By Roy & Harv Schmidt
It seems as though everyone in the state of Illinois has an opinion on the recent hiring of Jerrance Howard as the new assistant basketball coach at Illinois. With that being said, now is the time for us to offer our thoughts. Let's just say that they don't coincide with what appears to be the prevailing attitude throughout Chicago.
First of all, we are well aware of the sentiment that exists throughout the Chicago Public League when it comes to how they perceive recruiting at the University of Illinois. There is no question that they feel that they have been disrespected and on the short end of the stick ever since Bruce Weber arrived in Champaign. While they are certainly entitled to their opinion, that doesn't make it right.
Anyway, this blog is about Jerrance Howard, so hopefully everything that follows will be geared toward that subject. We begin with the laughable comments from Chicago Public League coaches saying that they don't even know who Howard is. Are you kidding us? If this is true, then it is obvious that these coaches don't follow Illinois high school basketball too closely, as Howard played on some outstanding teams at Peoria Central and while he may not have been a household name during his four years at Illinois, he was regarded by everyone who follows Illini basketball as one of their most dynamic and charismatic personalities. Therefore, to say that you don't know who Howard is must mean that you have been living in a cave.
As we could have predicted, Public League coaches are already knocking the Howard hire on the grounds that he is not a "Chicago guy" and doesn't know the Chicago way. While Howard is not a Chicago native, to make this argument sound to us like a classic case of putting the cart before the horse.
Now for our thoughts on the hire. Is Jerrance Howard the perfect hire or even the right hire? Our response to that is how can anyone realistically answer that question? It is simply way too early to tell. What we do know is that if Howard doesn't succeed as a recruiter at Illinois, it won't be from lack of enthusiasm or lack of effort.
Simply put, Howard has a passion for Illini basketball that might unequal any of his predecessors. He bleeds Orange and Blue, which is more important than most people can even begin to realize. He knows how to relate to recruits and knows how to speak their language. What this means is that Howard arrives in Champaign already having a knowledge of how to sell Illini basketball to prospective recruits.
We know that detractors will counter this argument by saying that Howard has absolutely no experience as a recruiter. Our response to that is how do you define experience? Granted, Howard has never been out on the road recruiting. However, for the past three years he has learned under one of the best recruiters in college basketball in Billy Gillispie and we are willing to bet that during that time Howard has picked up on more than a few tricks of the trade.
Furthermore, we can't emphasize enough how important it is that Howard has the endorsement of two of the most prominent AAU coaches in the Chicago area in Larry Butler with the Illinois Warriors and Mike Mullins with the Illinois Wolves. It is amusing that Public League coaches are saying that Butler doesn't have any pull in Chicago. Once again, are you kidding us? Have they checked any of Butler's recent Warriors rosters? Two of his best players in recent memory, Sherron Collins and Brandon McGee, both hailed from the Public League, as does one of his current players, that being Stan Simpson from Simeon. If that isn't pull, we don't know what is!
As for Mullins, has everyone forgotten that he coaches two of the top in-state prospects in the class of 2009 in Diamond Taylor from St. Joseph and Joe Bertrand from Sterling, who are both strong Illini recruiting targets? The fact that Mullins is speaking favorably about Howard can only be an added bonus when it comes to this situation.
Now let's get back to the issue of experience as it pertains to Howard. We have always felt that experience is overrated as it relates to a coach's recruiting ability. What is even more important is energy, passion and enthusiasm, all of which Howard possesses. Not only that, but if Public League coaches are going to use the experience argument as a means of alienating Howard, it simply doesn't hold water, particularly when reading the list of candidates that they were lobbying for. The bottom line is that with maybe one or two exceptions, none of them have any more experience than Howard and certainly don't know all of the ropes when it comes to recruiting.
Make no mistake about it--there is no question that Chicago will always be an important recruiting battleground for the University of Illinois when it comes to basketball recruiting. At the same time, who do these Public League coaches think they are to automatically assume that Illini recruiting has to begin and end with Chicago? Up until now, we have long thought that the Public League is an absolute recruiting necessity for Illinois and it probably still is. However, in light of the way Public League coaches continue to talk, we are now wondering if perhaps the downstate people are right when they say that Bruce Weber should simply cut off all ties with Chicago and concentrate primarily on trying to land top-tier recruits nationally with the hope that he could consistently win by doing so.
It seems to us that the Public League coaches are trying to chastize Howard before they even get an opportunity to meet him. We find it ironic that these coaches constantly stress the importance of having "one of their own" as an assistant coach at Illinois when it was long thought that they had just the guy in that regard in Tracy Webster. After all, Webster had developed a reputation (and one that was rightfully earned) throughout the Public League as being someone who players and coaches could relate to and someone who would be able to reestablish a recruiting pipeline between the University of Illinois and the Public League. Nevertheless, through no fault of Webster's own, this still wasn't enough to sway a single Public League recruit to Illinois during his tenure there. That is why we are firmly convinced that at this point it doesn't matter who the assistant coach at Illinois is, as it will never change the existing mindset of most Public League coaches. Therefore, we must ask why Bruce Weber doesn't have the right to hire an assistant who brings more to the table then just the ability to recruit Chicago.
In conclusion, we continue to be amazed at how much scrutiny the University of Illinois continues to receive for its recruiting inefficiency in Chicago, when the truth is there are some other prominent college basketball programs in the Midwest who have been shut out on Chicago recruits as well, some of whom (unlike Illinois) haven't even made the Public League that big of a recruiting priority. Yet you never hear about that from anyone around the Windy City.
The bottom line is that more than anything else, Jerrance Howard deserves to be given a chance. He has earned the right to prove himself both as a coach and a recruiter, not only to coaches in the Chicago Public League, but to everyone in college basketball.