The Start of a New Generation

<p>The wait is finally over for Illinois fans. West Aurora's "big man" Shaun Pruitt has made life a little easier for Bruce Weber and fans. If there were any doubts that Weber would be able to keep the machine rolling in Champaign, he answered them Tuesday morning.

When former Illinois basketball coach Bill Self decided to take over a program with more "national" exposure, it left Illini fans feeling empty inside. Most of all, the Illini Nation wanted to know who was going to fly their plane this year. Like so many times before, Athletic Director Ron Guenther wouldn't disappoint; he did what he does so well since taking over at Illinois - hire a great coach.

What makes this commitment so important is that it's Weber's first. It doesn't hurt that he's 6'8". Big men are hard to find. Pruitt's a big left-handed kid with loads of talent. Don't be fooled by what most recruiting gurus have him ranked. The majority of his career he's been injured; however in the games he did play, coaches and fans left the gymnasium drooling.

When you have some of the nation's best basketball coaches wanting your services (Illinois, Marquette, Indiana and Michigan St.) there's something great there. If you follow Illinois recruiting you know that Spartans' head Coach Tom Izzo was the toughest competition for Pruitt. Izzo worked the kid hard, but according to the big man, Illinois just felt right and he wanted to play for his state's school.

The Illini already have one of the best young frontcourts in the conference, with another left-handed stud James Augustine, Aaron Spears, Warren Carter, Nick Smith and transfer Jack Ingram. While this current team is very young, it does see the return of senior Jerrance Howard. The future for Illinois basketball is very bright. It's been argued by many this may be the best group of pure athletes to take the floor since 1989. My sleeper pick this year will be freshman Brian Randle.

Earlier I mentioned the importance of Guenther and Weber, but the one person that was probably more instrumental for Pruitt was Assistant Coach Wayne McClain. It has been noted by Pruitt's family that keeping McClain on staff was a big factor for them.

Illinois will get its share of recruits. Weber has shown that. However the key to staying ranked in the top 15 every year is keeping the best kids home. It's impossible for every kid to stay in state but if there are four players that are ranked in everyone's top 60, you have to land at least two of them.

Which leads us to 6'7" guard Shaun Livingston and 6'5" guard Justin Cerasoli. Both are big targets for Weber. Livingston will visit Duke this weekend, and from what I hear Livingston is their number one priority. Don't be fooled about Cerasoli not listing Illinois as one of his favorites. He's been contacted many times by the coaching staff. Pruitt's mission is to have those two prep All-Americans join what already seems like a national contender in the making.

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