By Tyler Coppock
In recent weeks some people have called the Illinois Men’s Basketball Program a “stepping stone.” These critics are wrong.
If Indiana is the birthplace of basketball, and New York is where basketball was a reckless teenager, then Illinois is where basketball became a well-rounded adult. No where in the world is youth basketball as competitive as it is in the Chicago Public League.
Which leads us to why Bruce Weber was fired from Illinois. He failed to recruit the best players in the country who grew up in his backyard. Let’s go over the list of blue-chip recruits who Weber missed out on. Jon Sheyer, Iman Shumpert, Anthony Davis, Sherron Collins and Derrick Rose.
When Weber took the Illini to the final four, he did it with Bill Self’s players. Weber is a good coach, but that doesn’t matter in college hoops. It’s the Caliparis, the Rick Pitinos and the Kryzewskis who have their hand prints in the final four. All are good coaches, but great recruiters.
Weber did it the honest way, which I respect. He didn’t pay for his talent. Who knows, maybe D-Rose was going to go to the Champaign until his failed SAT score. Probably not.
Weber 210-101 at Illinois. He had a stellar record and never let the program spin out of control. He treated his players like student athletes and was a good coach beyond the wins and losses.
But it’s wins and losses that matter. Weber hadn’t been to a sweet sixteen in seven seasons. There’s simply no excuse for that. Who knows how much success he would had if he hadn’t inherited Dee Brown, Deron Williams and Luther Head.
Weber is by all accounts a respectable leader. There will not be any accusations of cheating coming his way anytime soon. About six years from now, Kentucky’s wins from this season will be vacated. It will be like it never happened. That won’t happen with Illinois’ 2004 final four appearance.
New head coach John Groce has one job: get the CPS Stars. Hell, I think boosters at Illinois would be just fine with him paying. But he must, and should, resist that urge. It’s better to lose with dignity than win unrefined.
It starts with Simeon Junior Jabari Parker. He just might be the best prospect sine Greg Oden. He has the size of Kentucky star Anthony Davis and the instincts of a point guard. Get him, and future is just fine.