Illini Lose Key Recruiter

Illinois men's basketball program lost one of their key basketball coaches first, and recruiter second. Reportedly, on Wednesday Webster took an assistant job at Kentucky.

It's been argued for a number of months now that there is something wrong with Illinois' basketball recruiting. Is it the coaches, players or outside influences? Having access to most of the players that are currently on the Illini roster, I know how hard Webster worked at recruiting.

I've called basketball players from coast to coast and many times they would say, "Hold on. I'm on the phone with Tracy Webster." The problem that plagued the Illini wasn't effort and contact; it was just plain and simple closing the deal. Everyone wants to make an issue of the Chicago Public League and the Illini. They all loved Webster but there were other issues that took place and what those were no one will ever know. Or will we?

From the start when this story broke my first reaction was - how can any college coach take an assistant from another major college after school has started? Talk about bad timing. Some are happy about the move, while others are upset. The timing was not the greatest for Coach Weber, especially because now is a time when colleges are bringing potential student-athletes to campus to enjoy a football game before meeting the current players. Having the son of Michael Jordan on campus should only help. However, Tracy had to do what was best for him and I'm sure Coach Weber can understand that.

Now that he's taken the job at Kentucky to be Billy Gillispie's third assistant, the hire that Weber and Guenther choose may be as important as hiring a head coach. Illinois is a great school with a hell of a fan base and support from alumni like no other. From what I can tell, a good coach and a great recruiter is what is needed. So many people want to focus on one part of the state; in today's game you better be able to go nation-wide for athletes, no matter where they're from. Having made that statement, Paul Klee from the News-Gazette spoke with Robert Smith from Chicago Simeon and here's a quote from that story in Thursday's edition: "I think it is probably a good move for himself to coach at Kentucky. I think it will be bad move for Illinois," said Chicago Simeon coach Robert Smith, whose program has long had ties to Illinois. "I think that Tracy took a lot of heat for the things that happened for Illinois in Chicago, and I don't think he deserved it. People want to blame it on somebody, but for whatever reason it was (that) they weren't getting kids out of Chicago, it wasn't because of Tracy."

From all reports, everyone has a guy they would like to see replace Webster. Right now I'm just going to stay neutral until the decision has been made. However, I've always said (and I still feel this way) - Illinois is a sleeping giant. Just look at Ron Zook's football roster.

Weber's public comments were brief on the situation: Illinois men's basketball assistant coach Tracy Webster resigned today after serving on the UI staff for three seasons from 2005-07. "We appreciate the hard work and contribution Tracy made to our program and wish him well," Illini Head Coach Bruce Weber stated.

So what do other coaches think of the move by Webster? One of the nation's best AAU coaches, Larry Butler, had this to say about the situation. "It was a big loss no doubt, but I'm confident they will recover. It was a great loss for them; they just need a good break. They missed out on a few kids a couple years ago and it seems like it's trickled down and they haven't recovered yet. Everyone knows Bruce can coach his butt off, but they just can't close the deal for some reason; but I know they will get it done. Once they get those kids on campus - finish it. They do a great job of getting kids down there, I know that. Also, what they need is to get the entire state on board. They can't keep losing kids to other Big Ten programs. That has got to stop." For years a lot of fans wanted Butler on staff because he knows the city of Chicago like the back of his hand, so I asked if he was interested in the job. "No, not me. I'm not ready for that. As a matter of fact Coach Gillispie did talk to me about it but I told him, "Nope, not for me."

Just who would be a great hire in Butler eyes? "Oh, that's easy. Dennis Gates. He's doing a great job right now and all the coaches would rally around him. Everyone in the city loves him; which would be a great hire if you asked me. Illinois will make the right hire I'm sure, but it needs to be someone who these coaches around here like," he added.

Peter Goff is the Sterling High School basketball coach of Joseph Bertrand and his take on the subject was brief. "Coach Weber turns high school All-Staters into All-Americans and some college coaches turn All-Americans in to All-Staters. I can tell you right now Coach Weber is one of the best coaches at the college level, period." It was rumored that Bertrand was offered a scholarship by the Illini. According to Goff that's not true, but at the football game this Saturday they will. "It's a great honor for him, but at this time I don't know what schools lead or who his top three will be."

A source from Peoria (who asked to remain anonymous for coaching reasons) added his opinion. "Losing Webster was a big blow. He was their main recruiter in Chicago. He got along well with the coaches and players up there, but they can and will recover. I would like to see an alumni - someone like Kenny Battle, Steve Bardo, Kendall Gill or Tony Wysinger - someone who will represent the university well. Also, this will not have any impact on DJ Richardson and Illinois. None at all."

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