When I met with Head Coach Bruce Weber last year we talked about getting as many young players as possible on the University of Illinois campus. That same question came up again this year. "We don't necessarily need to get them here as eighth graders, but by the time they're freshman we need to expose them to what Illinois basketball and campus is all about," Weber said.
Illinois is one of the top three or four states when it comes to top quality basketball players. You can see that by the number of McDonald's AA they produce. With all its recent successes under former Coaches Lon Kruger and Bill Self and now Bruce Weber, you would be shocked to know how many basketball players throughout the State have never been to Champaign. "We have a lot to offer. Illinois basketball is one of the top programs out there and we need to do a better job of selling what we have to offer to our kids," said Weber.
From an exposure standpoint, Illinois couldn't offer any more. They are seen on national television all the time, and looking at the recent success of its basketball players to the NBA - that has to help. Weber certainly thinks so. "Oh yes, it helps when players come on campus and they see the former players here and see their jerseys hanging up. We try to make sure the players know that Illinois produces NBA players also."
Right now no one really knows at this point who the "top" freshmen in the State of Illinois are because it's still early. However, the start AAU basketball and team camps will help give all coaches a leg up on a young player that may look to have Division I potential. Weber was known before he came to Illinois as the coach that can maximize potential in any player, but now they are saying different things about him. As one Big Ten assistant coach put it to me, "The guy can flat out coach. He's one of the top two in our league and one of the best in the country. He's proven that." Now Illinois just has to get its own high school players to buy into that.