It's been written by every beat writer that covers the Illini that Bruce Weber had his ups and downs this basketball season. He's had to respond to a few nasty e-mails stating that he was ruining the players. But that's all behind them now. This group is breaking history records or at least changing them, for example, going undefeated in the month of February (7-0); a feat that hasn't been repeated since the 1954 season.
The fact is the players had not truly bought into what Weber was teaching them. "I'm having so much fun," said the recent Big Ten Player of the Week Dee Brown. This is what it's going to take for the Illini to be successful for the rest of his career at Illinois. He may not be the team's best player (that's debatable), but he's the heart and soul of this team. Heck, when Brown hits a three pointer, the public address announcer adds just a little more excitement to his voice because it's Brown.
The Illini are on one heck of a roll; they've had their largest defeat of Iowa in Iowa City since 1954 and were never really threatened. And what would an article be without mentioning Bill Self? Weber won in Iowa City but Self never did that in his two tries. As a matter of fact, last year Illinois was clearly the better team and the Illini came to Carver Hawkeye Arena almost lifeless.
There're so many games you can point to that have "turned around" this season, but for my colleagues and me, it was the Indiana game when they came from 12 down to secure the win. You could also add another signature game and that was the Minnesota game when the Gophers started the game shooting lights out. But Weber and company just kept plucking away and eventually the better team won.
In a recent article from the Chicago Sun Times, here's a quote from Brown that should really put all the doubters to rest about his time at Illinois. ''I'm having so much fun,'' guard Dee Brown said, ''just seeing us come together and play so well. People don't think we can keep winning, but we keep preparing and coming out and playing as a team. It's fun when you're playing as a team." Big man James Augustine added that, "they are playing the best basketball since he's been at Illinois."
Winning the Big Ten Title would be a great accomplishment for this group after all the things they went through to start the season. This is a special team. Every time you think they may slip up and lose, they come back with a bug punch. You have to believe now.
Weber had a plan; it just took awhile for his players to buy in. That's okay, because now is the right time to start.