History lesson: With Weber vs. Self a possibility...

History lesson: With Weber vs. Self a possibility...

Posted by Lindsey on Sun, 03/13/2011 - 23:13
If you've seen the NCAA Tournament bracket, then you know Illinois can meet Kansas in third-round play Sunday. That would be the first meeting between Bruce Weber and Bill Self in the eight years since Self left for Kansas and Weber took over Illinois. And that reminds me of the Dec. 13, 2003, night in Champaign when Weber explained what he'd done to bring the Self era to an official close. Here's one of Weber's quotes I didn't get into my stories: "It's kind of like getting dumped by a girl. You want to get her out of your mind, but then she keeps walking by." As a public service, here are my stories from that night. FIRST, the Dec. 14, 2003 gamer from Illinois' win over Memphis (and a weirdly giddy John Calipari, who couldn't have acted more upbeat and enchanted that Rich McBride had just kicked his team's butt): CHAMPAIGN --- Between Richard McBride's four-game suspension to start the year and his sluggish return, it took far longer than expected for the ballyhooed freshman from Springfield to make his first career 3-pointer. Once McBride finally connected Saturday night against Memphis --- in Illinois' eighth game of the year --- the sharpshooter quickly made up for lost time. Playing the hefty minutes usually assigned to injured standout Deron Williams, McBride drilled 6 of 10 attempts from 3-point range and delivered a career-high 22 points to spark No. 14 Illinois to a 74-64 non-conference win at sold-out Assembly Hall. "He probably played the best game from a freshman I can remember since I've been here," said fourth-year junior center Nick Smith. "A freshman put us on his back and carried us," said Illinois sophomore Dee Brown, who played all 40 minutes at the point in Williams' stead. As hot as McBride got during the game, Illinois head coach Bruce Weber more than matched him afterward. Miffed by criticism for everything from his ability to coach to his ability to clothe himself --- as well as his inability to be previous coach Bill Self --- Weber decided prior to Thursday's win over Maryland-Eastern Shore that he would no longer tolerate it. "I wore a black tie and black pants and black sportcoat and I told them before the (UMES) game, 'This is a funeral. I'm going to throw a funeral. It's the end of Bill Self,'" Weber said. "It's over. There's no more comparing. He's gone. No more talking about it. I'll be honest: I'm fed up with it. "I had one guy say if (Self) was coaching here, you would have beat Providence by 10. Well, when I faced Bill (when Self was at Tulsa and Weber at SIU), with 13 minutes left in the game at SIU we were up 27 points. "Then, when we faced (Illinois at Las Vegas) we had them down the stretch and he had three NBA guys and we had two guys in the (NBA) developmental league. I don't know. Unless he's a miracle worker, I kicked his butt in both games. "Even after the Providence game, you know, 'They didn't lose any double-figure games (under Self). Well, horse(dip). They did! I told the guys I was going to coach my butt off and I hoped they were going to play their butts off." That they did, though it took a long time for it to pay off. With Brown and everyone else pressing to make up for Williams' absence --- he sat on the bench with his broken jaw wired shut --- Illinois hit just 5 of 26 shots and committed 8 turnovers in the opening 16 minutes. But the Illini's man-to-man defense carried them, so when McBride canned a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer it gave them a 28-27 halftime edge and they soared from there. McBride made all six of his 3-pointers during a 19-minute stretch that saw Illinois (6-2) roar from a 15-6 deficit to a 50-37 lead with 12:50 to go. James Augustine added a career-high 21 points and 8 rebounds playing with a bad left shoulder. Brown chipped in 5 points, a career-high-tying 7 rebounds and 7 assists. "Coach (Wayne) McClain said that might have been Dee's best game of his career," Weber said. AND NOW, the followup story that appeared in the Daily Herald's Dec. 15, 2003 edition: Years from now, presuming Bruce Weber's still at the Illinois helm, everyone will look back and pinpoint Saturday night as the moment when Weber truly became the program's boss. Weber assumed that point would occur somewhere between his April 30 hiring and mid-December, but various problems kept it from happening. Bill Self's lingering influence over Illinois' players and fans hasn't been the only issue, but comparisons between he and Weber certainly has been a constant. "One of the coaches told me the other day that they're sick of hearing it, too," Weber said. "They said, 'You've got to stick up for yourself.' " But why not swallow it, especially when No. 21 Illinois has a lengthy break before its Braggin' Rights game against No. 10 Missouri on Dec. 23. "I try to be honest," Weber said. "It's bothered me, to be honest. It's just kind of built up over the last couple of weeks. First of all, we've had to fight through the suspensions. Then we had to fight through getting the guys to buy in. Now the injury (to Deron Williams). It's been hard. It's been overwhelming." Weber decided enough was enough earlier in the week, but he waited until after Saturday's win over Memphis to get everything off his chest. "Somebody wrote me a letter and said I totally ruined the returning players," Weber said. "Well, if you go back to the last 10 games of last year and you compare stats between this year and last year, it's not even a comparison. "Deron's doubling everything, James (Augustine) is doubling everything. It's just, 'Wait a minute. Somebody's not remembering here or they're not paying attention.' Have we played great? No. Were we horrible against Providence in the second half? Yeah, but it happens." As Illinois petered out against Providence, Weber vowed to stop trying to please others with his coaching style. He never shed his sportcoat and usually bit his tongue during Illinois' first seven games, but not Saturday night against Memphis. Weber ditched his coat before the opening tip and stood and screamed all night long --- just as he did for five successful years at Southern Illinois. "I just said the heck with it, I'm coaching," Weber said. "And I'm going to do it the way I did it. I've been trying to be patient. I believe we can win games like we did (against Memphis). You don't always have to be pretty --- I'd love to be pretty --- but you don't always have to be pretty if you win games." Beating Memphis with a shorthanded lineup might have brought the fans to Weber's side, but most of his players got there way ahead of them. Augustine suggested much of Illinois' emotional play Saturday was the players' way of "backing up Coach." "People say stuff (about him) out of the blue. People say stuff about everything," Augustine said. "We're a family here. We're not too worried about what everybody else thinks. I looked at it as backing up Coach. "He's made statements about how he just wants us to play and buy in. I think everybody's starting to buy in, if we haven't already." "I'm buying into his system," said sophomore Dee Brown, who didn't seem so sure when fall practice began. "He's a great coach." -30-
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