Can he recruit? Can't he recruit? Those are the questions Illinois fans and some big city media members ask. Often times it's so easy to blame a coach if they keep "losing" recruits year after year. I've heard it all about Bruce Weber: he's too dry; he can't close the deal; he's not a people person; and he should just coach and never recruit. Funny thing is, in doing a little research and talking with the players that he's recruited - those statements appear to be false.
Understand this is not to "protect" Coach Weber, but I guess I don't understand why many people say this guy can't recruit. Though I think I may have a pretty good idea.
Could it be they say Weber can't recruit because of players like this: Jon Scheyer, Sherron Collins, Shaun Livingston, Julian Wright and Derrick Rose? Well, let's see here. Correct me if I'm wrong, but before Weber came to Illinois he followed now-Kansas Coach Bill Self who followed Lon Kruger? Okay, tell me what you know about these players: Corey Maggette, Quentin Richardson, Bobby Simmons, Shannon Brown, Andre Brown, Andre Iguodala, Sean Dockery and Dwyane Wade. Now a few people felt that Bill Self was the savior of all when it came to the game of recruiting, but looking at that list some of those players would have looked awful nice in orange and blue. With that list of thirteen players, were any of them ranked number one? The closest in that list would have been Shaun Livingston.
Let's go back to players that did play for the Fighting Illini with high lofty rankings. Brian Cook and Dee Brown were McDonald's All-Americans. Deron Williams wasn't a McDonald's AA, but he became an NBA Lottery pick. Luther Head wasn't a top 25 recruit nationally coming out of high school, but put himself to become a first round draft pick by the Houston Rockets.
With all that, and going back to the day of former Coach Lou Henson and the exception of Marcus Liberty, none of those players or coaches can say they could possibly become the National Player of the Year like Weber's recruit out of Indiana, Eric Gordon. Like it or not, Gordon will be the highest ranked player in over 10 years at Illinois and he's was recruited by none other than Bruce Weber and his staff. People can't even say that when Self was at Illinois and he had a "verbal" commitment from Charlie Villanueva. Sure, a lot of those players mentioned played in the top high school all-star games, but none are at the status Gordon is right now.
Again, this isn't to try and convince anyone or change their opinion of Weber as a recruiter, but facts are facts and Gordon is currently competing for player of the year honors with O.J. Mayo.
Bottom line is this: because recently Weber hasn't landed the "best" player from the State of Illinois people say he can't recruit. No coach in this state has been able to get that done. Like him or not, Weber is a great coach and I know this for a fact. Before Weber came to Illinois Deron Williams was a good player. Weber, in my opinion, made him into a great one. Last night I threw in the DVD of the Illinois-Arizona game when the Illini were marching to the final four. Williams knew Weber's motion offense so well he may be able to teach it better than Weber himself. A few months ago I spoke with Illini recruit Eric Gordon and asked him for some of his reasons for attending Illinois and this is what he said: "I like the system Coach Weber runs. I can see myself doing very well in it. He's a great coach; look at what he did with Deron Williams and Luther Head. They look great in the NBA and I can see myself playing in that system." I've said this many times: Williams was a stud at Illinois regardless what state he came from, but imagine how the good people in Texas felt watching him in the national title game playing for Illinois."
The State of Illinois is very rich in basketball talent, I can't argue that, and the Illini staff better continue to recruit it. For whatever reason some don't want to play for Illinois (coaching, location, conference or other reasons) and that's their choice, but it's not the only place that produces great high school players.
On a side note, I encourage any of you if possible to get out and see Eric Gordon play in person. When he went head-to-head with Chicago Simeon guard Derrick Rose I was sitting next to 15-20 reporters. At that time Rose was "ranked" higher than Gordon, but after the game was over, maybe 10 of those same reporters stated, "Well, we know who the best player is between those two All-Americans."