Illini Nation is overjoyed with Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber's decision to hire former Illini point guard Jerrance Howard as his new assistant coach, replacing Tracy Webster. Howard is loyal and popular, young and energetic, and has the endorsements of several former players and two well-known AAU coaches who are based in the Chicago area.
But can he recruit Chicago? Can he succeed where Illinois has failed in the past? Can a Peoria product who admits to having no recruiting experience accomplish what former Illini assistants Tony Yates and Jimmy Collins and former Illinois coach Bill Self did in a short period of time? Public League coaches are skeptical. In fact, they are outraged by Weber's choice.
"Who is Jerrance Howard? He has no credibility and no stripes in Chicago. He'll get no rhythm in Chicago, no love," one coach said. "The fact that he is black and played at Illinois cuts no mustard up here. It's all about disrespecting Chicago."
Another coach said Howard's hiring is a slap in the face to Chicago. "We have no clue who (Howard) is. Now (Weber) has two Peoria people (the other is former Peoria Manual coach Wayne McClain) on his staff and nobody from Chicago. It makes no sense," he said.
In selecting Howard, who backed up Frank Williams, Deron Williams and Dee Brown at Illinois and has served on Billy Gillespie's staffs at Texas A&M and Kentucky for the last three years, Public League coaches arge that Weber overlooked several candidates with Chicago roots.
Former Whitney Young star Dennis Gates, now an assistant at Northern Illinois, said he wasn't interested in the job, that he wanted to stay at NIU. But Public League coaches said there were others who have solid credentials and their respect, including Illinois State assistant Paris Parham, Chicago State assistant Jamie Farr, Simeon coach Robert Smith, former Illinois stars Kenny Battle and Bryant Notree.
Larry Butler, director of the Illinois Warriors AAU program, told the Champaign News-Gazette that Howard, who once played for Butler, "will be unheralded in terms of getting recruits out of Chicago for Illinois."
"Butler has no pop in Chicago, only Downstate," one coach said.
Mike Mullins, director of the Illinois Wolves program, told the Champaign News-Gazette that it was important for Weber to find someone who was loyal and passionate to him and the program. "Now they have someone who played for them and knows what it takes to sell Illinois," Mullins said.
But one city coach predicted that Howard "will be totally ignored like Illinois was before Tony Yates and the post-Jimmy Collins era and until Bill Self came in. I just don't think (Weber) has any concept of what goes on in Chicago."
Another coach said the answer to solving Illinois' recruiting problems in Chicago is Dee Brown.
"He would be the best thing to happen to Illinois," the coach said. "He is magic in Chicago, someone with great personality and charisma. People love him. Unfortunately, at this time, he is trying to play professional basketball. But, if and when the time comes, he could take over the city."