News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Ramblin' Reck

November 6, 2010

RAMBLIN' RECK: Illini Coach Bruce Weber speaks at Edgar benefit

PARIS, Ill. — Bruce Weber is in his eighth season as the coach of the Illinois men’s basketball team and thinks the Illini can be pretty good this season.

Weber spoke to a large crowd in a facility North of Paris in a benefit sponsored by the Edgar County Community Foundation.

He said he has given lots of speeches in all parts of Illinois in his role as coach at Southern Illinois and Illinois.

“Four people were at the first program where I spoke after getting the Southern Illinois job. One talk at Robinson turned out  pretty good. We got a seven-footer,” he said, referring to 7-foot freshman Meyers Leonard of Robinson.

The Illini did not look good in exhibition victories over Lewis and Southern Indiana and the coach had an explanation for it.

“I have been working the players pretty hard in practice trying to get them to guard. We have a lot of talent on this team — six or seven of them could get a look by the NBA. We are still growing as a team,” he said.

The Illini will begin the season earlier than any other time in history, playing two games in the Coaches vs. Cancer competition this week. They meet Cal-Irvine on Monday and Toledo on Wednesday in Assembly Hall.

They also will face Southern Illinois on Saturday before heading to New York where they will face Texas and another team the following week. “My goal is for us to play well in the first two weeks. I hope we can live up to our hype,” said the coach.

Talking about Leonard, Weber said the freshman is the second-strongest player on the squad at 7 feet, 265 pounds. “The biggest thing is that he doesn’t know how to be a 7-footer. We’ve told him where he should be playing. It’s Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood,” said the coach.

“He has a chance to be very good … a special player. He wants to be better,” he added.

He said Leonard asked why he only played 14 minutes in one of the early games. “I told him it was because he had four fouls in those 14 minutes,” he said.

D.J. Richardson was freshman of the year in the Big Ten last year and is one of the most enthusiastic players on the team. He said Joseph Bertrand did not play much his freshman year and is all set to go.

He said the schedule for his team is tough with five or six opponents in the non-conference schedule ranked in the top 30 preseason polls. The Big Ten has been ranked No. 1 in various polls for the season.

Asked about the move to expand, he said he did not think basketball would have two divisions as has been announced for football.

“We likely could play seven teams twice … I would not be surprised if we went to 20 conference games. I don’t see us going to 22,” said Weber.

He said Illinois should sign four players, maybe five, in the fall signing period.

In a closing comment to the fans in the audience, he said, “Don’t panic. Be patient.”

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