In the bracket of non-existent, 2009-2011 Illini basketball leadership has got to be a #1 seed.
And I’m not singling out Coach Bruce Weber, or point guard/star player Demetri McCamey. I’m talking about the total team’s overall tendency to just NOT get things done together as a team. If Notre Dame is Gestalt, and a cohesive unit playing well beyond the sum of their parts, then Illinois is a bunch of underachieving square pegs in round holes.
Handling success instead of fearing of it, winning the close games, not being mental midgets in the face of adversity: these qualities have been missing the past two years. And ever since the Illini started dropping games to teams that are half as talented as they are, we media members started getting extremely critical of both Weber and the seniors.
No wonder Weber described the internet as a “mean place.” But let’s say he’s right.
Let’s say the criticism of the seniors is unwarranted and undeserved. Where else can you point the finger?
By Paul M. Banks
Saturday was Senior Day in Champaign, and with that a time to reflect of what the seniors accomplished; or more likely what they didn’t accomplish. For that depressing, but poignant and inconveniently truthful assessment go here)
Let’s say they finish this season without a tournament victory. (For current resume go here) That would mean they end up the first senior class in what seems like ages to not win a NCAA Tournament game. And that simply means…they’re just not that good. McCamey, Davis, Tisdale, Cole: all of them would just not be all that talented. And perhaps the fans, experts, media etc. just overrated them. Maybe it’s really not their fault after all.
And if that’s the case, then the accountability for this mediocre tourney bubble season lies with….
Brandon Paul has made some decent strides this year. Sure he’s missing from the stat sheet at times, but there have been some key games where he’s carried the Illini for an entire half. Freshman Jereme Richmond has been a decent player off the bench. Should he start regularly?
Maybe. But he hasn’t exactly set the college basketball world afire like a McDonald’s All-American is expected to do. And the other freshmen? They’re essentially MIA. Meyers Leonard ostensibly leads the nation in fouls per minute, and that’s about the only thing we’ve noticed from his scant minutes. Crandall Head is in his first year following a ACL injury, and he doesn’t get into most games.
Joseph Bertrand and Tyler Griffey are so far down the depth chart it’s easy to forget they’re on the team. And D.J. Richardson has taken a step back this year. Or at least he’s failed to progress. He drew the collar Saturday, and had a massively horrible midseason shooting slump. Not all his fault, as he’s had numerous dings lately: a little bit of a sprain, bruises, collisions in practice and the Iowa game.
Eric Gordon’s Defection, and the stain it left on Recruiting
“I’m still solid with Illinois,” that’s what superstar recruit Eric Gordon said publicly in 2006 when everyone was starting to realize that he actually wasn’t.
He said it even though he himself probably knew he was somewhat “solid” with Indiana and Kelvin “Mr. Telephone Man” Sampson. It’s ironic, because “solid” is one of Weber’s favorite words. If you need an Illini press conference drinking game, use Weber stating a phrase with that word in it. “Just be solid.”
But EG, who’s age would make him a senior this year, was a one-and0done anyway. So why is Gordon “Basketball Judas” in Champaign? Because of the way he went about it- waiting to the absolute last second, and acting like a solipsistic narcissist when de-committing. That tied Weber’s hands and left a TERRIBLE stain on the UI program. All that great recruiting capital from 2005, the greatest season in school history, was wiped out. And then some.Because Gordon’s indecision and classless behavior made the Illini program look like damaged goods in the eyes of an entire recruiting class.
If you’re a prize recruit, and you see someone bail from a program that just tied the all-time record for single season victories the year before…what would you think is wrong? That’s why Illinois has ZERO juniors on the roster. None!
Bruce Weber Himself
And that’s why we need to cut a lot of huge slices of slack and serve them up on a silver plate for each one of the seniors. They have the weight of an additional recruiting class on their back. They’re supporting two for the price of one.
“It’s been very frustrating for them, for our staff. But all we can do is be there for each other, and if you’re a good team and a good player- go out and do it,” Weber said after the Iowa game.
Ultimately, the buck stops with Weber. It’s his fault for not reaching his seniors, or failing to recruit the type of players he can properly motivate.
“I don’t think any of those guys are very confident kids as it is. And I think the whole thing weighed on ‘em heavily mentally,” Weber said about the pressure his senior class has had to deal with.
“And I can just be there mentally to help them.”
Agreed. And there’s still time and a chance to give the seniors a properly, happy send-off.
You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank