By Shawn Muller-
(CBS) I have a confession to make.
Prior to their game last night against the Michigan Wolverines on Senior Night at Assembly Hall, I had not paid much attention to the Illinois basketball team this season.
I knew the Illini had under-performed this year — as evidenced by their 17-13 overall record and 6-11 mark in the Big Ten — but with all of the questions surrounding head coach Bruce Weber and his job security, I wanted to see firsthand if it was Weber who had lost the team, or if it was the players who didn’t really seem to care anymore.
People say all the time that it is the coach’s responsibility to get his players ready to play the game. It is the coach’s responsibility to make sure his kids are attending class. It is the coach’s responsibility to teach his young men about–not only the game of basketball–but the game of life as well.
Much of this is true.
But at some point, the players need to take some of the blame too, as the coach can only do so much.
He can’t make a kid listen to what he has to say.
He can’t play defense for his players.
He can’t shoot the ball for them.
All a coach can do is teach the game as he has always done. It is up to the players to decide how they will respond.
With an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament still a slim possibility for Illinois, one would think that the Illini would have come out and played hard in front of their home fans at Assembly Hall on Senior Night last night, but that wasn’t the case.
Instead, the Illini players looked like they would rather have been anywhere else in the world than in front of their home crowd.
I saw no desire in the Illini players. No fight.
The one instance that really stuck out to me as the, “Wow! Things are REALLY bad in Urbana-Champaign” moment, came with 5:42 left to play in the game.
With Illinois trailing the Wolverines 58-46, Illini center Meyers Leonard stepped to the line for two free throws and a chance to cut the Michigan lead to 10. After making the first free throw, Leonard looked in the direction of his bench and let out a little chuckle before stepping up and hitting the second foul shot.
While I have no problem with kids laughing and enjoying themselves out on the court, I also believe that there is a time and a place for everything. Laughing when your team is trailing by 10 points in an already frustrating season is not one of them.
That simple and harmless little chuckle by Leonard told me everything I needed to know about the 2011-2012 University of Illinois basketball team.
The players don’t care anymore, and no matter what Bruce Weber tries to do between now and the Big Ten Tournament won’t matter one bit. So, while he may likely lose his job after this season, Weber is not the only problem at Assembly Hall.
The players too need to be held accountable for their play as well.