By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) He’s off in Kansas now. But, not unlike the coach who preceded him in Champaign, it’ll be a long time before Bruce Weber is forgotten at the University of Illinois.
Nine years ago, Bill Self bolted the Land of Lincoln for the University of Kansas with his career on an upswing. Weber, Self’s successor, made his own trip out west to Kansas State this spring, although it was with his career at its nadir.
However, despite being fired at Illinois following a series of disappointing seasons – something that fans this week blamed for prep superstar Jabari Parker leaving the Illini off his list of college finalists – Weber managed to find a cushy landing in Manhattan with a loaded Kansas State team.
During the past several weeks at K-State, Weber has been busy getting used to wearing Northwestern colors while living in Bill Self’s state and coaching Frank Martin’s roster.
But the man who won 210 games at Illinois does have some familiar faces to keep him company in ex-Illini assistant and Southern Illinois head coach Chris Lowery and gritty former Illini point guard Chester Frazier, who are both members of Weber’s Wildcats staff.
With summer in full swing, I thought it would be interesting today to take a look at how Bruce Weber has been spending his.
He’s been enjoying the NBA Draft
Weber has had players selected in the NBA Draft, but until last month, he had never attended the event before.
That changed, though, when former Illini center Meyers Leonard invited the man who recruited him to Champaign to join his friends and relatives in the “Green Room” in New York City. Weber got a chance to see the big man go No. 11 overall to the Portland Trail Blazers.
“I was obviously excited for our player and his family,” Weber told the Kansas City Star, sounding as if he had momentarily forgotten he was no longer the Illinois coach. “As a coach, it’s a nice moment. It’s a proud moment. His story makes it even better. He was a kid who grew very late, and came from a small town. He was not a highly touted player, now he is a lottery pick. You hope you had something to do with that in his development as a player and a person.”
In 2006, Weber knew that multiple Illini players would be selected in the NBA Draft – Deron Williams went No. 3 and Luther Head No. 24 – so he opted to stay home in Champaign, inviting his Illini players over to his house to watch the draft. And as a man who has coached two lottery picks, Weber said he has been asked by his current players at K-State what it takes to become one.
“I talked to them about it the other day,” Weber explained. “Just obviously this is their dream and we talked a little bit about Meyers and his story. I stressed how important it is to work at it and put the time in. If you really want it, you can get it. But it doesn’t come on its own. It’s not a magical thing. You have to work really hard.”
He’s been prepping for Brazil
Shortly after taking the Illinois job in 2003, Weber and the Illini headed off to Europe for some basketball and bonding. At Kansas State, it appears that Weber will do the same – only this time, he has his team bound for Brazil.
On tap for K-State’s 10-day trip in August are visits to Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, where the Wildcats will play four games against Brazilian club teams. One of them is named Pingdamonhangaba.
That word will make Bruce go hoarse all by itself.
He’s been expanding his recruiting borders
At Illinois, Weber largely focused his recruiting efforts within the state’s borders, even though he often came up famously empty-handed with its premier recruits.
At Kansas State, he’s told the media that he plans to target players all across the map, naming the states of Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, Florida and Texas, as well as the Midwest and East Coast regions. The Kansas City Star wrote “you can expect K-State to be making calls everywhere but the West Coast.”
Weber said, “We would obviously like to hit Kansas City and Kansas, this part of the Midwest. But you can branch out to Texas. Dallas, hopefully, will be big for us with daily flights there out of Manhattan. A lot of Big 12 schools have worked prep schools in the East. We will continue doing that.
“My contacts and Chris Lowery’s are in the Illinois, Indiana region … We will hit that a little bit and then throw in the community colleges when you have a certain need. That’s our plan. We will see what happens.”
And he’s been buttering up his new league
He’s a lifelong Big Ten guy, but Bruce Weber is now a Big 12 man. And during the league’s summer teleconference last month, he certainly sounded the part.
“I’d been part of the Big Ten for a long time,” Weber told the members of the Big 12 media. “That’s all you hear is about the Big Ten. When I got here and went to the meetings and listened to the success of the Big 12 as a basketball conference and a football conference, it’s pretty eye-opening, to be honest.”
In its story about Weber’s comments regarding the Big Ten and the Big 12, the Topeka Capital Journal wrote, “Big Ten hoops has a distinct identity, often stereotyped by plodding offense and low-scoring games. The Big 12 is more diverse — especially with two new teams joining the league this year …”
Weber went on to laud his new league, saying that compared to the Big Ten, “it’s probably a little better athletes and a little more open, up and down, and a few more possessions, I would anticipate.”
I would anticipate that many Illinois fans might ask Weber why he didn’t recruit better athletes and just play at a quicker pace while he was in Champaign. I’d also anticipate some skepticism about whether he’ll actually be able to do either in Manhattan.
Perhaps he will, perhaps he won’t. But I suppose we’ll start finding out in the fall.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.