What do you expect, Weber to whisper?

What do you expect, Weber to whisper?

Let Tate know what you're thinking here

CHAMPAIGN – Today's point is that, when it comes to basketball, many college coaches and players are polar opposites.

Bruce Weber of Illinois, as is typical of the majority, spends much of his time nagging athletes to do what they really don't want to do: setting picks, blocking out, playing defense and, above all, lifting weights, attending class regularly and leading an orderly life. It is a chronic battle of wills.

Watch what 17-year-old prospects do in their free time. They shoot jump shots. They come to campus with a dream of draining the game-winning jumper or the decisive dunk. You don't see them practicing a defensive stance.

As a result of these leaping and shooting skills, their fans put them on a pedestal. And the coach spends endless hours, which the fans don't see (and would be aghast if they did), pulling them down from it and hammering on their weaknesses. That's how the game has evolved.

In the UI's case, Weber is no more or less demanding than Lou Henson or Bill Self, both of whom were fiery practice teachers and tacticians. Fans would have been astonished to hear how Henson and Self harangued their favorites in nightly drills. Weber is different only in the sense that he carries it more vociferously into the public arena ... into the games themselves. He'd receive less criticism within frustrated Illini Nation – not that he cares – if he cooled his sideline histrionics, treated our prima donnas with kid gloves (well, at least in the games), picked his spots to pester officials (do West Virginians fret about that with Bob Huggins?) or, for goodness' sake, employ a zone defense once in a while (are Tom Izzo and Bo Ryan criticized for that?).

These aspects are part of his style, not always welcomed by those with a fawning relationship with the athletes or who see no point in bench blasts that dissipate in the thunderous uproar of the packed house.

But it is an approach that will continue because, in Weber's view, these players need to be prodded even more than he has done this season. If you'd prefer to see more decorum on the bench, get ready to be disappointed.

Stakes still high

Some see the Illini's NIT date against Kent State on Monday as the conclusion to a frustrating season. Others see it as a beginning. Either way, it is a step toward the future and could carry the team to a worthy consolation prize of an NIT Final Four later this month at Madison Square Garden.

Reaching New York would provide a familiarity with the Garden before next November's important visit. I say important because, on an early trip (South Padre Island) last season, Illinois won exceedingly close games against Kent State (Mike Tisdale's free throws pushed it into overtime) and Tulsa. That ignited a run to the NCAA whereas, this season, narrow losses to Utah and Bradley in Las Vegas had the opposite effect.

That's why Weber calls this week "a jump- start into next season." He pointed out: "Failing to qualify for the NCAA tournament is a disappointment, but we get the extra practice time, and we can still accomplish something no other Illini team has done: win the NIT. This is another valuable gut-check time for this team."

And don't expect Weber to let up. Not any more. He and his assistants thought they had to back off at times earlier because the laid-back personality of this particular group "couldn't handle it." In terms of leadership and personality, this is one of the most difficult squads he has ever had to work with.

"I have to be tougher on them," he said. "We've had some rough stretches (three straight home losses), but I think they are finally ready to listen."

You get what you see

It has been written elsewhere that this 20-14 UI team has underachieved. It is more likely the opposite is true. When, during the last 30 years, has Illinois fielded a lineup with so many weak passers and physicality shortcomings? How can we viewers of the scene pretend that these inadequacies don't exist? Watching close-up as Ohio State set picks for Evan Turner last week brought a greater realization of the weakness of these slender Illini in that department.

"I knew the freshmen would need time, but I didn't expect the juniors to be so inconsistent," Weber said Friday. "Tisdale, (Mike) Davis and (Bill) Cole have to get stronger over the spring and summer. Demetri (McCamey) has made huge strides, but he needs to become more explosive. We shouldn't have to hide him on defense."

Biggest surprise for Weber is the team's lack of skill in a basic basketball fundamental: passing. Critics seldom give this much weight when analyzing the team. But, as Stony Brook demonstrated in forcing 17 turnovers, it is a major problem. This team not only lacks dribble penetrators, it has trouble just moving the ball from one to another. It's hard to run an offense that way.

