the talent that we have, when they learn to trust me and learn to do the right things in practice, it can be exciting how quickly this can go in the right direction."

Bollant promises to work tirelessly to make the Illini successful on the court.

"It's been done here before. In 1997-98, they got to a Sweet 16. It can be done again. How fast, I'm not going to stand here and make promises on how quickly we're going to win basketball games.

"I will promise you this: you're going to have a head coach who is in the community. You're going to have a head coach who works his tail off to make this great. If they give as much effort as they can give, good things will happen. Everything else will take care of itself."

The new offensive and defensive schemes should be fun for players and exciting for fans.

"When I talked to the players today, I talked about running a dribble-motion. Against Kentucky, we ran (John) Calipari's dribble-motion. Tomorrow when we have practice, I will be putting in the dribble-motion offense. If we were playing a game in two weeks, as talented as these young ladies are, we could be pretty good in that.

"So offensively, we're going to get to the rim. Dribble-drives lead to layups and threes. I like both of those. We will run a couple of set plays here and there. But I want to teach them how to play.

"What happens if you don't score out of a set play? Well, you'd better know how to play. So we won't spend a lot of time running our plays, we'll spend time teaching them how to play.

"We will pressure the ball defensively. We forced 30 turnovers against Iowa State, and they hadn't had more than 23 all year. We played Kentucky next and forced 34 turnovers."

Much of his time will be spent training his women in proper fundamentals.

"Those girls are athletic, they're talented. If they learn how to practice the way we practiced, it's pretty exciting. I know their level of athleticism. Obviously, they need more skills.

"Coach (Jim) Foster said one time, when you're recruiting, recruit athleticism and recruit skill. We are going to recruit both here. We are really athletic, we need to become more skilled. Tomorrow we're going to be talking about their footwork when they shoot, making sure they're balanced and stepping into the shot."

Bollant knows he must prove himself to his players, and he will work diligently to gain their trust.

"It's fun talking to them. I think they're very excited. But it's hard for young ladies to give their trust to someone immediately. I can tell them the right things, but I have to back it up every single day.

"I told them next year at this time, I hope they'll feel like everything I told them today, I followed through with. You can trust who I am, you can trust how I'm going to treat you, how fair and just.

"They may not like practice, but we're going to hold them accountable and be stressed at times. But girls do want structure. They want to put their head on the pillow at night and say, 'I did my best today.' That's a pretty good feeling."

Bollant feels blessed to have so much talent residing close to Champaign-Urbana. He's excited about the recruiting potential at Illinois.

"I think you have to be great within five hours. If you want to build the program to be great nationally every year, you've got to be great within a five-hour radius of Champaign. There are plenty of players. You don't have to go any farther than that.

"The state of Illinois for women's basketball is as good as any other state. We are not going to get every one of those players. I'm not going to stand here and tell you we're going to get every player out of Chicago. That's not the truth. We are going to get more. If we just get 50% (of the best ones), we're already better."

Selling the program to the fans will be a major emphasis.

"I'm also really excited to be involved with the community. Everywhere we've gone, we dove in head first. We made great friends and built great relationships in every city that we've been in. We can't wait to be in Champaign."

Bollant will take his time hiring his assistants. Mike Divilbiss is his right hand man at UW-Green Bay. He will be asked to join the Illini if he isn't named head coach there. Bollant is pleased to receive the financial support to hire a quality staff.

Thomas provided details of Bollant's contract.

"It's a base salary of $330,000 a year. It's a six year contract and has got some bonus opportunities based on success on the court and in the classroom."

Bollant is probably as close to a "home run hire" as anyone Illinois could attract. If his coaching career at the UI is as good as his first impression, there will be a lot to celebrate in the future.

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