Remember Darrell Imhoff?
Sure you do.
He was the star of the California team that upset Jerry West and favored West Virginia to win the NCAA basketball championship in 1959.
It proves you don't need a "franchise" player to reach the Final Four.
Apparently Illinois coach Bruce Weber subscribes to that philosophy. He can't talk about it--coaches can discuss unsigned players--but it appears Weber is betting that he can groom a stable of quarter horses into thoroughbreds that eventually will contend for the Kentucky Derby of college basketball--the Big 10 championship and the Final Four.
Van Coleman thinks so, too.
Weber, a better coach, teacher and evaluator than he is a recruiter, apparently has decided not to waste too much time in wooing five-star players who seem to favor Duke, Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky and Indiana. Instead, he seems content to recruit second-tier prospects whom he believes he can develop into Big 10 players.
He might pull it off, as he did at Southern Illinois and as he did when he turned Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head into an NCAA runnerup.
Time will tell. But there are five good reasons for Illinois fans to be optimistic in the wake of Weber's recent recruiting successes. Juniors J.D. Richardson of Peoria Central, Joe Bertrand of Sterling and Brandon Paul of Warren, 6-9 senior Stan Simpson of Simeon and 6-6 sophomore Jereme Richmond of Waukegan indicate Weber is retooling his program.
"It was important for them to have a weekend like this," said Coleman, who runs Hoopmasters.com and has been evaluating high school players for nearly 30 years. "This is a first step, not the end all, but a first step. Getting Simpson is even more important because he opens the door a little wider for the Illini in the Chicago area.
"Some people thought Simpson would go to Arkansas. The fact he didn't means the door is opening a little widere. On top of the Richardson, Bertrand and Paul commitments and the earlier commitment of Richmond, maybe the Illini are getting back on track in the state and in Chicago. They aren't there yet. But this is a good first step."
Coleman said Weber is trying to recruit players who fit the mold of his last few teams, kids who are on the cusp of being in the top 25-50 like Richardson. Bertrand has that potential, Coleman said. So does Paul. So does Simpson. So does Richmond.
"They are players who should get better if they have any kind of work ethic," Coleman said. "Weber isn't going after a top 5-10 kid but a top 50 kid who will get better. He is betting that he can continue to bring kids along. Look at the improvement of Brown, Williams and Head. Weber is betting that he can do it again."