This is how a long-time observer of Chicago Public League basketball views the city's relationship with the University of Illinois in general and with coach Bruce Weber's program in particular:
Weber's public relations is so bad, no one can help. There is a misconception about Weber. He is portrayed as a Downstater with no Chicago ties, that everyone in the city would gravitate to him after he was hired at Illinois and he wouldn't have to do any work to attract players. But he has two black assistants on his bench, more than most in the Big 10.
There is still an anti-Illinois sentiment in Chicago dating to the decision to hire Jimmy Collins to succeed Lou Henson. But some people in the city didn't like Collins when he was working in Champaign. So that isn't the problem.
Illinois' recent problems began with the recruiting of Crane's Sherron Collins. It was a fiasco, handled all wrong. Weber, for whatever reason, chose not to deal directly with Crane coach Anthony Longstreet. Then, when it became evident that Collins was leaning to Kansas, Longstreet was asked to bail them out, then was blamed when Collins got away.
Marshall's Patrick Beverley begged, yes begged, Illinois to give him a scholarship. But they told Marshall coach Lamont Bryant that Beverley wasn't good enough to play for them.
Then they lost Simeon's Derrick Rose, one of the most beloved players ever developed in the city. He could have been a pied piper who would have attracted other blue-chippers to Illinois.
Illinois' approach is all wrong. They must learn to identify the top players and cultivate relationships with them from an early age, like Jimmy Collins did. Chicago isn't like anywhere else. There is no way Farragut's Mike Dunigan goes to Oregon if Collins is here.
What Weber has to do is hire an assistant who has the ear of Chicago coaches, who can talk trash with them, who can build relationships, break bread, talk the talk and not be intimidated by them. They want to find out what you are made of. Bill Self did all of those things when he was hired at Illinois. That's why he was so popular and so successful.
Weber needs to hire one guy who can handle Chicago. Tracy Webster was just OK. He didn't hurt but he didn't help. People in the city don't like Gene Cross. He is all glitter and no gold. He isn't considered a Chicago guy.
Who's available? Who can do the job? Simeon's Robert Smith could grow into the position. But the time to get him was when he had Derrick Rose, Tim Flowers, Kevin Johnson, Kenyon Smith and all those great players, not a year after they have graduated.
One well-known Illinois alum and Public League graduate already has applied for the vacancy. Levi Cobb, who led Morgan Park to the 1976 state championship and played at Illinois, says he is very interested in returning to his alma mater. He currently is coaching at Evans High School in Orlando, Fla.
I would recommend Jamie Farr, an assistant at Chicago State who starred on Mount Carmel's 1985 state championship team; Paris Parham, who is doing an outstanding job at Illinois State; Billy Garrett, a former coach at Providence-St. Mel who currently is an assistant at Texas-Corpus Christi; and Will Bailey, a former standout at Dunbar who is an assistant at Middle Tennessee.