By Roy & Harv Schmidt
After hearing that DePaul Associate Head Coach Gary DeCesare and Illinois assistant coach Jerrance Howard sat together while taking in this past week's high school contest between North Lawndale and Lincoln Park, our immediate thought was "Yes! This shows that both universities can compete with one another and yet still co-exist and get along." And in our opinion that is exactly the way it should be.
Talk about the possibility of Illinois and DePaul playing one another on an annual basis during the regular season has existed for as long as we can remember. However, this idea has always been shot down because of the bad blood that has existed, mostly between various athletic administrators at each school.
The hostility reached its peak when Lon Kruger was the head coach at Illinois and Pat Kennedy was manning the sidelines at DePaul. During that time both Bill Bradshaw (who was then the Athletic Director at DePaul) and Illinois AD Ron Guenther seemed to be willing to work out a deal which would allow the Illini and the Blue Demons to play one another. However, Kruger was adamant in voicing his opposition to the plan, feeling that there was nothing to be gained from it. From that point on, Illinois vs. DePaul has been regarded as more of a bitter feud than a friendly rivalry.
Fortunately, time passes on and it now looks as though the tide may be starting to turn. DeCesare and Howard conversing with one another is certainly a good indication. To carry the matter further, both Illini head coach Bruce Weber and Blue Demon head coach Jerry Wainwright get along quite well with one another and share a genuine respect for the other person. Both coaches have openly stated that they would be most supportive of Illinois and DePaul playing one another and that it would be great for fans and for college basketball in the state of Illinois.
In addition to the friendly rivalry which could grow on the basketball court, we are already seeing indications that DePaul and Illinois figure to be engaged in quite a few recruiting battles both now and in the future when it comes to competing for the top in-state high school talent. DeCesare and Howard were both at the North Lawndale-Lincoln Park game primarily to watch North Lawndale's 6'9 sophomore Paul Bunch. However, there are quite a few other players that both the Demons and the Illini are showing heavy recruiting interest in, including 6'10 junior Kyle Rowley from Lake Forest Academy, 6'1 sophomore Lavonte Dority from Foreman and 6'4 freshman Wayne Blackshear from Curie. The list of recruits that both schools have in common figures to expand even more down the road.
What is most significant about all of this is that while the battle between Illinois and DePaul both on and off the court figures to be competitive, it can also remain friendly and in the best interests of college basketball. From a recruiting standpoint, the bottom line is that when it comes to signing top-tier players, no college coach is ever able to land them all. With that being said, we have no reason to believe that there isn't enough talent to go around in Chicago and the entire state of Illinois for both the Blue Demons and the Illini to be successful recruiting-wise and at the same time maintain a long-lasting camaraderie with one another. Now if someone can finally get the two schools to play one another!