Ex-players say Law is prepared for UI head coaching job
CHAMPAIGN – LaTana Lillard wasn't trying to be a pest, but she regularly grilled her former college assistant coach about moving on to a head coaching job.
Finally, Rutgers associate head coach Jolette Law is doing just that.
"Former teammates and myself have (said), 'It's time for Coach Law to go out there,' " said Lillard, the former Danville standout who played at Rutgers from 1996 to 2000. "She can do the same thing that Rutgers has done. I would keep asking her, 'Coach Law, when are you going?' And she would tell me, 'It's not time yet. I can't just go to any program. The program has to be right because I don't want to sell kids on a program that I wouldn't go to.'
"And Illinois has a lot to offer any incoming student-athlete."
Law, 39, was to be introduced as Illinois' seventh head coach today at a 3 p.m. news conference, pushed back because of travel delays. Law, who spent 12 seasons at Rutgers, becomes the third black head coach in Illinois history, following current men's track and field coach Wayne Angel and former volleyball coach Terry Hite (1975-76).
Law will have to wait to meet some of her new players. Many of the Illini have returned to their hometowns.
Law signed a five-year contract. Terms were not immediately available.
"Jolette quickly stood out among all the candidates for the position with her experiences as a player, as an assistant coach at an extremely high level and as a proven top recruiter," Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther said. "She made a great impression on us during the interview process and it was very obvious why the teams she has been associated with have always been extremely successful. Her recruiting abilities speak for themselves as her classes have ranked among the best in the nation each year she has been at Rutgers, including some of the top players from the Midwest."
Lillard, recruited to Rutgers by Law, said Illini fans will notice the South Carolina native's "passion for the game" and intensity. She said Law cares for her players beyond the court.
Former Rutgers point guard Tasha Pointer considers Law a mentor. Law recruited Pointer out of Chicago Young; her decision came down to Rutgers and Illinois.
"I tell people all the time: Because of Jolette Law, I am a coach," said Pointer, a Xavier assistant.
Law's effectiveness in recruiting Chicago players like Pointer and former All-American Cappie Pondexter could give Illinois a needed boost.
"I don't think there's any question that she's developed a reputation in that area," said Doug Herakovich of the recruiting service All Star Girls Report, "and there's every reason to believe she'll be successful as a head coach when it comes to recruiting."
Pointer expressed no doubts.
"Are you kidding me?" Pointer said, her voice rising with excitement. "I think she is the perfect person for the position just because she's been able to tap into Chicago.
"Chicago is tricky. If you're able to get in and recruit, then you can have some success. I think people view her as being loyal and absolutely a straight shooter. Trust me, she wouldn't be able to return (if she wasn't). They love her."
Pointer said Chicago's circle of talent tends to be tight. Law has gained the trust of the city's players and coaches.
"The thing is, once you get one kid from Chicago – I won't say that you can get them all – but it's definitely a pipeline connection. For example, I've known Dee Brown for years. I knew Cappie. We've all hung out at the same gym. We're all still in the same circles. You pass on the information about good assistant coaches and head coaches.
"Word-of-mouth recruiting is better than anything."
Chicago Marshall girls' basketball coach Dorothy Gaters, who has won seven state championships in Illinois, dealt frequently with Law, who helped recruit four of Gaters' players to Rutgers.
Gaters said Law can help Illinois break through in Chicago.
"I think so, because of the program that she comes from, because of the respect that everyone has for a true legend in Vivian Stringer," Gaters said. "She received a wealth of mentoring from a person that has tremendous integrity.
"I think (Jolette) will bring immediate identity to the program. She has a great personality. She's a person that I think the kids feel comfortable with."
Law, who last month helped Rutgers to a runner-up finish in the NCAA tournament, takes over a program that has missed the NCAA tournament in six of the past seven seasons. The Illini return all five starters from a 19-12 team.
Lillard said she can't wait to start spreading the word in the Danville area about Law's talents. And she's ready to become a regular at the Assembly Hall.
"I'm excited," said Lillard, a member of the Danville Police Department. "I'm going to be one of those older, former players that we always used to laugh at (during) all of our games. I'm going to be that player now."