Its no secret that basketball in the state of Illinois is down.
Illinois hasn’t reached the same levels with Bruce Weber at the helm as they did when he was coaching Bill Self’s players to the national title game. DePaul, who was once a national powerhouse, is now the laughing stock of the Big East while Northwestern is, well, Northwestern. Southern Illinois had a run as the power of the Missouri Valley for a couple years, but they’ve fallen on hard times. Eastern Illinois, Northern Illinois, SIU-Edwardsville, Loyola (IL), Illinois-Chicago, Chicago State and Bradley are all sitting at the bottom of their respective league standings. Its a bad sign for a state that produces as much basketball talent as Illinois that Illinois State, who is smack in the middle of the pack in the Missouri Valley, is the second best team this season.
The problem, most believe, is that the programs in the state are unable to keep the region’s most talented players in the region. Just look at the freshman in this year’s class. Anthony Davis is at Kentucky. Ryan Boatright is playing for UConn. Wayne Blackshear picked Louisville. Past Windy City prep stars have left the state as well — Julian Wright and Sherron Collins went to Kansas, Jon Scheyer went to Duke, Derrick Rose did his year at Memphis.
Carbondale, IL, native and former Illini Stephen Bardo told the Chicago Tribune, the problem is that recruiting is a dirty game, and Weber isn’t willing to swim in that cesspool:
“Unfortunately it seems some that are (cheating) get some of the better players,” Bardo was quoted as saying. “It’s a fact of college basketball and something people don’t like talking about. People know Bruce Weber runs a clean program. He’s penalized because some people get kids out of Chicago who aren’t running a clean program.”
That’s probably a safe assumption, but its also not a secret. Who, in this day and age, is actually surprised that talented high school recruits are being bought? Its how the recruiting game works.
Personally, I think there is more to it than the simple fact that the state is losing talent to its neighbors.
The best of the best in Chicago aren’t going to start playing at DePaul until someone can prove that they can turn the Blue Demons into a winner, and Oliver Purnell looks like he has that program trending in the right direction. Northwestern is in a unique situation as they are only able to recruit kids that are as much a student as they are an athlete. Northern Illinois, Chicago State and Bradley and enduring coaching changes. Chris Lowery found out the hard way at Southern Illinois that bringing high-major talents into a mid-major program doesn’t always guarantee success.
But as far as Illinois is concerned, the issue isn’t recruiting. Bruce Weber has four top 100 players from the state of Illinois in his class for 2011. He had three in his class for 2010 and two more in 2009. Do the math, and Weber currently has nine players on his roster that were ranked in the top 100 nationally that hail from the state of Illinois.
Blaming the current struggles on the inability of Weber to recruit the state is a cop out. He is recruiting the state, and he’s doing it pretty well. But if you can’t coach up the talent you bring into your program, you aren’t going to win many games. (Fretting about his job security also isn’t new.)
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.