Tuesday, October 25, 2005

I'm only going to speak of this once...

Sherron Collins. That name alone seems to be enough to lead to hundreds if not thousands of comments on Illiniboard, Mark Tupper's Blog, Illiniwonk, etc. Chief and I have avoided mentioning anything about Collins and his decision to go to Kansas instead of Illinois because it seems that every possible angle that could be covered was already being discussed on the sites listed above as well as others.

It has been about a week since his announcement and it seems that finally (and I do mean finally!) Illini fans have moved on to other topics of discussion. Now that the bulk of the discussion has wound down, I would like to share a few observations. For the record, this is going to be the only time I address the Sherron Collins issue barring some type of breaking news that needs to be covered.

First, the comments on Illiniboard (and on some of the other sites as well but especially on Illiniboard) were out of control. I don't want to call anyone out by (screen)name but I was beginning to wonder if there were only 2 or maybe 3 rational people left on that board. Please don't take this the wrong way--I love the passion of those of you that post on Illiniboard and certainly appreciate you taking time to read our posts on Illinitalk. However, the amount of negativity that was on that board last week astounds me. I think we need to put all of this into perspective.

Sherron Collins is one, I repeat one, recruit. We lost him--so be it. Move on. I realize that Illini fans may be a little sensitive about this because of past recruiting prospects that have been lost--Livingston, Wright, Scheyer. These, however, were not Weber's fault. Livingston and Wright were making decisions before Weber had the chance to establish himself. Scheyer wanted to go to Duke since he was a little kid--it is tough to win when you are fighthing that.

We all need to realize that the Illinois basketball program has had a lot of head coaching changes over the past few years. Recruits want to know there is going to be some stability at the top and consistent success. I believe Weber has brought stability and so far he is doing pretty well on the success front too! I am not trying to make excuses for past recruiting losses--I just want to make sure we all have some perspective on it. As for Collins, yes it was disappointing to lose him, but by most accounts, Illinois did everything they could to get him to become an Illini. Why did he end up choosing Kansas? Hard to say for sure. It seems strange that if he liked the Illini as much as everyone said he did that he wouldn't even go ahead and make his official visit. However, if you are going to make accusations, as some have, that something was done "under the table" then someone needs to find some proof. Otherwise, let's give Self his credit and congratulate him for being one heck of a recruiter (whether you like his methods or not). The fact is Self is a great recruiter but not as great of a coach based on recent performances with both Illinois and Kansas. Weber is a great coach based on his performances with SIU and Illinois while his ability as a recruiter, in my view, has yet to be determined.

I believe the next couple of years will tell the tale in terms of Weber's ability to recruit. If we lose out on Gordon, Rose, and others like them for the '07 and '08 classes, then I think there will be cause for concern. However, '07 and '08 are when the benefits of this past season should really start to show themselves. Also, keep in mind that Weber has some solid big men coming in next year and, by all accounts, there is some good potential amongst this year's freshman even though none of them were so called 5 stars. Some 5 stars turn out to be duds and some 3 stars turn out to be superstars. As evidenced by Deron and Luther, you just never know how a recruit is going to turn out.

I guess when it comes down to it, all I am asking is that we give Weber some more time and cut him some slack. I think he has earned it after two consecutive Big 10 Conference Titles, a Big 10 Tournament Championship, a Sweet 16, a National Championship Runner-up, and a 37-2 season. Keep in mind, it takes time to build an elite program. Illinois is not there yet but we are a very good to great program with the potential to get to that level.

Finally, let me say a few brief words to our Kansas friends out there. First, this back and forth between Illinois and Kansas is getting tiresome (on both sides). Why don't you worry about Kansas and we will worry about Illinois? And yes I know there are some people on our side that need to take that same advice. Let's see how the next few years play out and then we can decide who has bragging rights. However, I do have one final comment for all you Jayhawks. Let's talk about elite programs for a moment. Which programs are and are not elite can change from decade to decade.

