By Joe Henricksen

Much deserved Tip of the Hat to Bruce Weber

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By Joe Henricksen

This is typically the time of year to celebrate the high school senior who signs the letter-of-intent or glamorize the recruiting class hauled in by a particular college basketball program. Today, it's time to salute Illinois coach Bruce Weber.

I remember a conversation I had with a respected Division I basketball coach over two years ago who was willing to bet me that Jereme Richmond would never sign with Illinois. And there were other doubters out there, including many in the media. Even the fans were skeptical (and some worse than skeptical) following the Eric Gordon saga, Derrick Rose fiasco and a couple of other recruiting misses, including the gut-wrenching loss of Evan Turner to Ohio State. A good friend of mine, a diehard Illini fan and Illinois graduate, told me he wouldn't bother getting excited until signing day. Even I had a timetable in place where Illinois had to have certain recruits in place by a certain time before things could have gotten ugly. Ironically, that timetable was the fall of 2007 and the dominoes started to fall (and they haven't stopped) with the commitments of D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul joining the already committed Jereme Richmond.

Now, after back-to-back terrific recruiting classes, it's time to get excited. And time to credit the man in charge.

The highly-regarded Richmond will sign this week with Illinois. While Tracy Webster, the former Illinois assistant coach, should get plenty of credit for helping secure the commitment three years ago, and current assistant Jerrance Howard should be applauded for helping keep Richmond committed, the bottom line is Weber has maintained his and the program's integrity, done things the right way, changed a few philosophies up and has hit it big.

In addition to Richmond, Weber found Robinson big man Meyers Leonard early on and locked up a player virtually few people in the business knew about before he became what he is today -- a top 50 player nationally with tremendous upside. Rich South's Crandall Head will also sign with Illinois. Though his star has faded somewhat, he's still an intriguing prospect with limitless physical abilities. And this class comes on the heels of last year's class of Richardson, Paul, Tyler Griffey and Joseph Bertrand.

There was certainly a point where there was some deserved pessimism by those who follow Illinois closely. No, they didn't truly capitalize as much they should have following the magical Final Four run during the 2004-2005 season. But that is now so Jon and Kate Gosselin -- old and done with. The program is on solid ground with a very bright future.

And much-deserved credit needs to go to Weber, who doesn't always get it -- mostly because he doesn't appear to be as hip or savvy as some others in the business. He's a blue-collar workhorse. While he lets his assistants do their jobs, he also has enough CEO in him to keep a pulse on things throughout the program.

The guy has won over 72 percent of his games at Illinois, with a Final Four appearance, two Big Ten titles and two runner-up finishes in his six years. He owns the highest winning percentage of any coach in Big Ten history who has coached at least six years in the conference. Plus, one of his great underrated abilities that often goes unnoticed is his knack for developing players, making them better and preparing them. By and large, the players that come into Illinois are taught and clearly get better during their careers. That can often get lost in the recruiting battles and conversations.

But the doubt surrounding him was always centered on his recruiting efforts and potential, with the perception being he just doesn't have the natural ability to recruit. But those on the outside are missing something.

"He is so honest and genuine," says Illini assistant coach Jerrance Howard of his boss. "He doesn't play games. The players and their families appreciate that. When he sits down in front of those kids and their parents, they see his sincerity. He's a man of his word."

And he works at it. Hard.

First, there may not be a high-major Division I head coach who puts in more time and effort into recruiting than Weber. No high-major head coach, at least here in the Midwest, is out and about more than Weber. He sees players, even cross-checking prospects much like a Major League Baseball scout would. While a few other high-major coaches are flying private jets and have personal drivers during the July evaluation period, Weber is taking red-eye commercial flights and punching in to the GPS in the rental car.

I remember the last day in Las Vegas in July. Most everyone had fled, especially the head coaches, by that point. But in a 14-and-under tournament game, involving prized Class of 2013 prospects Jabari Parker and Tommy Hamilton, there were only three coaches in the entire gym -- a couple of assistants and Bruce Weber, the only head coach in the building.

It's not as if Weber is this young pup, fresh and eager and just getting into the recruiting rat race. He's going on three decades of what really is the grunt work of a college coach -- evaluating and recruiting. Believe it or not, there truly are some coaches who don't put the time into it and generally have a distaste for it. But Weber is just a blue collar coach when it comes to recruiting.

Now he has built recruiting momentum. He has a pair of impressive back-to-back classes in the fold, plus Class of 2011 star Tracy Abrams of Mt. Carmel, the Hoops Report's No. 2 prospect in the class, and 6-9 Nnanna Egwu of St. Ignatius already committed. He's now knocking on the door with one of the nation's best players in the Class of 2011, Bradley Beal out of St. Louis. Where just two or three years ago when a top player was mentioned with Illinois it was an afterthought. Now there is a belief that, yes, they just might land him.