Yes, Weber recruited them and is responsible for teaching them, but it wasn't until he lost seniors Chester Frazier and Trent Meacham that playmaking inadequacies became so glaring. McCamey, No. 2 in the nation in assists, makes everyone else better. That is not a trait of any other extended-minutes members until you get down to Jeff Jordan, who did not play at Stony Brook.

Passing grades

Guard D.J. Richardson, Big Ten Freshman of the Year, is the team's defensive stalwart and a 39 percent shooter from the arc, but had zero assists in two of the last three games after handing out 29 in 18 Big Ten Conference games. In those 18 games, McCamey had a near-record 139 assists while Cole had 20, Davis 16, Tisdale 13 and Paul 14. In other words, the regulars other than McCamey averaged about one assist each in the conference games.

It is these numbers that made Tisdale's gorgeous lob pass to Davis so special Wednesday (it put Illinois ahead 65-57). It was Tisdale's 17th assist in the last 21 games. He is primarily a shooter, not a facilitator.

"Passing is so critical," Weber said. "We can be better in that area next season. Brandon Paul can penetrate and make plays as he matures. D.J. should improve as he puts in the time and gains confidence. The No. 1 asset of Jereme Richmond (incoming freshman) is his ability to pass and create. And that was where (freshman) Joe Bertrand excelled before he was injured."

So Weber will continue to hammer at the weaknesses, perhaps taking his raspy, tired vocal cords over the edge in the view of some. In that regard, I heard someone say he should be more reserved, more sophisticated like, say ... John Wooden. But that critic didn't know what Wooden was saying as the officials got within earshot. And, besides, Weber didn't get his powder-keg training from Purdue product Wooden, he got it from Purdue's coat-throwing, ref-baiting Gene Keady. It comes naturally for Weber to carry that torch.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

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RPeterE wrote on March 21, 2010 at 7:03 am

You nailed it Loren! Good job! Thanks for the accurate perspective taken right from the coach.

snowdog wrote on March 21, 2010 at 8:03 am

Great article, Loren.

You hit the nail on the head with your opinion that Weber haters don't care for his sideline demeanor and appearance and the way he publicly comments on players. Even though I personally wish he was more Wooden-like in demeanor I ultimately only care about the results.

I think he's taking the right track in being harder on the team. As you say, people are crazy if they don't think Self eviscerated even the best players in practice. Weber doesn't have the "cool" and "smooth" that Self had to keep fans off his back. But neither did Bob Knight. Winning is the great leveler.

With all that said, this team has underachieved and Weber has as well in the teaching department. This has been a tough team to watch. Last year's team had toughness and heart with Chester and Trent. It's tough to watch the laziness, lack of detail, and lack of effort at certain times.

Not to single any one player out but does Davis not realize he is potentially costing himself millions of dollars with his lack of effort? To see a player with so much natural ability put out just enough effort to get by has to be frustrating for Weber. Watching Davis on the court is like watching Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh out there. I've never seen such poor body language and demeanor in a player with that much talent. And I can't believe it gets tolerated by the staff. Sky's the limit, Mike -- go out and grab it!!

ATLIllini wrote on March 21, 2010 at 8:03 am

Great article, Loren! But it's a year too early. You only throw *seniors* under the bus to prop up the current administration.

FloridaIllini wrote on March 21, 2010 at 8:03 am

Thank you for a good read, Loren. Always enjoy your point of view. You mentioned, almost in passing, that Weber recruited them. That's right he did and that is where it all starts. It seems that every year when I watch the NCAA tournament I consistently wonder how some of these mid major schools are able to recruit some really good players and what happened to the Illini. Recruiting was Coach Weber's major weakness and nothing has happened, so far, to show us that isn't still the case. The recruits are just that. We will see if they are really that good and I hope they are. In my opinion Coach Weber has yet to prove he can recruit and not just grab some "stars" but actually fit a real team together.

Wasn't it thrilling to see St. Mary's pass the ball and hit the open guy? Make entry passes to a center who can play with his back to the basket? I sure had a good feeling watching them!

bluehavana wrote on March 21, 2010 at 9:03 am

Loren, another article blaming the unknown fan. My concern is not whether Coach Weber dances, yells, or does cartwheels on the sideline. I would like to see good recruiting, good coaching, and hard play from our team.