Few people would question that UCLA and Indiana were once considered elite but that is no longer the case (not that they couldn't become elite again). Likewise, Duke was not considered elite before Coach K showed up and who knows what will happen once he leaves. North Carolina had some rough times after Dean Smith left. There are very few programs that have been consistently elite throughout NCAA history. Kentucky might be able to make the best case of anyone in that regard but even they had a down decade or so. For a list of NCAA Champions, runners-up, and Final Four Teams, click here.

My point is that there are very few elite teams at any given time and maintaining that level is very difficult. In today's NCAA, I think you can clearly say that Duke, North Carolina, and Kentucky are elite. Recent history also bodes well for Arizona, UConn, and Michigan State. All of these schools have won at least one recent championship and been to multiple final fours. Kansas--not so much. Yes they were in the Final Four in 2002 and runners-up in 2003 but no championships. Kansas has won two National Championships total, one in 1952 and one in 1988. There are a lot of schools on the Championship list that have won two titles or more. It also seems to me that Kansas has been quite the bracktbuster lately with early losses in the tournament. With all do respect to Kansas' rich history (which they definitely have), the notion that Kansas is on the same elite level as Duke, North Carolina, and Kentucky is just not supported by the facts. If you want to argue that you are considered "more elite" than Illinois, then fine. I can live with that for now. As I said earlier, let's see what happens over the next few years and then we can have this discussion again.

Bits and Pieces from the news:

Some good comments about Luther Head and Deron Williams in the Chicago Tribune (Don't let the title of the article fool you. Keep reading). If you get praise as a rookie from Jerry Sloan (who is one of the all-time great basketball coaches and one of my favorites), that is saying something. If Deron and Luther perform well in the NBA, that will be nothing but positive for Illinois' basketball recruiting.

The NCAA continues to show a total lack of competency with regards to their Native American mascot/symbol policy. They have denied Bradley University's appeal to continue using the nickname Bradley Braves while at the same time commending them for making their mascot a bobcat. Apparently, the NCAA feels that the word Braves is hostile and abusive. This does not bode well for Illinois' appeal but what else is new when it comes to the NCAA.


Monday, October 24, 2005

That will be $5 please

Please explain this to me: My soon to be 8 month old daughter, the Illinette, can fly to Atlanta and back for free but to attend an Illini football game, she must have a $5 "lap ticket"? Are you kidding me? Is the athletic departmetn really this hard up for cash? Apparently, they are. Oskee Mom Mom, the Illinette, and I made the trip to Champaign-Urbana this weekend for Homecoming. It was great to catch up with friends and family who also made the trip and to do a little tailgating.

However, the football game was a total debacle. First, as we are waiting in line to get into the stadium, we are told we need to go all the way back to Gate 16 to buy a so called lap ticket for the Illinette. If you have kids and know what it is like to take an infant around with you and all the stuff they require, you know getting out of line, going to buy a lap ticket, and then waiting in line again wasn't exactly a picnic. Back to my thoughts when we were told we needed a lap ticket--Sarcasm Alert: Hello, she is sitting on my lap. I should be charging you $5 for providing the seat! End Sarcasm Alert. Why in the world would you need a ticket in this case? I was told that everyone must have a ticket in order to keep track of the people in the stadium. Not really sure what his means since the lap ticket looks like one of those little raffle tickets people use and once you give it to the ticket person at the gate, you don't get any part of it back. There would be no way of tracking the infant who used the ticket, and frankly, (warning, more sarcasm) I certainly don't think they are a security threat! Anyway, we bit the bullet and paid the $5. I can live with spending $5 but I have to say that I think this is one of the most ridiculous policies I have observed in recent years.

Moving on, we were a bit late getting to our seats due to the ticket issue. As we came into the stadium, Illinois had just scored a field goal to go up by 3 points. We should have taken a picture of the scoreboard then! The next thing we know, Penn State is up 35-3 with 10 minutes left in the second quarter. By halftime, it was 56-3. This is progress? We are tied with Purdue for last in the Big 10 with even Indiana ahead of us. This was just a terrible game. It is going to take longer than I expected for Illinois football to get back to a winning program. However, I fully support Coach Zook and believe he needs to be given time to let the current players continue to learn his system, let his starters mature (there are a lot of sophomores/freshman getting playing time), and to get his own recruits in the program. I think Illinois will have a good football team again but it is going to take longer than many of us may have anticipated. On the positive side, Zook seems to be keeping his head up as you can read here. Also, some interesting comments from Joe Paterno here.


