Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber and volleyball coach Kevin Hambly met the media Monday to discuss their joint effort to fill the Assembly Hall October 16. Weber's 2009-10 basketball team is expected to be among the top 25 teams in the country, and Hambly's girls have a chance to be ranked in the top 10 by that time. Both coaches are thrilled at the prospect of exposing their players to a large crowd at the Assembly Hall.
"I'd like to thank Bruce," Hambly remarked. "We really appreciate the support he's offered our program. When Chris Hanna was talking about his vision of this event, it generated an excitement for me and the staff, putting 17,000 people in the Assembly Hall and doing something really special that's never been done before.
"Seeing 17,000 people cheering us is really exciting. And being around that event with Bruce and his recruits coming in, the anticipation for their season, it's exciting for me and our program to get this opportunity. This is gonna be an incredible event."
Weber shared similar sentiments.
"We're excited. This will be a good kickoff for us getting ready for our season. We always meet with Chris Hanna and his team in the spring, and he always has some great ideas. He's actually won awards for some of the different events we've had. Last year, the practice on the football field. The football team lost the game at the end, but getting to practice on the field was a cool experience.
"The kids loved it, it was a great promotion for our program. The Night of the Legends had 15, 000 people in a hot Assembly Hall, which was amazing. The coaches still talk to me about the exposure we had from that. He's trying to think out of the box. I think it's a great idea.
"Kevin is in his first season taking over for Don (Hardin) and the great career he had here, so it's good to promote that. And then I hope both of us are in the top 10 at that time. So it creates some excitement. It should be fun."
Hambly returns six starters from last year's team, which earned a spot in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. Junior outside hitter Laura DeBruler, a second-team All-American, leads the team, which will be facing perennial powerhouse Minnesota and former Illini coach Mike Hebert. It should be a high-powered event.
North Carolina and Purdue tried similar events last year. The Illini hope to beat the record UNC established when they let 13,797 people through the turnstiles. Hambly said it is also important in terms of recruiting and generating interest in a strong program on the rise.
"The exposure of being on the Big Ten Network, and the show of support by the community can really help solidify us in the recruiting world. It helps solidify us as one of the top programs in the country.
"Last year, both teams were 2nd and 3rd in the conference, so it should be a really exciting match. Bringing Mike back, the one who really put the program on the map, and then two teams that will potentially be ranked in the top 10, was a big part of what made this happen."
Weber also emphasized the importance of a major event such as this for recruiting future Illini talent.
"It's become such an important date for recruiting, just to get kids on campus and continue to impress them. Our administration understands that, so they keep trying to find new ways of promoting it.
"It's been positive for our recruiting. It creates a buzz, an excitement. Even last year with the outdoor practice, being on the football field and doing something no one else has done created a lot of excitement. We're promoting the kids, promoting the programs. It all adds up."
Another factor for Weber is the excitement it generates for his players, especially the entering freshmen.
"It's one thing a kid looks forward to. That's why we continue to promote it. They want to be part of it. They've grown up watching these things. It's one of their dreams to be part of something like that.
"You have an opportunity to maybe win a dunk contest or win a three-point shooting contest. Plus, it's the first time to run out on the court with Illini uniforms. It's important to them, and then the recruits see it obviously. It adds up to a big night for us."
Seating will be on a first-come-first served basis. The UI plans to distribute 125,000 free tickets for the event, so the best seats will go to those who arrive when the doors open at 5:30pm. With just 16,600 seats available, those who do not arrive in time may find the Assembly Hall full.