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Bruce Weber

January 19, 2004 Columns No Comments

Live from Chicago – Illinois head coach Bruce Weber

by Alan Rubenstein

Preceding Illinois’ third Chicago-area appearance of the season with an excursion to Evanston to face Northwestern, Niketown Chicago featured a pep rally with a talk by Illini Head Coach Bruce Weber. A few hundred fans turned out to see Weber discuss a wide range of issues relating to the Illinois team and program and how he has settled into his seat as Chief Illini.

About the constant comparisons to former Illini and current Kansas Coach Bill Self:

Weber said jokingly “We had a funeral for coach Self.” The players were tired of all the comparisons between Weber and Self.

On Coaching at Illinois and living in Champaign:

“I would’ve never pictured myself as the Illini coach,” Weber said. He has not had much time to enjoy Champaign thus far. The first year coach said one of his favorite Champaign haunts is Papa Del’s Pizza. Football weekends are also something that Weber really enjoys and he missed while at Southern Illinois. He was very impressed by the passion of the Illini fans and the Tailgating going on before the 5pm twilight start for the Pigskin match up with Wisconsin.

Illini fans and media attention:

The passion of the Illini fans has had a direct impact on Weber as well. Weber had to cancel his email account because he could not keep up with the volume of well wishes and suggestions. Illini fans were exceptionally interested when their team started to lose its shooting touch. One fan in particular singled out Weber to offer his own advice. While attending church Weber encountered a ninety year old man with two canes and hearing aides in both ears. The man approached Weber and told him “The papers are a bunch of hog wash, just tell the boys to make a basket.”

Weber also discussed the media attention at Illinois vs. SIU. Weber felt that not only do the Illini have more scrutiny on them than the Salukis, but they also had more eyes on them than he encountered during his 18 years at Purdue. He cited that in Indiana, the Boilermakers and Indiana have to share the media attention in the majority of the state and Notre Dame captures much of the press in Northern Indiana. He felt that in Illinois, the Illini did not have to fight for as much attention as the only major university in the Land of Lincoln.

On the pressures and responsibilities of Dee Brown and Deron Williams:

“One of the most difficult years in college is your sophomore season – now you’re the guy.” With Brian Cook hopping on the train ride to destiny with four future Hall of Famers as a Laker, the Illini have had to search for a go to guy. Brown and Williams have been cast into the media spotlight in Cook’s absence. It has been hard for the sophomore duo to deal with some of the national attention. With Cook around last season Brown was able to pick and choose his shots. This year he has the other team’s best player guarding him. Weber made it a point to illustrate that Brown has been working hard on his defense.

On injuries and suspensions:

Luther Head has been suspended twice this season for a total of six games. Teammates Richard McBride and Aaron Spears missed four games earlier this season for their roles in an alleged break in. Head was also suspended two games recently for driving with a suspended license and for not having proof of insurance. Head offered to leave the team if he was too much of a distraction. Weber thought his team could turn Head’s situation into a positive by bringing the team closer together.

With the many injuries and suspensions the Illini have suffered, Weber indicated he will increase his team’s conditioning. Illinois has had only one game this season with its full team. The increased conditioning was in part a nod to Williams. The Texan has lost 26 pounds as a result of the broken jaw he suffered in December. Weber had the Illini doing extra running after the loss to Purdue.

On players buying into his systems and beliefs:

Going into the Purdue game, Illinois was leading the Big Ten in scoring. Weber was upset with his team’s offensive decision making against the Boilermakers. Quick shots, settling for three point attempts and not working the ball inside consistently enough during the Illini’s first two conference games seemed to render their offense stagnate. This was also a problem for the Illini in their most recent loss at Northwestern. Weber wants the players to make more passes instead of settling for shots early in the possession even if they have a wide-open jumper. Weber had also been disappointed with his troops’ post defense. According to the first year Illinois mentor, half of the opposing team’s points have come from the post in Illinois’ losses.

Weber’s Self Report Card:

Weber was disappointed with himself and the way he has handled substitution patterns. In the Illini’s loss to Purdue, James Augustine played 37 minutes after Roger Powell got into foul trouble. Weber mentioned that it was human nature as a coach to go with players you feel the most comfortable with.

On Recruiting In-State Players:

Weber would eventually like to have 75-80 percent of his cast come from the Chicago area. He also mentioned Peoria as a point of emphasis and that current Illini broadcaster and member of the 1989 Flying Illini Final Four team Stephen Bardo prepped in Carbondale.

The Significance of the Missouri Rivalry:

The week of the annual Braggin’ Rights game with Missouri, Weber’s daughter called out to him “Daddy there is a cat hanging from a tree in the yard.” After being concerned initially, Weber investigated further and found a stuffed Tiger hung in effigy in his front yard. The Orange Crush student section hung the faux Tiger to “honor” Missouri preceding the Braggin’ Rights game. The Missouri game was a part of one of the nation’s toughest non-conference schedules.

Eye on the Big Ten:

The Big Ten has been very unpredictable leading up to the conference season. After demolishing Central Michigan in early December, Weber mentioned that “Purdue has been struggling for a couple of weeks.” The Boilermakers looked bad in their Big Ten opener at Iowa. Following the loss in Iowa City, Purdue pulled off a surprise with a win in Champaign. Indiana looked miserable after Wisconsin took them to the woodshed for the Hoosiers third thirty-something loss of the season to commence the Big Ten season for both teams. The Hoosiers followed that up with an outstanding performance to capture a win at Michigan. “That shocked me to be honest.” Weber said when asked about the Hoosiers’ victory.

Given some time to settle in, Weber should make Illini fans happy. He has referred to the Illini job as a dream job. While Lon Kruger and Bill Self had bigger dreams, Weber loves the entire experience in Champaign and turned Southern Illinois into a Missouri Valley conference power. Despite his Opie like qualities, Weber cares deeply about his players, knows what it takes to win and will work tirelessly on the recruiting trail. At the Pep rally, Weber took time out to speak with every fan who wanted to meet and talk with him.


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