He's only a good X's and O's guy. He won't be able to land the top talent. We're going to take a step backwards in recruiting. These are all things that Bruce Weber has heard since taking the Illinois job. So far though, Weber has surpassed any previous coach in terms of landing top talent early in his first year. So far, Weber has landed ‘04 prize Shaun Pruitt, and ‘05 talents David Palmer and Jamar Smith.
Pruitt is ranked #67 in his class by Insiders.com and Palmer is #25. Smith is not ranked at this time but should crack the top 100 after this year. Not too shabby for a guy that came in under intense pressure to produce. So why has Weber been successful?
First off, the parents love him. Weber is a very genuine guy and a straight shooter. Parents respect that. They feel their son will be in good hands with Weber.
Secondly, the recruits enjoy and respect him. Weber is a friendly guy who the kids can relate to but when he's coaching he means business. At SIU, Weber was known for being a players coach.
Third, he's surrounded by assistants who know the area well. Coach McClain is well respected in Illinois and has lots of ties to coaches on the high school and AAU level. Jay Price covers Indiana and Michigan territory. Coach Lowery was instrumental in the recruitment of big man David Palmer. Another contributing factor to Weber's success has been the players at Illinois. Dee Brown is extremely likeable. The players have created a family atmosphere and know how to make a recruit feel at home. Also the fans and the University of Illinois itself have been a contributing factor to the recruiting mix. Palmer stated "The game that did it for me was the "Braggin' Rights" game. The crowd was crazy. Everyone in their whole state loves basketball. It's going to be nice to play there." Lastly, it has been the much publicized motion offense. Palmer claimed "I really like the way they play. It's similar to my high school's offense." Smith said the same thing telling reporters that the system Illinois has is the same as the one he runs in high school.
Keep in mind, it is the beginning of January. Most junior recruits don't start trimming down their lists until after their high school season is over. For Weber to get these two on board is huge. Now the staff can focus on the rest of their targets.
Who exactly do the coaches have their eye on next? Luke Zeller and Julian Wright are the 1st two that come to mind. Josh Tabb and Jerel McNeal are two more. Don't forget about senior prospect Rajon Rondo either. Rondo visited for Saturday's game against Purdue. In the coming weeks more players will be taking visits to Illinois. At that time we will announce who they are.
The future is certainly looking bright right now for Bruce Weber and the Illini. They are currently 10-3 and ranked #25 in the nation. Combine that with the start of a great recruiting class for ‘05 and you've got the makings of something special. Congrats to Coach Weber and his staff for the hard work and perseverance they've showed in their transition to their new positions with Illinois.
Pruitt dunks one home in the Rock Island Tournament