Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber desperately wanted to sign Crane's Sherron Collins to become the point guard to succeed Deron Williams and Dee Brown. Then he hoped to land Simeon's Derrick Rose. Can you imagine Collins and Rose in the same backcourt for even one season? But it didn't happen.
It only added to the list of Weber's disappointments that included Villaneueva, Livingston, Wright and Frasor. The theory is if he keeps winning games, some blue-chippers will be persuaded to join the program. But upperclassmen haven't been persuaded.
It's an Illinois/Chicago thing, not a Weber thing. In the 1940s and 1950s and early 1960s, in the Harry Combes era, the state's best players were anxious to play in Champaign...Kerr, Beach, Brothers, the Judson twins, Ohl, Sunderledge, Jackson, Vaughn, Downey, Freeman.
But the era of national recruiting dawned and the black athletes began to dominate the college game and Illinois fell behind. The Illini lost Cazzie Russell and George Wilson, arguably two of the top five players in state history, and never caught up. In truth, they are still trying to catch up.
Chicago isn't part of Illinois, as longtime sports columnist Loren Tate of the Champaign News-Gazette once told me, it is the State of Chicago. It has no loyalty to Illinois. Illinois coaches have tried to mend fences for years with some success, particularly at Simeon during Bob Hambric's distinguished coaching career, but work still needs to be done.
"If there are five good players in Chicago, Illinois might get one or two," Tate said. "But the others...Ronnie Lester, Rashard Griffith, Russell Cross...go elsewhere. So many people recruit in Chicago. You always have to fight off other schools to keep kids in-state."