The response: What went wrong with Illinois basketball that past decade?
I am not particularly sure Reags infatuation with Illinois basketball but I thought I’d offer another POV on his latest piece. The first problem I have is his assumption that programs “should be good” every year. Like somebody in the comment section mentioned, have you ever been to Champaign? It is horrendous, if a kid is getting recruited by the entire Big 10, why in gods name would you go to Illinois? I am not sure what the expectations are for Illinois basketball any more, but from a former coach’s perspective these are my two cents. Illinois “should” hover around .500 in the Big 10 every year and go to the dance every other year. Throw in a great year and a bad year every 4–5 years and that is where they should be…. Embrace debate.
Now, let’s get to the next topic, the teams he mentioned that should not be an afterthought. I 100% agree Texas and Georgetown have zero excuses for not being top 25 every single year. Texas has an unlimited budget, unbelievable campus, and awesome city in Austin. No coach in America has gotten a bigger pass then JT3, lot of politics going on for him to be bad this long and still have a job so no argument here. Let’s move on to Maryland, who is 21–4, currently 2nd in the Big 10 and have gone to the dance the last two years including the sweet 16 last year. I’m kinda confused by this one, what else do you want from Maryland? By default only one college team is actually successful every year, this is exactly where Maryland should be. In the dance, flirting with the sweet 16, getting a guy to the NBA every other year, bingo bango bongo, welcome to Maryland basketball.
USC is a super confusing reference. This is a football dominated school that has truly never had a consistent run of success. Tim Floyd kind of got it rolling with 3 straight 20 win seasons with OJ Mayo in the 2000’s but that is about it. So, I ask you, what do you expect from USC basketball every year because I have no idea.
Now, onto the issue at hand –“ Since that 2004–05 year, Illinois hasn’t made it past the Round of 32 and only have three NCAA Tournament wins. That’s completely inexcusable for a program like Illinois.”
My question is, uhhhh why? Why is that inexcusable? Of course should they have done better? Maybe. Could they have done better? Of course. But just because Bruce Weber overachieved does not mean Illinois as a program should be going to the Final Four every year. Oh and for the record, Bruce Weber won with Bill Self’s guys. When Weber took over, Aaron Spears, Deron Williams, Dee Brown, James Augustine were all freshmen and Luther Head was a sophomore. But expectations are besides the point, if you think Illinois should win the Big 10 every year, fine go ahead but that’s an alternative fact.
I want to debunk the real issue I had with the article. IN STATE recruiting. This is THE MOST overrated thing in college sports. The only people that care are old out of touch alumni and fans who don’t know any better and just automatically assume a kid from Chicago wants to go to the school down the road. It’s quite the opposite in fact, most kids want to leave where they grew up.
Since he puts such an emphasis on in state recruiting and blames that on the demise of Illinois basketball let’s take a look at the past 12 recruiting classes for Illinois.
So, out of the past 39 commits to the Fighting Illini, 24 have been from Illinois. I’ve never been good at math but I believe that is 61%.
Moving on, let’s dive into the specifics. If you’re Jalen Brunson, other than living in the state for four years, what connection do you have to Illinois over Villanova? Brunson grew up in south Jersey and moved 7 times before landing in Illinois for high school. Add in the fact that both of his parents went to college in Philadelphia, a commitment to Villanova over Illinois shouldn’t be considered missing out on a homegrown prospect.
Eric Gordon, a verbal commit means nothing in recruiting. Coaches continue to recruit kids even if they verbally commit to a school. And Kelvin wasn’t exactly squeaky clean so let’s just assume some goods were exchanged for Mr. Gordon, nothing Illinois can do, unless they offer more dough.
Derrick Rose? Are we serious? John Calipari, next topic.
In recruiting, coaches will know months in advance that the kid is not going to commit to their school. BUT, they are friendly with the HS or AAU coach and as a favor they will have the kid keep the school on their final list. This makes the school look good especially the higher ranked kid it is. Players like Cliff Alexander (for the most part) don’t choose where to go to school, they get “guided” where to go.
For example, take a program like Virginia. A school with a decent basketball pedigree, in a major conference, yet no recent success. Other than two combined NCAA tournament appearances from Pete Gillen and Dave Leitao, Virginia had become generally irrelevant, similar to Illinois.
What did Tony Bennett do to turn the program around and into a consistent ACC contender? Limit himself to the high level in-state talent? Quite the opposite.
27 players have committed to play basketball at Virginia since Tony Bennett stepped foot in Charlottesville. Only 2 players have been from the state of Virginia with one transferring after a single season. To say that a coach needs in-state talent in order to succeed can’t be valid under this scenario. Players like London Perrantes (California), Malcom Brogdon (Georgia), and Joe Harris (Washington) have rejuvenated a fanbase that hasn’t been this excited since the days of Ralph Sampson in the early 80’s.
Why can’t this model work for a program like Illinois as well?
Oh and just for a reference let’s take a look at the blue bloods in-state kids this year:
Duke — 1
Kentucky — 2
UNC — 6
Michigan State — 5 (Including 2 walk-ons)
UCLA — 10 (Ok but California is a big state)
Florida — 4
Louisville — 5 (Including 2 walk-ons)
How many more times do we need to witness a school fire a coach after 5 years just to hire another guy that they will fire in 5 years? Coach K was 38–47 in his first 3 years at Duke, I know this is a radically different time in sports but that turned out okay didn’t it?
I can’t believe I just typed this much about Illinois basketball, you win Reags, you win.