No Time To Rest For Weber, Illini

There is minimal rest time for college basketball coaches. Coaching, recruiting and keeping track of the academic and personal needs of their players is a full-time job. Fighting Illini coach Bruce Weber has a promising year ahead, but there are still a number of loose ends he must tie up before fall practice begins.

Speaking last week as second semester was winding down, Illinois coach Bruce Weber talked about his immediate plans.

"Now we've got to get them all through with finals, get our new incoming group all situated, go through the NCAA Clearinghouse process, and then maybe take a little time at the end of May to relax a little bit. Then they'll be back with us once we get into camps in June."

Entering freshmen Jereme Richmond, Meyers Leonard and Crandall Head will be on campus in June to begin summer classes and informal workouts with their new team. With two scholarships unused for the fall, Weber is still looking for a late recruit to round out the team.

He isn't allowed to talk specifics, but Weber is still recruiting for the upcoming season. It is no secret Kyle Cain, the Thornton Fractional North and New Hampton Prep School power forward, visited the Illini this past week. He might be a player who can provide inside rebounding and defense on a team that needs it. Regardless, a couple more bodies would be helpful.

"Yeah, we're always keeping our eyes open, and we're still open to anything that might pop up. Even a walkon here or there, we've talked about that. It's so hard to keep 13 guys happy in this day and age. If we can stay at 11-12, and then a walkon or two that can practice, it makes it easier on us in the long run.

"You want to have enough depth because the one season we went through all those injuries, that year we sometimes had four on four to practice. That's no fun. I think it's a fine balance to have enough guys to compete, but also you've got to keep them all happy too. That's not easy to do."

Whether the number is three or four, it is important the new freshmen all finish out their present school years on a high note so there will be no problem qualifying for the upcoming season.

"They're winding down their senior years. You hope they don't have senioritis. There have been a lot of calls and texts, 'Finish out, take care of business.' And then once that happens, you've got to get all the final transcripts into the NCAA. If they take care of business they're fine. Until then, we won't know anything."

Leonard and Head both have injuries that need rehabilitation. Leonard has a stress fracture in his foot that should be fine by fall, while Head is regaining strength after fall knee surgery.

"Obviously, Meyers had a little bit of a setback with the injury. So we'll have to watch and see how quickly he can recover from that.

"Crandall actually is playing now, which is positive. I don't think he's 100% by any means. I think the best thing that could happen to him is he could get here. Once he gets in summer school our trainers can work with him, go through the rehab and get stronger again. Getting in the weight room would be a real positive for him."

Impatience is a problem Head must overcome. He hasn't played organized basketball since last summer. If he rushes his return, he could suffer a setback.

"The problem with him is he loves to play. He's in open gyms, playing different places. You just hope it's strong enough to deal with all that. Just talking to him, he plays three or four games and tries to get out because he can feel it. He can't go for 2 and 1/2 hours in an open gym. It takes a toll.

"I think he's listening to his body, and that's a positive. He does need strength and rehab and all that, and somebody to stay on him."

Illinois hopes to field its best team since the 2004-05 Final Four group. Quality seniors return hungry to go out winners, current freshmen should be much improved as sophomores, and the incoming class is extremely talented. However, the Big 10 will be the strongest it has been in a long time.

"Already you have Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State. Ohio State lost Evan (Turner), but they've got a few guys back and a strong recruiting class. We have our work set out for us with (JaJuan) Johnson and E'Twuan Moore being back (at Purdue), and Talor Battle coming back for Penn State. So it's gonna be a strong league again.

"One of the national guys said we could have three teams in the top five, and that wasn't including us. We're probably somewhere in the top 20 from the things I've seen. There are some pretty strong teams, and I hope we compete with those guys."

Camps in June, AAU tournament travel in July, and then back to campus in August to begin preparations for the upcoming season. And recruiting is a constant year around. College coaching is not for the faint of heart, and Weber appears to have adapted to it as well as anyone.


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