Friday, October 14, 2005

LIVE Chat With Dee Brown!

Midnight Madness starts tonight! As part of the hype, Dee Brown will take questions today at 11 a.m. Central in a LIVE chat on www.fightingillini.com. (Kudos to the Illinois Sports Information Department for a great idea!)


Thursday, October 13, 2005

No Slick Willy, Just the Real Deal

There are a lot of Slick Willy coaches in college basketball. You know who they are--the Quinn Snyder's, Billy Donovan's, and Bill Self's of the world (my apologies for any name misspellings and to the many coaches who fall into this category that I didn't take time to specifically name).

Thankfully, there are also some coaches who are very genuine and are the what you see is what you get type of people. Bruce Weber falls into this category. I have had a lot of respect for Coach Weber since he became the head coach at Illinois and many of my impressions of him were confirmed Tuesday night. Coach was at a store near where I work to sign his book, "Through My Eyes," which focuses on the 2004-2005 Illini season from his point of view. After work, I took the time to go over and meet Coach Weber and to pick up a copy of his book. He was scheduled to be at the store from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. When I arrived, it was around 5:20 and there were about 25-30 people ahead of me in line. Obviously, I had some time to kill so I visited wih a few of the other people in line and also took some time to observe Coach Weber. I was impressed with what I saw.

As he signed each person's book, Coach Weber took time to say a few words to them, answer a question, visit for a minute, take a photo, you name it. He also thanked each person as they left. He was very engaging and put people at ease. As I got closer, I also noticed that he was doing more than just signing "To John" and then "Bruce Weber." He was personalizing each book with things like "Loyal Illini Fans," "Go Illini," "Final Four-05,"37-2," etc. Some books, he virtually filled the page! One of the posted signs said that Coach Weber would only be signing his book but he must not have been the one to create that policy because he was gracious enough to sign whatever else people had brought with them--hats, basketballs, shirts, and so on. My favorite observation was when a mom and four kids who were just ahead of me went up to get their books signed. Coach took the youngest kid on his lap and the other 3 gathered around him for a picture. The kids were all wearing orange Illini shirts and he signed the back of all of them--it was awesome to watch those kids. They were so excited!

As for me, Coach was gracious enough to sign one book to me and my family and one book to my brother (can't remember if I have mentioned him before on the blog but his nickname is Red Rock for future reference). It was also an exciting night for Illinitalk as he signed two printouts from the blog--one for Chief and one for me. If you are wondering what entry we chose to have him sign, it was the two entries from March 12th (you can find them in the March archives) when Chief and I each wrote about Coach Weber and the passing of his mom. I also left a copy of those entries for Coach Weber to have.

My final observation of the book signing was that when I left at about 6 p.m., which is when the signing was scheduled to end, there were still 20-25 people in line (it was a steady turnout the whole time) and Coach Weber was still signing. I know he had to be somewhere to speak by 7 p.m. but he was going to stay as long as he could to try and accomodate each person. I don't know what time he ended up leaving but I know some authors would have left the minute 6 p.m. arrived.

Coach Weber is the real deal. I just can't say enough about how impressed I was by the way he treated the people at the book signing. He is very nice, sincere, and genuine. I have read a lot of comments on Illiniboard and in various articles lately where there seems to be some consternation about Illinois' recruiting efforts. Here is my response to all of those: I don't know how the various recruiting battles are going to turn out but I do know this--if recruits and their families are seeing what I observed Tuesday evening, then we are going to be just fine. Until later, Go Illini!

P.S. If you live even remotely close to Champaign-Urbana, then get out to Midnight Madness this Friday night and pack the Hall with orange. For details click here. (Note at the end of the article that single game tickets go on sale at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, November 1st!!!)


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