FloridaIllini has it right above.

In looking at this team, there are so many basic basketball skills missing. Bill Cole, for example, shows some defensive ability and the ability to shoot a 23 footer. With any real talent, this type of player would not be on the floor.

The measure of continued development for this team will be the playing time of Jeff Jordan and the aforementioned Cole. If this year's freshman guards improve, and Leonard and Richmond are as advertised, Jordan and Cole should never see the floor. If they play a lot, lookout.

jwhuber wrote on March 21, 2010 at 9:03 am

Great point made by FloridaIllini about St Mary's. How many top 100 players do you suppose they have on their team? Probably none.

Why is it the little things that are so hard for players to do? Boxing out, strong rebounding, crisp passes, etc. I believe it starts years before they get to college. If you look at the majority of the players on the team they were much more athleically gifted than their counterparts in grade/high school. Therefore they didn't have to work on boxing out or making good passes, etc. They were able to use their skills to make up for it. Now, the playing field is leveled, everyone is just as skilled, if not more and the glaring weaknesses show. I can put up with missed shots, they are going to happen over half the time. I can put up with flat out getting beat by someone. What I cannot stand is getting beat in the "hustle" categories and doing the fundamental things that should be easy. It's all mindset with these guys. You've got to beat it into them until the light comes on.

By the way...I almost cried when I watched the '05 Regional Finals against Arizona. Wow, could we move the ball or what?

RPeterE wrote on March 21, 2010 at 10:03 am

jwhuber talks about watching the 2005 Illini and you can add the '89 Illini too. They could pass, played with intensity virtually every game, played tough, hard nosed defense, had hunger, drive and were very motivated to triumph over all comers. What has happened to the Illini to have fallen so far from those teams - too many soft, apathetic players.

lmo wrote on March 21, 2010 at 10:03 am

First of all, Tate agrees that this team actually overachieved (given its lack of basic skills and its laid-back personality). To complain about the lack of hustle of this team is to ignore that Self could not win games in the NCAA with infinitely more talented Kansas teams (e.g., yesterday) or that the likes of UNC and UConn struggled more than the Illini this year, again, with infinitely more talented teams.

So, in the end we should blame Weber only for poor recruiting (and he himself has acknowledged that). He doesn't have the charisma that teens like and he doesn't offer minutes just b/c the guy is a star in high school.

If his new (supposedly improved) classes don't produce, them yes, it will be time to move on.

MarkHoekstra wrote on March 21, 2010 at 10:03 am

Hey Loren, I dare you to write a similar article praising Ron Zook! No, I DOUBLE DARE YOU!

illiniphil85 wrote on March 21, 2010 at 10:03 am

Loren, great timing to bring this up when I had finally put this miserable season to bed. Many reasons that this team underachieved and they all had BAM's fingerprints all over it (recruiting, etc). Perhaps these lazy passes where because they were trying to listen to what that lunatic was yelling over on the bench. 30+ games into the season, probably nothing you can do to change it. Grin and bear it like I had to.

Tate, I hate to say it, but I don't need someone, even as wise as you, to tell me where the blame lies. I value you opinion, but the new media is leaving you behind. Perhaps you should consider that house in FL sooner rather than later.

WyomingIllini wrote on March 21, 2010 at 10:03 am

I am Glad to see our lack of passing ability is being addressed. IMHO if we had improved our passing this season we would have been in the NCAA tournament. The Stony Brook game showed signs that we were trying to address this problem. Let us hope against Kent State we see more improvement in this area.

oandb wrote on March 21, 2010 at 11:03 am

the problem is the caliber of player. we recruited MAC guys yet even those guys don't know how to pass and play D. If you recruit lesser talent you have to get gamers and fundamentally sound players. Our team is full of guys who are neither.

TotalIlliniFan wrote on March 21, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Agree with many assessments offered. Particularly like Snowdog's review of Davis. Need to limit his role as voice of the Illini until he goes from Eeyeore to the Incredibles.

cdyson wrote on March 21, 2010 at 1:03 pm

IlliniOllie, What do you want Coach Weber to say? What a stupid comment on your part.

