Weber Explains McD A-A Big 10 Slight

It is amazing how popular a team can become when it is a winner. Media representatives continue to show a strong interest in the Illini basketball team. Coach Bruce Weber didn't disappoint in Tuesday's teleconference, discussing a variety of subjects including his team's development, the lack of Big 10 representation in the high school All-Star games, and the role of his assistant coaches.

Illinois coach Bruce Weber opened the session by marveling how his team is resilient enough to recover quickly after each loss, the latest example being the big win at Columbus.

"It was a good win on Sunday. They responded real well after a real disappointing game against Penn State. It drew statewide and national attention because of the shooting woes we had, and not getting to the free throw line. The one thing we haven't done all year, and we've been pretty fortunate, is we've not gotten into any long losing streaks. The kids have always come back."

Weber did acknowledge he needs to remember to use his bench whenever possible.

"I've got to make sure to get them in. I think this week they'll be more involved. Hopefully, we can get them playing well. We had all five starters clicking pretty well the other night. Almost similar to the Missouri game. Our bench didn't get a whole bunch of minutes in that game because all the starters played well. You hope everybody can play well.

"Dominique (Keller) is in a little bit of a funk. You talk about a freshman wall, but it takes a toll on any newcomer. We need to get him some life and some good things happening. Usually, he plays with good energy at home. One of our goals down the stretch is getting him playing well and feeling good about himself these last few games.

"Calvin (Brock) has struggled getting the ball in the hoop and with turnovers. Alex (Legion) and Billy Cole, we need to see which one of those guys jump up and give us a basket and a nice lift. I've got to keep their heads into it and make sure they feel good about it. They can be difference-makers, there's no doubt.

"(Jeff) Jordan is solid, he does what he's asked. He's doing a good job. I think the other three try to do too much when they come in. You are who you are, whether you're an individual or a team. You've got to maintain that. Take the shots you can make, make the easy pass. Do the stuff that you do well, and usually good things happen."

After following a Thursday/Sunday schedule, with Thursday being a late game at home, the Illini game with Penn State was at 6:00pm on a Wednsday. The crowd was late arriving and not ready to explode on the opening tip. As it turns out, the changed schedule disrupted the players also.

"Six o'clock is a tough situation. Even though we're at home, last week we couldn't have a shootaround, our preparation and routine were different. Because of classes, we had guys not eat a pregame meal. And that all adds up.

"I'm not making excuses, but we rely on preparation and routine. When you have games at this time, it's a disadvantage. Hopefully we learn from it. It's Thursday (6:00pm) this time, so hopefully we'll have time for a shootaround. And then how we practice the next two days will be very important to get us ready for the game."

Illinois players sometimes get too high after a victory, and Weber and his staff have to work harder to get their minds focused on the next opponent.

"Like I said the other day, I probably have to come to practice and be a little bit of a jerk today. I've sent some messages out to the players. 'We need a good practice. I don't want to get angry, you guys be the driving force instead of me. But if I have to, I'm gonna have to do it.' If they come with a casual attitude, it will be easy for me to jump on them. Me or whoever."

Weber's staff compliments him well in practice.

"Wayne (McClain) is always important in practice. The kids respect him. I talk about him being the wisdom of our team. They don't always like him because he's on them, but the end result is they appreciate him and respect him.

"It's a long season. You need assistants to jump in there sometimes. If I'm constantly nagging, they'll turn me off. But if one of the assistants pops in and does it, he might get their attention a little better than I would because I've done it the last three days.

"Jay (Price) is way better than he used to be. He stands up and voices his opinion. Jerrance (Howard) is young and more of our cuddly guy. But on an individual basis, Jerrance will pop up and make sure they understand what's going on. There's no doubt Wayne really helps, and it helps me. But they all can do it too in different ways to ease the pressure on me."

Unfortunately, a lack of verbal leaders on the team forces the coaches to assume more responsibilities to keep the players balanced and focused.

"We've got some laid back guys. Chester is an active leader, but I'm not sure he's a verbal leader. He'll come to practice and battle his butt off. And verbally he'll go one on one with the guys, but we don't have anybody besides the coaches who will stand up and get after the guys. Overall, we're still pretty young. You can't get up every game and play at the level you need to."

The Big 10 is highly competitive, with defense being extremely important for all its representatives. Some national spokespeople claim the Big 10's style is the reason it has no McDonald's All-Americans signed to play for them this next year. Weber disagrees.

"I don't think that's it. We had a couple guys that were on the board but didn't get over the hump. There's so many factors that go into selecting those All-Star teams: which AAU team they play for; what kind of publicity did they get early; what shoe company is their AAU coach associated with?

"I wish that wasn't the true factor, but that is all part of it. Some of it's political, some of it is being a star early and getting the pub. We had a couple guys I know were close. We tried to do a little bit of politicking to get them over the hump. But from what I know, there's some pretty good players coming up into our league. It's a good young group, and we're doing pretty good."

Media questions about possible seedings for the NCAA tournament are probably premature, at least according to Weber. After all, the entire conference is highly balanced and competitive.

"Our first goal is to get in. And then if we keep winning games and take care of ourselves, you hope you will be rewarded. It's gonna be a difficult task for the committee."

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