Weber Excited About Latest Recruiting Class

Illinois fans, mark the date November 12, 2008, on your calendar. This is the day the Fighting Illini basketball team demonstrated its ability to return to national prominence as four outstanding athletes signed national letters of intent to play at Illinois. Coach Weber was understandably thrilled with his haul.

Illinois head basketball coach Bruce Weber press conference highlights:

"Obviously, it's a big day for us. We're very excited as a coaching staff and as a program. It's not only because we were able to land some of the top players in the country, but also a group of three from the state of Illinois. Kids that wanted to be here. These kids were excited about coming, they've continued to keep that excitement.

"The whole group was kind of meshed together as they've gotten to know each other. And now they're doing some of our work by continuing to recruit the next groups coming up.

"We're extremely happy. Not only do we have a talented group, but the kids come from good family backgrounds. We've gotten to know all the parents pretty well because of getting the commitments earlier. They've been on campus numerous times, and this fall they all had their official visits.

"I hate to go in any order, but I guess D. J. Richardson was the first one to commit to us so I'll start with him. He's a kid that's really raised his level of play over the last six months. He had a tremendous summer.

"At the Peach Jam Tournament he kind of jumped onto the national scene. He probably played as well as I'd ever seen him play, and we've been watching him for quite awhile going back to his freshman year in high school. He's very explosive, quick to the basket, has improved his shooting.

"The one thing I told him since the beginning is I like to coach tough kids. He brings that toughness, the stereotypical Peoria guy, the Wayne McClain, Manual, the guys that like to guard and love to play, that type of attitude.

"We couldn't be more excited. He's got a great personality. And of course the tie-in with Wayne McClain and Jerrance Howard, both of them coming from Peoria and Jerrance coming from Central, it was really helpful for his recruitment. Wayne actually taught his dad his first years of teaching, so the relationship goes way back.

"His decision to go to prep school was a family decision. He wants to qualify and make it. The prep school gives him the chance for individual attention, small classrooms, probably a better environment to be successful. I know he wishes he was still at Peoria, and we would wish he was there since it would be much easier with him 90 miles away. Coming to games, being on campus like he was before. But he made the decision with his family, and we've got to wish him the best with that.

"The next one that committed was Brandon Paul. When you talk about D. J., you talk about explosive and quick. Brandon is just a very athletic young man. He can jump, he's got length, he has that NBA athleticism. He has really come a long way in the last year and a half.

"His coach Chuck Ramsey was someone I knew a long time. He was an SIU grad and brought his teams down to SIU when I was coaching there. The first time I called Chuck, I think it was his sophomore year, he said he didn't really use him much on the varsity level. He played a lot of JV basketball. From that time on, he has really come into his own.

"He had a very good summer. I think the thing in the summer that was impressive, at the NBA development camp, his team won the championship. At the Lebron James Nike Camp, his team won the championship. His team at the Peach Jam, he actually teamed up with D. J. Richardson. They had success and were in the final group there. And then he had success with Dickie Simpkins' NLP group in Orlando.

"So he had success in the summer, not only as an individual but his teams did as well. He comes from a good family. Mom has actually been a coach and coached boys, runs a camp in the summer. Dad's a police officer. A brother goes here to school, he's a junior in the business school, so they have an obvious relationship with that. So again, another young man that wanted to be here.

"Then, Joseph Bertrand committed after that group. To be honest, we didn't know we would go with three guards. But the other two, D. J. and Brandon, had to convince me that they could play together like they saw Dee, Deron and Luther play together. They've seen it done before. They were very positive about it.

"I think D. J. started calling Joseph, and then he called Brandon. 'We want to play with good players, we want to have success.' D. J. definitely jump-started it.

"Joseph's high school coach Peter Goff is also an SIU grad and was Chris Lowrey's roommate. He told me he had a player in 9th grade that maybe could have the potential to play at Illinois. I had developed a relationship with him through Chris. He was around our program quite a bit at SIU and continued to come here with his team to team camps, clinics and things like that.

"Joseph has a lot of natural ability. He was an elite tennis player in middle school, he was a gymnast when he was young. He's got great length, a basketball body, he has room to grow. I think all three of them are great players. All three of them are probably combo guards. One might be a 3, 2, 1. One might be a 1, 2, 3. The other a 2, 1, 3.

"Maybe Joseph's best attribute is his passing. He has a feel for the game. He had some major games here in the Assembly Hall, both last year in the Shootout and then this summer when we had a team event. So he's shown an ability to score. I wouldn't be surprised if he continues to grow another inch or two.

"His brother plays at Augustana, and his grandfather was the first African American starter at Notre Dame. So he's got some atheticism in his family background.

"The last one to commit, who may be a little bit forgot by our fans because he's not from our state and hasn't been seen quite as much, is Tyler Griffey from the St. Louis area, same school as Robert Archibald.

"I actually got to know his coach Dave Porter because I tried to recruit Robert years ago. He's just recently retired from there, but he's developed a relationship with Illinois coming up watching games. He talked with us about Tyler when he was in 8th grade. He brought him up that summer before high school, so he actually played varsity ball while he was still an 8th grader that summer before his 9th grade year. We've had a long-term relationship with Tyler, his father and family.

"Tyler didn't get as much notoriety and exposure as these other guys, some of it because he was with Adidas Nation, an elite group of players that Adidas had chosen to play not only throughout the United States, but Tyler had a chance to play throughout the world. He's been to Africa, France twice, all over the country with this group, a great experience.

"I describe him as an international 4, one of those new-style forwards that's a face-up 4 that can shoot the ball, pass the ball. His body has developed, and he's gotten bigger and stronger. He only played in a few AAU summer events, so he didn't get quite as much exposure. But the people who did see him with the Adidas Nation, some say he could have been a top 25 player in the country. It kind of depends on when you watch him. We're excited about him.

"He comes from a good program. They've had success there. It's tough to get a kid from Missouri. It may have been an easy choice for him to go to Missouri. He had lots of other schools interested. We're pleased our long-term relationship helped him make the decision to come to Illinois.

"We changed our philosophy to get after them young and try to get them committed. One good thing is the academic part. We can stay on top of them and make sure they are taking the right things.

"You can get to know them, they get to be around you and the players and you can then be a positive influence. You can tell them the right things academically and then basketball what they need to improve. The negative is wondering if you can keep them (after they commit early).

"We couldn't be more excited for this group, and these guys are getting to know each other, getting to know the next kids coming up, and even beyond that. I think the more we have them around us, it's gonna help us down the road. It's an elite class that we feel is a big step for our program.

"These guys seem to love to play, they want to get better, so I think they're coachable. They are good kids from quality families that you will be proud to have associated with our program.

"We needed a positive step with this group, and then we have another group coming behind it, and we feel very good about it. So, a bright future for our program. I think everybody's gotta feel good about it, including us."

Illini Inquirer Top Stories