At one time, Illinois' basketball coach Bruce Weber could do nothing wrong. He won multiple Big Ten and national coach-of-the-year awards. Everyone fell in love with his team that finished the year at 37-2, losing in the 2004 national title game.
Here's my question, do you really think this man forgot how to coach? I don't. I see a coach that's trying everything every other coach in America would and quite frankly, nothing works. Is he frustrated? Sure, but not blind or stupid. It seems this group of players just doesn't have what it takes to get over the hump.
But watching them play MSU last night in East Lansing, made me understand why Weber is a great coach and now a pretty damn good recruiter. Last night, Illinois was not even in the same class when it comes to talent against Michigan State, and that's not a slam to any single player on the Illinois roster. What I saw was nothing but 100% pride and effort last night. Diving on the floor for lose balls, rebounding like they never had before, and their on-the-ball and help defense was a joy to see. Unfortunately, the bottom line, like it has been all year, is that these guys are not making shots and not hitting their free throws.
We get it, losing is not good for anyone but this year, it's time to understand that you don't give up. Instead, work hard as a fan just like the players do each time they take the court.
It's been reported here many times that Coach was dealt a bad blow this past season. Did Weber know that one of the best shooting guards in the country, Jamar Smith, wouldn't be apart of this team right now? Did he know that 7-foot center, Brian Carlwell, would still be struggling with his health after that car crash? Call it excuses if you want, but those two players alone would make a huge difference.
When Weber came to Illinois the "knock" on him was that despite being one of the best X's and O's teachers in the game, he could not recruit with the big boys. The players on this year's team are not what fans are used to, but help is on the way. If reports are true that 6-9 forward, Tyler Griffey from Missouri will join an already great class 2009 recruiting class, he'll make it that much better. Without a doubt, not only could this be one of the best classes in the Big Ten but it will surely make everyone's top 15 nationally, if not higher. The question is can you, the fan, be patient enough to let this all develop? And, by the way, don't forget that Weber already has received commitments from two of the best players in the country from the class of 2010: Jereme Richmond is already a top-5 player nationally and Crandall Head, to me, is the jewel of all these recent commitments.
Weber is the right man for the job. How do I know? I've talked with him, I've seen practice, and I know how hard they work at things that the average fan thinks he lets go like free throw shooting. Being in the situation that I'm in, I know what the players, parents, and the coaches are dealing with. And for all you that think a change at the top is needed, be careful what you ask for. Illinois's coaches work hard, they don't cheat, and they have insured that the future is just as bright as the recent past, circa 2004-05.
When I call a kid like Brandon Paul or D.J. Richardson and hear the reasons they picked Illinois, it is enough for me to keep the faith. Or when Kentucky transfer, Alex Legion, "bucked" the wishes of his mother to play for Weber because of his system and what he's done for his players, that speaks volumes to me about why I believe in the future success of the program.
I am not espousing to tell you how to feel about this team or the current group of coaches. I'm just reminding you that if you can wait, just a little bit, everything will be happy again in the Illini Nation.
Just remember Ron Zook and what he accomplished this year, when people were ready to throw him out the door.