We caught up with the newest member of the Illini men's basketball team, Alex Legion. "School starts January 14th but you can bet I'll be there a lot sooner so I can be with my new teammates. I can't wait," said Legion.
So much has been made about Bruce Weber's ability to coach, and his inability to recruit. Well enough is enough because I've seen first hand each of the "new" future Illini. If these kids turn out to be nearly as good as college players as they look as high school players and Legion pans out, Illinois will be back where it's been accustomed and that's high in the Top 25.
"Illinois was recruiting me when I was a sophomore in high school, so I knew a lot about them. Then I landed in Kentucky, where I got to know Jerrance Howard (current Illini assistant coach) and that just made the decision so much easier for me," said Legion, who is from Inkster, Michigan. Legion played his high school basketball at Detroit Country Day. Legion will have 2½ years of eligibility left, and that's because he played in six games for the Kentucky Wildcats.
When it was time for Legion to make a fresh start by leaving Kentucky, it was a tough one for him, no doubt. He had many choices, but narrowed it down to Illinois and Notre Dame. "I liked both coaches, Coach Brey did a great job with me, actually both coaches are a lot a like. But what it really came down to for me was location and the relationships with the players and Coach Howard. I've always liked the offense that Illinois runs, it's a great motion offense. It really suits my game. Coach Weber allows players the freedom to create and play the game the way it's supposed to be played. I have a great mid-range game and motion will help me and my teammates showcase our skills," said Legion.
Last week Legion made a visit to Champaign and was hosted by another Michigan native, current Illini forward Rodney Alexander. "I've known Rodney for sometime now. I played against him in high school and I knew Demetri McCamey, who I played against him in AAU basketball. And during the game I was talking to Jamar Smith. Everyone that's involved in the program all kept saying the same things to me so it just made my decision easier," Legion stated.
"Coach Weber has proven that he can put his players in the NBA. When I talked with Deron Williams, I got it first hand what it was like to play for Coach Weber and what he does help prepare us for the next level, if ours skills are good enough. Deron told me that before each practice, each player is supposed to come in for a solid 15 minutes and work on the weakest part of their game. I liked that because we all have things to improve on, and Deron said the Illinois coaches know what they were doing," he added.
Legion will be a very big asset to the Illinois basketball program; Weber has put together one hell of a group of young men. No disrespect to some of the current players but this "new" group, if you will, can all shoot, create, defend, and excel in the open court. And let's face it, they look an awful lot like the 2004 Final Four team. So far, Weber has landed DJ Richardson out of Peoria, Brandon Paul from Gurnee, Joseph Bertrand out of Sterling, Jereme Richmond from Waukegan, and Stan Simpson from Chicago. Additionally, Crandall Head, who is the younger brother of former Illini Luther Head, has all but told any and everyone who will listen to him that he wants to play for Illinois. Head is a member of the Class of 2010, and put on a show recently at the showcase event in Champaign.
Like it was stated earlier, opponents better get their licks in while they can because Weber has not only proven he can coach, but now he can go head-to-head with some of the best programs for talent and is keeping the best in-state players at home.
With Legion and Jamar Smith joining the line-up for 2008-09, the talk of a lack of perimeter shooting should cease soon, and I think after a year in the program McCamey, Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis will be much improved. Many fans felt Illinois' magical run to the championship game would instantly pay off, unfortunately it's taken awhile but now the Illinois coaches are reaping the rewards.