Kudos, Bruce Weber. Enjoy the week.

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33 Comments

How can any article about Illini recruiting not include a mention of World Wide Wes? When did the Illini's recruiting take off? About the time Wes started "attending" Illinois games.

I, like many ethusiastic Illini followers, do appreciate your column deeply. Through what seemed like thick and thin many of us have kept the faith. Coach Weber's current status is more than deserved, he worked so hard to earn it.

The exhibit game against Quincy last night showed that his problem is now largely taming busting talent, not so much trying to scrounge up a team.

I wish that Brad Beal would see this column soon.

A really bright day dawning acroos the horizon as wide as one can see. GO ILLINI!

Great article Joe. I agree that is really time to give Bruce his props for setting up a classy program which does things the right way.

As always, great insight in this blog and looking at things people don't always look at. You pointed out things only those close to basketball and recruiting would know. Thanks!

There really aren't many coaches, at least ones that do it right and don't cheat, that do as good of a job as Bruce Weber. And no one does as good a job on this stuff as the Hoops Report. Thank you!

"About the time Wes started "attending" Illinois games."

lol - Exactly how many games has Wes "attended"? I recall one game at the United Center (where after the game he went over to talk to Jared Bayless of Arizona). Its not like he's making regular trips to Champaign-Urbana.....

Great article! One other thing deserves mentioning about Coach Weber. Several years back, my son and I attended one of his parent-child camps. Contrary to what many other big name coaches do (from what I've read), Weber was around for the entire camp. He was very gracious in spending time chatting and signing autographs for all in attendance, he had fun with everyone at the pizza dinner the first night of the camp, and he officiated (and provided coaching tips of course!) for the games that the kids got to play on the Assembly Hall floor. My son will never forget the experience and is a huge Bruce Weber fan because of it. In addition to being a very good and hard working coach, he is just a great guy, period.

Regarding the comment at the top -- as far as I know, "World-Wide Wes" has only attended one Illinois game, and hung out in the Arizona locker room afterwards.

Do you honestly think WWW was involved in recruiting Brandon Paul as a sophomore from Gurnee with little varsity experience, D.J. Richardson from Illinos hotbed, Peoria, or Myers Leonard from Downstate Robsinson, IL? Was Wes needed to get a commitment from the little brother of former Illinois star, Luther Head?

Bruce and staff got involved with kids earlier before before the shady handlers could get involved, and also targeted the right kids while not putting all of their eggs in one basket as before. There is nothing shady going on at Illinois, unlike places like Kansas, Memphis, Kentucky, and formerly at Indiana.

World Wide Wes? Are you serious? Is this a joke? He hardly has anything to do with Illini basketball. THanks Joe for NOT including that in what was a terrific piece of writing and perspective.

Illini are doing it the right way!!

the team is gonna take of soon so you better get on board!!

Cant wait to see Jereme Richmond in Orange and Blue!!!!!!!

Same with Crandall and Meyers!!!!!!

And big props to Jereme for gettin the ball rollin

World Wide Wes had no little to nothing with the resurgence of Webber/Illinois recruiting. All the recruits were Illinois players (except Griffey) who grew up fans of Illinois.

Getting Jerrence Howard and getting rid of Tracey Webster also helped tremedously. Illinois is offering younger players and getting them to commit early. Webber is alreay recruiting the 2013 class

Classy coach. Classy write up.

Have always been impressed with coach Weber, even when he had his critics. Great job of pointing out those positives in this blog. By the way, this has become must reading so keep up the great work Hoops Report!

Thanks Joe for the spot-on article on Bruce Weber. Illini fans are proud of him and the way he conducts his program (clean) while getting results on the court. He's the most approachable, genuine guys in the college game. His recent recruiting success is a testament to the treatment of the student athlete and involvement with their families. Good luck this year and many more to come BW.

It is about time. And the main credit for the resurgence goes to Howard. Just watch what happens to Illinois recruiting when Jerrance leaves for that head coaching gig in a couple of years. And yes, WWW does have a hand in what's going on. All it takes is a phone call from him. And Jerrance is very tight with WWW. But in fairness to Howard, he is a great recruiter even without his friendship with WWW. Without Jerrance in the fold, Richmond would have decommitted. Jerrance is the superstar of the Illinois program, not Weber. That is why he got the huge raise over Price and McClain. And Jay Price may be the ostensible head recruiter for Beal, but everyone knows that Jerrance is really the lead recruiter for Beal.

