Asmussen | It's OK to root for Weber

Asmussen | It's OK to root for Weber

There are all sorts of local rooting options left in the NCAA tournament.

Nevada star Jordan Caroline is from Champaign and the son and grandson of Illini royalty (Simeon Rice and J.C. Caroline). Loyola standout Donte Ingram played at Danville High School. Michigan and Purdue are from the Big Ten.

All great choices. Just not mine.

I'm rooting for a coach: Bruce Weber.

You remember him, the guy who led Illinois to its only NCAA title game. Ever. If the refs had swallowed their whistles for a minute or two, he would have hung a banner at State Farm Center.

In nine seasons at Illinois, Weber won 210 games and went to the NCAA tournament six times. Really good stuff.

He coached the greatest comeback in Illinois history. Down 15 with four minutes to go against Arizona.

Since he left, the school has been back once, going 1-1 in John Groce's first year.

After a "doesn't-sound-so-bad-now" 17-15 final season at Illinois, Weber found a second wind at Kansas State.

He made it to the NCAA tournament three of his first five years in Manhattan, but never reached the second round.

Until this season. After low projections for his team and rumblings that it might be time to go, Weber shocked them again.

His ninth-seeded Wildcats controlled Creighton in the first round. That seemed to set up a second-round game against No. 1 overall seed Virginia. Oops.

The Cavaliers got lost on the way to the arena or forgot to practice or had some bad pregame sushi. Whatever the excuse du jour, Virginia stunk up the place against Maryland-Baltimore County, losing by 20.

No offense to the Retrievers, but it was a break for Weber and the Wildcats. They survived an ugly game in the second round, winning 50-43.

Guess what? Weber is going back to the Sweet 16 for the first time since ... wait for it ... wait some more ... 2005.

There were other chances. Like 2006, when we were looking up cheap flights to the regional round while the Illini took a big lead against Washington in San Diego. Which they let slip away.

In 2013, his first year at Kansas State, Weber and the Wildcats were No. 4 seeds but lost to underdog La Salle in the first round.

Big fan

Tuscola residents might have heard a loud scream Sunday night. That would have been Matt McCumber.

A manager on Illinois basketball teams from 2001-05, McCumber spent the past four seasons on Weber's Kansas State staff as director of student-athlete development.

He left Manhattan to take a full-time assistant coaching job this season at Tennessee-Martin.

But after the unexpected death of his father, Doug, in late September, McCumber returned home to be with his mom, Rhonda.

McCumber remains close to Weber. And he is thrilled with the team's current run.

"I'm really happy for him," McCumber said. "We recruited all those kids that are on that team right now. We saw all the potential in them. At Kansas State, you're not getting the four- and five-star type players. We found some diamonds in the rough. The staff really developed them to what they are right now.

"There wasn't a lot of respect there. These guys have worked hard every day. They're in the gym a lot."

A postgame analyst on the Illinois radio broadcasts, McCumber saw most of Kansas State's games on TV this season.

He took a trip to Manhattan during the season to watch the Wildcats play a pair of games.

Then he went to the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City.

McCumber has a lot of purple gear.

"I'm on the bandwagon and rooting really hard for them," McCumber said.

Weber stays in contact. He sent a text Tuesday, "Amazing, ugly, wonderful win. Happy for our players. We battle and grinded. Finally made some plays at the end. It's just a great experience for them to play another day."

That's Weber. He has his own team to worry about, but takes the time to check in with his former aide.

"He's been one of my top coaching mentors," McCumber said. "I can call him up at any time, and he is always willing to help. He's going to give me the right advice that I need.

"He's a great man of integrity and hard work."

Tough road

The Wildcats will win the next game. Guaranteed. Kansas State's Wildcats play the Kentucky Wildcats in Thursday's South Region semifinal at Atlanta. Kentucky is a six-point favorite.

"My second year at K-State, we played Kentucky in the 8-9 game in St. Louis," McCumber said. "They had a bunch of pros, and we held our own in that game (losing 56-49). I'm looking for a little revenge.

"The length and athleticism of Kentucky vs. the slower pace and the defense of K-State, that's what I'm going to be looking at. Defense does travel in the tournament. I like K-State to slow Kentucky down, and I like the fact that K-State is older."

Kansas State played the first two games of the tournament without its top player. Dean Wade missed the games with a stress fracture in his foot but is hoping to be back for Thursday.

"He's turned himself into an NBA player," McCumber said.

McCumber plans to be in front of his TV on Thursday and again on Saturday if his preferred Wildcats advance to play the Loyola-Nevada winner.

If Kansas State makes it to the Final Four, McCumber will be shopping for flights to San Antonio.

"If that's happening, I will go," McCumber said. "I will be there."

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

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Green Shirt wrote on March 21, 2018 at 7:03 am

I used to say that I cheer for every coach that Mike Thomas fired, but then I remembered Jollette Law. Now I just say that I cheer for every men's coach Mike Thomas fired. 

jjohnson wrote on March 21, 2018 at 9:03 am

Bruce is an absolute class guy whose teams were always prepared. He made two mistakes: Eric Gordon and you-know-whom, otherwise he was a fine coach and the rug was pulled out from under him -- and his team knew it -- when Mike Thomas (truly a bright guy) would not endorse him after a huge win on national TV.

CecilColeman wrote on March 21, 2018 at 2:03 pm

Sorry gang. Weber took a Final Four program and soon turned it into (as guy on yahoo sports accurately put it) into "...a mish-mash of mid major talent."

He let Eric Gordon and Kelvin Sampson make a fool out of him, as did the coach at Marshall HS and current NBA star Beverly. Then there's the saga of Biefeldt who enjoyed great success at Michigan and Indiana (of all places!). What's the name of the Athletic Admin Building across the street from State Farm Center?

Anyone heard of Robbie Hummel? Or remember poor Tisdale getting all the minutes while soon to be first round draft pick Meyers Leonard road the bench? Evan Turner from St Joe's in Westchester?

Nice guy and good with frozen custard, but RG made a huge mistake in not canning him a year or two before Open Mike did!

CecilColeman wrote on March 21, 2018 at 2:03 pm

Sorry gang. Weber took a Final Four program and soon turned it into (as guy on yahoo sports accurately put it) into "...a mish-mash of mid major talent."

He let Eric Gordon and Kelvin Sampson make a fool out of him, as did the coach at Marshall HS and current NBA star Beverly. Then there's the saga of Biefeldt who enjoyed great success at Michigan and Indiana (of all places!). What's the name of the Athletic Admin Building across the street from State Farm Center?

Anyone heard of Robbie Hummel? Or remember poor Tisdale getting all the minutes while soon to be first round draft pick Meyers Leonard road the bench? Evan Turner from St Joe's in Westchester?

Nice guy and good with frozen custard, but RG made a huge mistake in not canning him a year or two before Open Mike did!

griff507 wrote on March 21, 2018 at 7:03 pm

I have no hard feelings for Weber, but I will be cheering for Bill Self!

If Weber had recruited at Illinois like he has at Kansas State, he might still be at Illinois!

Things went down hill fast, after he was challenged in the locker room by a certain player who thought that he was MUCH better than he was, and thought he was going to make a lot of money in the NBA. Pruitt never even got a look in the NBA. Weber was afraid of getting his rear beat up, and lost the respect of the players, both on the team and on the recruiting trail! The team and the program have yet to recover.

I do think Brad Underwood is finally starting to turn that nightmare around!

Go Illini!!

and for now Jayhawks!