When Head Coach Bruce Weber was hired a lot of fans, alumni and even a few players groaned a bit. "Who is this guy?" everyone wanted to know. Sure he had some success at SIU and he was an assistant under Gene Keady for 18 years, but could he really take over one of the best programs over the past five to six years.
Weber answered the call and then some. Remember all the talk about this "motion" offense and players buying into it? Remember when Illinois got blown out by Providence 70-51 in New York, or losing a home game to Purdue 58-54? People wanted a new coach after the season. Now I ask those same people - do you feel that way today?
Bruce Weber is clearly one of the best coaches in the game, and he proved that game in and game out. Coaches are judged on whether they have a great game plan and if they make game adjustments. Bruce gets an "A" in that category. This year Weber hit for the cycle with coach of the year awards, and other coaches across the county took notice. "They play basketball the way it should be played. They pass the ball around the perimeter well, and they don't care who takes the shot," said Wisconsin Head Coach Bo Ryan.
Now comes the off-season and will Weber, Jay Price, Tracy Webster and Wayne McClain be able to keep this train rolling?
Right now if you're a high school or junior college guard, I don't know how you can not like what you saw this year with Dee Brown, Luther Head and Deron Williams. Weber let them play. They ran, and ran some more. What guard doesn't like to push the ball, dish it, but also shoot it? In the NCAA Championship game Brown, Head and Williams shot 47 times between them. In an earlier interview I did with guard Mike Conely from Lawrence North HS in Indiana he said, "I love the way Weber allows his players to get up and down the court. They play like a lot of ACC schools do. He lets Dee, Deron and Luther play free and relaxed basketball, and the crowd during the games is great."
These are the guards the Illini are recruiting: Mike Conley, Indiana; Marques Johnson, Indiana; Eric Gordon (2007), Indiana; Tory Jackson, Michigan; Sherron Collins, Illinois; Willie Walker, Illinois; Jon Scheyer, Illinois; Jamaal Brown, College of Southern Idaho;,Brandon Rush, Mt Zion Christian Academy and Derrick Rose (2007)Illinois.
Don't worry; the "bigs" are just as important to this mix. After watching Sean May have his way in the paint, the future looks bright there for the Illini, but you can never have enough big bodies for the paint.
Future Illini Charles Jackson said, "I love how Weber allowed Roger Powell, James Augustine and Jack Ingram to play their game. They have great post moves and they get to shoot the ball on the wing from time to time. I can really see myself doing well in that system." Augustine will have a lot of time to work out this summer to get stronger. One can only wonder if the outcome of the game would have been different if Augustine would have been allowed to play a little longer. But don't let that one game allow you to forget the kind of year Augustine and Powell had. Both averaged career highs and Augustine was the Big Ten Tournament MVP and was second on the team with his free throw pct (75%), behind shooting guard Luther Head.
The big boys Weber has on his wish list are: Thaddeus Young, Tennessee; Isaiah Dahlman, Minnesota; Tom Herzog, Michigan; DeAndre Thomas, Illinois; Brian Carlwell, Illinois; Bryan Davis, Texas; Ray Hall, Colorado;, Josh Chichester, Ohio and Albert Jackson Kentucky.
The next two years Weber will work to sell his program to some of the nation's best young talent. There should be no more questions regarding who this guy is, whether he can coach, and if he will stick around at Illinois. The time is now for Illinois basketball fans to stand up and be proud. You may be in for a good ride.
The Time is Now for Bruce Weber
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