Haha, WWW has attended a total of 1 game...you are clueless

The comments are correct....WorldWideWes has little to do with Illinois recruiting. But, he might have been the second gunman on the grassy knoll!!
Come on Illinois fans....stop looking for boogey man. Like Joe says we have a great coach and we are on the verge of a renaissance of Illini basketball. Let's enjoy our success and stop whining about the past.

Great article Joe, you are truly one of the few that gets it.

Many see Gordon and Rose as major misses. People ripped him for sticking to his guns when not offering Patrick Beverley because he didn't send his transcripts into the school. They criticized him for not getting Sherron Collins.

Indiana cheated to land Gordon. Rose allegedly cheated to go to Memphis, and his former coach is a known cheater. Sherron's been in trouble for allegedly exposing himself and sexually harassing a woman in an elevator. Beverley's no longer at Arkansas because he couldn't cut it academically.

All were extremely talented players that would have brought Illinois a lot of exposure. In each case, it's been bad exposure.

After being burned in the Gordon fiasco, Bruce redesigned his approach, and now is reeling in the state's (and Missouri's in Griffey's case) top talent. What's even better is that they all seem to be great kids.

First, outstanding job once again in your blog. Your writing makes it easy to read when others ramble, ramble with long, never ending sentences and it takes forever to get a point across. Keep up the great work and thank you for never using this space to rip others and point out how you are always right like others we know do all the time. Second, from a recruiting perspective when was the last time Illinois basketball was in this good of shape? Thanks!

Well done, Joe. Weber is a truly refreshing figure in college basketball. The positivity of the staff and the program will be a beacon for 2011 and beyond.

WWW is irrelevant to Illinois recruiting and anyone saying otherwise should lay off the weed. Jerrance is an excellant assistant and deserves a share of the credit, but he had nothing to do with Bertrand, Leonard, Griffey, and Paul nad is at best peripherally involved with Beal. Joe H. you wrote an excellant, well-researched article. Fortunately you know what is going on, unlike some who have responded here in a completely clueless fashion, like IDKWTI. Thanks for this excellant article and the much desrved credit you give the key to Illinois' basketball program, Bruce Weber!

The recruiting goes in cycles. No way Weber could continue to miss out on prospects as the head coach at Illinois. It's too good of a job not to land a player here and there at the very least. But he did come close to runnning it in the ground in terms of a couple of bad recruiting classes.

I deliver the truth! Illinois on the verge of landing another huge class in 2011. And then it's over. You wait and see! Outstanding job you do on this blog Joe! Would love to talk hoops with you some day cuz your knowledge of the game comes through like crystal when you write.

O-ver-ra-ted! O-ver-ra-ted! Lets see, Illinois lost in the first round of the tournament last year. They didn't even make the tournament the year before. Why all this love for Bruce Weber???? You read these comments and its like a cult with Illini fans and their lovefest for this guy. Since final four team its been downward spiral.

All the credit in Illinois' recruiting success goes primarily to Weber, then to Webster and Howard. World Wide Wes is fourth banana...if that. WWW, don't break your arm tooting your own horn!

...Great blog. You covered almost everything in great detail and accurately. One thing no one has mentioned...he graduates all his players (w/the exception of DW). How many other D1 programs had kids working on their Masters stay and play? Coach Weber is a great tactician to be sure, but more importantly he is honest, hardworking and a true mentor. He has also been smart enough to surround himself with equally talented and committed assistant coaches, all who play extremely valuable roles. It's a great combination and I hope Coach Weber is the at Illinois for as long as he wants to be...
Go Illini!!

Joe, Lon Kruger is the one who improved Illinois' recruiting, not Bill Self. Kruger signed THREE McDonald's All-Americans (Griffin, Williams, Cook) to Self's one (Brown). Bill Self walked into a Top-5 nationally-ranked pre-season team and kept the ball rolling, but he is NOT the one responsible for the turnaround.

Weber is an average coach who should have been canned long ago. Thankfully we have a real recruiter in Jerrance, and you can bet that WWW did call those guys.

Joe, I disagree with you about Self's recruiting putting Illinois "on another level." That team Self inherited with Frank Williams, Cory Bradford, Luther Head, Marcus Griffin, Brian Cook, Damir Krupalia, Lucas Johnson, and Nick Smith was as talented and probably deeper than the team Weber took to the national championship game. The problem was their coach couldn't get them past a talented Arizona team.

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This page contains a single entry by Joe Henricksen published on November 8, 2009 9:54 PM.

No myth about it, Adonis can play was the previous entry in this blog.

Eastern Illinois locks up another one is the next entry in this blog.

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