The life of any program starts from the top and that's the head coach; but according to one Illinois high school coach that spoke with me last week, "To win at any level you have to have good players or it will catch up with you."
There's no secret that Chicago Simeon, 6-4 senior, Calvin Brock has fallen for the Illini, which would be a nice addition to 6-9 center, Shaun Pruitt of Aurora West. Larry Shulte, Rock Island Alleman's boy's basketball coach, attended the AA state tournament and came away very impressed with the skill level of Pruitt. Shulte remembers James Augustine at that point in his career and feels that Pruitt will have something to offer Illini fans. "I really like how hard he plays and his upside," said Shulte. "He's going to be a good player at Illinois."
Brock is a player that most mid-majors were hot after (like Southern Illinois, ISU, Western Illinois, Ball St. and Indiana St.), but Brock, like many kids, blossomed late and turned out to be one of the state's best players. Brock was just recently named the Chicago Sun Times Player of the Year. Watching this year's Sweet 16 games there was one common piece: they all had great athletes - players that could all run, jump and defend. There is no substitute for that. Right now, nothing's for sure until it's all on paper, but if Weber lands Brock this may be the most athletic group of Illini players in school history.
Here are two names that the coaching staff will have great hopes for, and are probably two of the most athletic kids that have been in the program for quite sometime: Warren Carter and Brian Randle. Both know they have to get a little stronger to compete and be a presence on the floor next year.
David Palmer, 6-8, of Antioch, TN is also a big recruit for Weber. At the time Palmer committed he was ranked among the Top 25 juniors, according to Insiders recruiting analyst Dave Telep. Palmer did receive offers from other big-time programs such as Tennessee, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Purdue. Don't be fooled by Palmer's numbers this year. Those that saw him play when he was healthy know how dominant he can be. Palmer is a big man that checks in at 220 and can run the floor and finish around the hoop.
Jamar Smith, 6-3 shooting guard, is a kid that I love to watch play. He is a very athletic guard that can shoot with the best of them. Smith already runs motion offense, so when he gets to Champaign he will be very familiar with it. Smith said to me, "I love what Weber has done with the team this year. I know I will have to work real hard down there; nothing will come easy and they won't just give me a spot in the rotation."
The fun part of the summer will be which of the "big name" players Weber can get his hands on. But the one that 99% of you will follow will be center Luke Zeller of Indiana. According to one source from the Insiders, Illinois and Notre Dame could end up battling it out for his services. Stay tuned, because it will be a fun summer to see which kids Weber and company try to bring in.
David Palmer playing with his future team. Photo by M. Bates.