IlliniOllie wrote on March 21, 2010 at 2:03 pm

It's just another of a long line of disappointments we've been sold under Guenther/Zook/Weber. Consistently bad football. Underachieving basketball, after a fantastic stretch from about 99-06.

What should Weber have said? Stop at "we get extra practice time." Don't act like winning the NIT is some great accomplishment. This season officially became a failure after the team didn't make the NCAA tournament.

Wenalway wrote on March 21, 2010 at 2:03 pm

"This season officially became a failure after the team didn't make the NCAA tournament."

That's a silly argument. The season officially became a failure when the team looked bad far too often.

Also, Kent State will have the desire, coaching, and no-Keller advantages.

PeoriaIllini wrote on March 21, 2010 at 5:03 pm

I agree with some of these complains to some extent. On the other hand, all these off-base comments about desire mistify me. The team showed a lot of heart and desire this year (all those come from behind games). The issue is consistency, we need to play more reliably then in spurts. Also honestly I would love to see us get to Madison Square Garden, the more games I get to watch of my favorite club (Illinois basketball) the better. Would I rather we were in the NCAA's? Yes. But angry fans have short memories, when Evan Turner was a freshman at Ohio State they made a deep run in the NIT's and look where that experience got them, a number two seed this year.

will134 wrote on March 21, 2010 at 7:03 pm

Why is it everyone thinks they know the problems and the solutions to the team. Are any of you people present during the hundreds of practices that go on? If so, you probably need to move out of your folks house and get a job. Each game, someone has to lose. Does that mean for that loser there is a host of problems to analyze and critique and hate and demean people on a personal level? I find it extremely difficult that people are using the word 'failure' for a team that has 20 wins. Amazing.

Wenalway wrote on March 21, 2010 at 7:03 pm

Many of the 20 wins are against teams like Penn State. That's why people aren't overjoyed.

Also, does anyone notice the Big Ten has three teams in the Sweet Sixteen? Wasn't a certain N-G columnist not too long ago writing about how bad the Big Ten was?

JimOATSfan wrote on March 21, 2010 at 7:03 pm

Can you imagine the complaints if Coach Webber's team lost to Northern Iowa in the 2nd round?

I think Loren's got it right - it's difficult to get the players to make outstanding effort each practice, between practice and each game. Michael Jordan got better each off season by mastering a new aspect of basketball. We need the Jordan Juice in that 'toon movie (was it titled "Space Ball"???) for our guys to pick up that dedication to all out effort in every stage of the game. Perhaps they need to read Coach Wooden's book to learn they ran practices until everything was perfect, and every game day was easier than the UCLA practices.

Wenalway wrote on March 21, 2010 at 8:03 pm

"Perhaps they need to read Coach Wooden's book to learn they ran practices until everything was perfect, and every game day was easier than the UCLA practices."

JimOATSfan must be a sportswriter because he has clearly never played a sport. In every sport, even track, the practices are meant as preparation for game day. The games may not always be "easier," but that is the intention.

And it's Weber. Not Webber.

Oh, well. Three Big Ten teams in the Sweet Sixteen. It'll be interesting to see how the anti-Big Ten droolers at the N-G spin that one. I'm sure they'll start with "But. But. But. Wisconsin!" and from there the argument will grow weaker, commencing with a claim that they always said the Big Ten would do well.

retiredcoach wrote on March 22, 2010 at 7:03 am

It's amazing how often fundamentals are overlooked until they are absent from a team. Loren makes some great points.

M Jordan was cut from his freshman basketball team. John Wooden promised to dismiss Jabbar from the bruins if he missed a practice for a religious holiday.

Coach Weber needs one assisitant coach who can teach fundamentals, because it is obvious it is not happening now.

Good luck in the NIT, sometime in life we all must polish a turd.

CentralIlliniFan wrote on March 22, 2010 at 10:03 am

Many fans miss the point. It isn't always the whiny voice, the constant screaming, the embarassing marker on his face or his habit of blaming the players and other coaches for his failures...it is his results. He simply has not maintained the level of excellence that was in place when he took over. The NBA wanted Kruger. Kansas wanted Self. Who wants Weber? Don't blame the players. Be a man. He recruited the players who can't pass and aren't strong enough. He decided that Keller would get Griffey's minutes this season. He is the coach that has divided this fanbase and brought this program to it's current state. Let's blame the fans (sarcasm).

bluehavana wrote on March 22, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Retired coach, can we please stop perpetuating the myth that Jordan was cut from his basketball team. He didn't make the varsity as a sophomore, but scored a ton on his JV team.

