Bruce Weber: Off Season Huge For Illini
No college basketball team wants to sit at home this time of the year and the Fighting Illini are no different. Weber talked to the media about this year's struggles and what needs to happen for his squad to participate in one of the greatest sporting events each year, the NCAA tournament. InsideIllini.com was able to be a part of the year-end press conference and presents to you some of the more interesting quotes from Weber.
Bruce on the season as a whole:
We didn't have the season that anyone envisioned. It was disappointing to the fans and coaches, no one felt worse than the players and the staff. The players were able to hang in there. It's not like we gave in and got our butts kicked every game. They played hard. Some of the problems that plagued us early were the same down the stretch.
On the Big Ten tournament and his senior class:
It was tough to win four in a row in the Big Ten tournament. We needed a special performance to beat a team like Wisconsin. You have to give Brian Randle credit for coming back. I didn't see him coming back and helping us this year. I think he realized he wasn't going to get hurt anymore. He was a nice sparkplug for us at the end. Brian would still like to play, we're trying to sneak him in because guys will cancel and not go to Portsmouth. He will sign with an agent.
Shuan Pruitt was better down the stretch. The seniors gave us a boost of energy, I feel bad for them, their senior years will not go down as a highlight of Illinois basketball. Along with Chris Hicks, he was good this year. All of the seniors will graduate this year and Brian's working on a master's degree.
Shuan is scheduled to go to Portsmouth. He's been invited there along with 48 other kids, then a hand full of those guys they will take to Orlando.
On the returning players:
The younger kids made some strides, Demetri McCamey has as much potential [as any player], he has to work at consistency, work habits and practice, and that will carry of the game. We talked at the Big Ten tournament that he didn't get any post-season awards. We told him to show them how good you are, and he ended up making the All-Big Ten team. We did play a lot of games but he just needs to work hard and let it carry over into games.
Mike Davis, 6-8 months ago was supposed to go to prep school. He came in and did well for us. His big thing is strength right now, he's a gym rat, he's been around the office a lot since the season has been over.
Mike Tisdale, I didn't anticipate him playing this season. We told him to put on 20 pounds and he did that. The next step is to add weight and put some on his legs so he can get a better lower base. He's got a good feel for the game, and he's got a nice stroke.
Jeff Jordon got a nice taste of it [playing time]. He hit a couple nice shots in the Big Ten tournament. At one time, we had a lot of freshman on the court at the same time during the tournament.
I've said over and over, Trent Meacham was the most improved players for us, he really worked on his defense. Everyone talks about Alex and Jamar for next year, but if Trent works at it he will be fine. He worked very hard on his defense, he showed he can be a big help next year.
Chester Frazier plays hard and gives us 100%. He needs to get healthy, he also needs to put a lot of time in the gym. A lot of people backed off him and he became frustrated with that, then he tried to do some things he just couldn't do. He wants to get into coaching when he's done. I told him to put the time in and let it carry over to the young guys. Work on his game and that will carry over to coaching. We need him to have a good senior year, and be our leader, he's vocal.
Rodney Alexander didn't understand how hard you have to go at this level. He tried to become a perimeter guy. I don't mind him working on that part of his game, but I thought he could have worked a little more inside. He has to decide in the summer if he wants to work on that to help us for next year.
Bill Cole had the shoulder separation and then stress fracture. I guess if anything, the injuries helped him. I think he may be one game over the limit for a redshirt but we're going to look into it because of the minutes he played. He may be able to receive one. There's no doubt in four years he's going to be a good one.
Richard Semrau, sooner or later it has to start clicking for him. It is the little things, getting the pick and roll to the basket. Sooner or later, it has to work for him. He's still a freshman.
On the off-season:
We didn't take enough time with kids getting better. This off-season is going to be huge. We only get so much time to be with them, if someone like Demetri wants to improve and play in the pros, he's going to have to work very hard in the off-season and put a lot of time in on his own. We need that if we're going to get back to winning Big Ten Titles and get to the NCAA tournament. Right now, it's an empty feeling watching the NCAA tournament, but maybe in the long run, this will help us for the future.
On the impact Jamar Smith and Alex Legion will have next year:
We had troubles scoring from the 3-point line and free throw line. If he shoots the ball the way he shot in practice, he will be a major contributor. I challenged him to work on his ball handling and passing, so now this is a chance for him to get re-energized, and make more strides. He's got a chance to be a leader, he puts a lot of time in the gym, he puts as much time in the gym as anyone. Alex also has the passion for the game; he spent a lot of time here on break.
The season is officially over. If this team is going to get back to its winning ways, the off-season will be very, very important. The talent will be there as there should be no problem putting the ball in the basket. Hopefully, the late-game free throw shooting should improve and no longer make Weber cringe. Every player on the roster is important, but several players must better and become leaders if the Illini are to get back in contention for conference titles and NCAA tournament success. We are especially looking for Bill Cole, Mike Tisdale, Demetri McCamey, Alex Legion, Jamar Smith Rodney Alexander and yes, even junior college transfer Dominique Keller, to pick up the slack and show leadership qualities and improve their games. The off-season will go a long way in determining where this team ends up at the end of 2008-09, whether in the hunt for an NCAA title or sitting at home for the second straight year.
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