There is an old argument that has been around for years – "Is it the players or the coaches that make a program?" We all have our opinions and love to throw them around. I personally think both are important, but without the players I don't care how good a coach you are - it's tough to win consistently. The NBA is a game I only watch during the playoffs, but earlier this season the Chicago Bulls fired its head coach Bill Cartwright thinking it would make things better for the Bulls organization by hiring Scott Skiles. It didn't. They finished 23-59, which was the worst record in the Eastern Conference. The bottom line is they just didn't have the players to compete. So what happened was a man lost his job to someone else that did the same thing - lost.
Last Wednesday night during a Chicago Cub game Notre Dame's basketball coach Mike Brey was there to sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the 7th inning. One of the first questions asked of him was about his recruiting. Brey said, "Recruiting is the name of the game. You have to have good players to win." Sure it helps that he's received a verbal from big man Luke Zeller, but he knows he has to find players to put around him; which he is currently doing.
Also on Wednesday junior guard Devin Harris of Wisconsin put his name in the NBA draft. Bo Ryan has done a great job up there in Madison, but losing a player like Harris will be felt - make no mistake about it. They will be good, but maybe not the same. The key to all this is reloading so you don't miss a beat, especially for programs like Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Marquette and Missouri. Programs like Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky will not have these problems. They can recruit because of their names. Fair or not - facts are facts.
Illinois head coach Bruce Weber has done a tremendous job of hitting the recruiting trails. One recruiting guru said, "Weber has been more visible in his first year than a lot coaches have in five years." My feeling is that Weber knows in order to keep the Illini in the nation's elite programs he must go head to head with the big boys and land a few of these kids.
So what about that "diamond in the ruff" that seems to slip through the cracks from time to time? That's when I think coaches can really be the most effective - seeing something in a kid that no one else can, like Weber may have done with junior guard Jamar Smith.
Recruiting guru Eric Bossi of the Phog.Net said, "Rankings don't mean anything in the grand scheme of things. For the most part they are just a tool that fans, analysts and anybody else can use to discuss players."
"However, they do serve a purpose and at least provide us all with a starting point for our discussions," added Bossi.
Football Coach Ron Turner has stated many times during his career at Illinois he doesn't pay too much attention to where kids are ranked. He's looking for football players; ones that want to play right away and fit in to what he's trying to do.
Just recently Josh Tabb committed to SIU. Many felt he was considered a mid-major. He did get some good looks from the "big boys", so I asked Bossi how you could really tell if a kid is a mid-major player or not. "Trying to determine the difference between a high- and mid-major isn't an exact science. You have to take into account size, projected position on the next level, and physical and game growth potential." Which appears to be a good barometer.
Rock Island Alleman high school coach Larry Schulte said for coaches it's easy to tell if a player is a mid-major or not. "When a coach calls about a player one of the first things they ask is who else is recruiting him." Recently, Schulte said, one coach came in to see his senior-to-be Lance Young's work ethic in the weight room. He never saw him play that day but wanted to see how hard he pushed himself. Schulte added, "Recruiting is tough anymore and everyone is trying to find that one kid that can change your program around."
For the next few months (May, June and July) expect big things to come out of the Illinois camp. Word is Weber and his staff are tireless workers and will keep the train rolling at Illinois.