Also jimOATSfan, I'll play along with your Self 2nd round exit barb. Gee, this sucks that we lost in the second round. Well, at least we have that National Title from a couple years ago. We have a ton of great players back next year and will probably be top 1 or 2 preseason.

The guy was pretty good as a coach, a great recruiter, and choose to move to a classic program in place of Illinois. Whatever! Can we please move on. I'm glad the guy brought in Dee, Deron, etc and glad Coach Weber got us to the final.

vreato wrote on March 22, 2010 at 1:03 pm

How can teams like Northern Iowa and Cornell have better talent than Illinois? That just should never be. If we can't recruit better players, than there needs to be a change. That goes for football as well as basketball. Give Iowa credit -- they moved on after just three years with Lickliter. Now, Iowa will undoubtedly hire someone who can recruit talent. We had better wake up, or we will be changing places with Iowa soon enough!!!

hpaulh wrote on March 22, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Tate hasn't changed a bit since I first read him in 1979. After a win, the Illini are the best team ever, after a lost, will they ever win another game. As an Illini Fan, I thought Gene Keady was a clown on the sidelines, Bruce Weber imitating Gene Keady just turns him into a clown as well. I don't want Illinois and Bruce Weber to become Purdue/Gene Keady West.

We are talking about juniors for crying out loud!! By now, we should have noticed they have a passing defiency...AND WORK ON IT!! I literally had to fast forward games this year because parts of them were unwatchable...I don't normally do that, I will watch every game to the bitter end. However, it gets tired, screaming at the TV don't make that pass or take that shot when there has been no improvement during the season.

I don't like to be chided just for pointing it out.

bernies wrote on March 22, 2010 at 3:03 pm

CentralIlliniFan said the following about Bruce Weber:

"He simply has not maintained the level of excellence that was in place when he took over. The NBA wanted Kruger. Kansas wanted Self. Who wants Weber?"

And, yeah, Kruger flopped in the NBA, and now he's coaching in the Moutain West Conference. And this year he couldn't even win his own conference tournament, and lost in the first round of the NCAA's to a lower seeded team.

And I don't understand why some Illini fans are still infatuated with Bill Self. If he's such a great coach, how come his Illini teams were sliding slowly downhill in the NCAAs during his three year tenure here...Elite Eight in 2001, Sweet Sixteen in 2002, second round loss in 2003.

CecilColeman wrote on March 22, 2010 at 5:03 pm

How many Chicago Public League Super Stars are on Northern Iowa, St Mary's, Cornell, Baylor, Butler.........

CentralIlliniFan wrote on March 22, 2010 at 7:03 pm

Bernsie, if you are trying to say that Weber is as good as or better than Kruger/Self, I don't think most people would buy that.

With Bruce Weber you get probation-like results without the probation.

bernies wrote on March 23, 2010 at 10:03 am

CentralIlliniFan,

I didn't compare Weber to Kruger or Self.

I just said I don't understand why some Illini fans put Kruger and Self up on a pedestal.

I mean, for God's sakes, in three of Kruger's four seasons the Illini finished 4th, 11th, and 4th in the Big Ten. That's hardly a "level of excellence".

And Self...I mentioned the downhill slide in the NCAAs while at Illinois. Well, in seven seasons at Kansas, despite the stellar talent he's recruited, he's only been to the Final Four once, and has two first round and one second round losses.

CentralIlliniFan wrote on March 23, 2010 at 9:03 pm

Bernsie

You left out the circumstances preceding Kruger's arrival at Illinois. To refresh your memory, it was hardly the same situation Weber inherited. In addition, 5 seniors graduated at the end of one season.

You also left out Self's National Championship.

I doubt anyone at UNLV and Kansas is interested in trading head coaches with the Illini.

Illinigrad wrote on March 23, 2010 at 9:03 pm

Comparing Weber to Self and Kruger is much like comparing a Ford Pinto to a Corvette and BMW.