With the Illinois basketball season over, one might think coaches and players have the rest of the semester off. But nothing could be further from the truth. The awards banquet and annual Wheelchair game conclude the public portion of the season, but workouts continue.
"This is our wrap-up week," Bruce Weber states. "We start with the banquet on Tuesday night, which is always a nice affair. It's the longest-running banquet in the country. I believe it's the 88th year.
"And then Wednesday night we have our fifth annual Wheelchair Game. I think it's been a nice event. It's at Huff Hall, and the doors open at 5:30. It's the last chance to get autographs and pictures in the first half hour. The game gets going at 6:00pm.
"It's a fun event, and it's obviously great exposure for the wheelchair team. It benefits their team and also Coaches vs. Cancer. It's an excellent event our kids enjoy. It's a little bit humbling because it's tough to deal with the wheelchair. You see how skilled and athletic the wheelchair players are. It's a nice finish to our season.
"I haven't practiced, I just know it's hard. It's a fun, casual thing. The most important thing is to get exposure for the wheelchair program and you're raising funds for Coaches vs. Cancer Awareness. It's a good promotion for everybody."
The Illini are also in the midst of spring workouts that began last week.
"We have this week of workouts and then two more. This is the last week we can have everybody as a group. After Thursday, April 15, the most you can have is four at a time. I think our last week of workouts ends April 29th, the week before finals start. Last week we had a great week. Hopefully that will continue through the rest of spring."
Weber has a definite plan in mind to help prepare his returning Illini for the rigors of another difficult schedule. Tyler Griffey's injury Tuesday was a result of one of several things Weber is preaching these days.
"Toughness, we just had a broken nose a few minutes ago, competitive spirit, going hard, going at game speed, improving skill development as always. We try to make it more game-speed. We've tried to make everything competitive, whether it's a shooting drill, defensive drill, one-on-one drill, two-on-two, three-on-three, whatever we're doing. We're always putting something on the line.
"We're not running as much (as punishment) because some guys when they lose it doesn't faze them as much. We try to do other things that may affect them a little more and maybe help them in the long run. Defensive slides, weighted ball sits, things they don't love to do. Make it a little tougher.
"Last week we had a good week. We went Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Even Thursday, I was out recruiting but the coaches were excited by the fact they kept a good attitude. That's the other part, just being coachable and listening and learning.
"I heard Doc Rivers say your best player should be your hardest worker. But he also said he should be the best listener. So he's asking his players, whether it be Kevin Garnett or Ray Allen, to listen. I think we should at least have that same ability to ask our guys to be good listeners. The only way to learn is to listen and take the coaching."
Junior point guard Demetri McCamey is nearing a decision on whether to enter his name in the NBA draft. Time is growing short as he awaits the conclusion of the committee asked to estimate draft potential. Weber continues to help him with the process.
"We will sit down after the banquet. Hopefully I'll have a little better feedback from the advisory committee. I'll talk with his mom and see where we're at. Decide whether to put his name in.
"I put in a couple calls Friday and today just to see. I know they did some stuff at Portsmouth. All the NBA teams are there. I think the people on the committee were asked to evaluate whatever kids so far, whether to put their name in. So you hope they'll compile that in the next couple days. That's why I told Demetri to sit down after the banquet to make a decision.
"You have until April 25th to put your name in. If you wait that long, then there's just a quick two week window. The NCAA's changed the rule to make it a quicker decision like football. It doesn't draw it out any. The benefits if he puts his name in, he'll learn what his status is, maybe get a couple workouts, get a feel for what it's about.
"If he's ready and a first round pick, he makes that decision. If not, you get a feel for what you have to work on for next year.
"We'll see what happens as the week goes on. If he wants to put his name in, I don't think there's any harm. There's nothing wrong with testing the field. The big thing if you do that is to make sure you do it right. Obviously, you can't get an agent, you can't take anything from agents. You have to handle the dates and all the other stuff right. That's got to be his decision, if it's worth it for him.
"The interesting thing will be with the workouts. You only have a week to do the workouts, and you cannot miss school. You may be able to get something in on a Friday night, Saturday or Sunday, but you've got to be back for school. It limits where you're going and how much time you have at any place.
"I believe they can work out at campus sites, but we cannot work them out. The rules do say at a gym or campus site. That probably wasn't allowed in the past, but perhaps scouts can come to your place if necessary. I'm not sure on that, but I think that's right."
Incoming center Meyers Leonard played with the USA team in the Nike Hoops Summit last weekend. He was a last-minute replacement, but he held his own with some of the top young players in the country and world.
"I think it's great for Meyers to be a part of USA basketball. It's a great opportunity. I know he was excited just to be part of it. It's a first class organization, and it was his first international competition. There are NBA scouts at practices, a lot of positive things.
"I think he impressed people in the practices. I know he has great athletic ability and can run and jump for a big guy, all the physical skills. He's got to get tougher and put on some weight, but that will come with time.
"It was a jumpstart as he'll be involved with USA trials this summer with a couple of our other guys (Jereme Richmond and Tracy Abrams). They have a chance to make a national team. He got a little taste of that experience, and hopefully it will help him this summer."
With Weber involved in USA basketball, he was asked if he recommended Leonard for the team. He provided a sheepish confirmation.
"I am on the national committee. It was a case of right place, right time. Someone else got hurt, and it just so happened they needed a big guy. We were able to add him to that. It was good for him. He got some playing time and the great competition in practice.
"First thing he said to me when he got back, 'I'm getting in the weight room. I've got to get stronger.' If that experience helped him with that, that's a positive."
Spring signing day is approaching rapidly. With a scholarship available, will the Illini sign anyone else for the 2010 freshman class?
"We're still looking. Something could pop up. I wouldn't say 'no' to that at this point. But I'd say the odds are probably against it. You just never know."