By David Schuster–
It was just three years ago that Bruce Weber was being called an “incompetent” recruiter and a fisherman who couldn’t land the big one. The media and local boosters at Illinois were all over him after star high school players such as Sherron Collins and Jon Scheyer spurned Weber’s offers and went elsewhere to Kansas and Duke respectively. Weber also made a soft pitch for Derrick Rose but everyone knew that Rose was going to Memphis. Illinois was coming off their Final Four appearance at the time and the prevailing thought was Weber would easily be able to build on that success and have one recruiting class success after another. But it just didn’t happen and the vultures were all over Weber blaming him for getting second hand talent with the top guys leaving the state.
Fast forward to now and all that criticism is long in the past. With the announcement the other day that Mike Shaw from DeLasalle will enroll at Illinois next year Weber has secured his third straight National top 10 recruiting class. Joining Shaw next year will be point guard Tracy Adams (Mt. Carmel), center Nnanna Egwu (St. Ignatious) and forward Mycheal Henry (Orr). They’ll join this years star studded class of Jereme Richmond, Meyers Leonard and Crandall Head and they followed the coup of getting D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul. All nine of these players are and have been the top talent in the state of Illinois and Weber landed them all.
So what has changed? How has Weber gone from a recruiting villain to a master of that craft? Well you start with the hiring of Jerrance Howard who Weber hired away from Kentucky and that’s not an easy task. Howard is just 29 years old and he can still relate to these players. Howard deserves a bulk of the credit but Weber has also changed his mindset. Where as in the past he used to swoop in at the last minute and say Illinois wanted you now he starts recruiting the best talent when they begin high school as opposed to when they are near graduation. Shaw told reporters that Illinois made him feel comfortable when he was a freshman and stayed with him every step of the way until he had to make his decision. And once you start a pipe line it gets easier and easier to build on it. Three straight years of getting all the top talent in state will only make it easier to continue the success.
But don’t think for a second think that it stops just getting these kids down to Champaign. Once there the head coach becomes like a father figure to these players and none is better at that then Weber. He’s the kind of coach I would happily entrust my son to if only my son was a foot taller. He’s a disciplinarian for sure but he’s also fair and compassionate.
So now let’s see what Weber does with all this talent because if he doesn’t win and win big then all the vultures will find new reasons to get all over him.