What does the win mean?

By BobLa Gesse

Let me be the first to welcome the country to Illinois basketball.

It will be here all year – ocean of orange and all.

No. 3 Illinois ran the No. 1 team in the country out of Assembly Hall, beating Wake Forest 91-73. Illinois’ first win against a No. 1 team in 25 years could be a stepping stone – for the this year’s team and the program.

“I don’t think Illinois gets that much respect,” said Illinois junior guard Dee Brown. “I think we’ve been a good team. One of the guys on TV said we are probably one of the best programs that doesn’t have a national championship.”

But for how much longer?

Illinois is the real thing this year. Stomping three cupcakes and Gonzaga didn’t prove how good this Illinois team is.

But manhandling Wake Forest showed the expectations – Final Four and the school’s first national championship – are within reach.

This win doesn’t make a season – even though 30,000 will say they were at the game 20 years from now. The next 30-plus games will decide how good this Illini team really is.

This game did show that Illinois should be the No. 1 team in both polls, assuming they beat Arkansas – not a gimme. Kansas, Georgia Tech and Syracuse have not played as well as Illinois – or beaten a top-10 team.

“We are pretty good,” Brown said. “We are one of the best teams, if not the best in the Big Ten. We have experience and we have good depth.”

The most impressive thing in this romp was that Illinois won by playing Weberball.

Up-tempo. Trapping defense. Athleticism. Hustle. Most importantly – unselfish play.

“Everybody is getting their respect and no one is bigger than the next man,” Brown said.

Respect happens – after big wins.

No one exemplified Weberball more Wednesday than seniors Luther Head and the Reverend – Roger Powell Jr. Weber said the seniors had to improve their play for Illinois to be a Final Four contender.

So far, mission accomplished.

The duo combined for 35 points, showing America that Illinois has more than just two junior guards on its team.

The Reverend is one of the toughest match-ups in the country. He will beat you inside or outside. And Head, well, he may have replaced Wake Forest guard Justin Gray as the most underrated guard in the country.

“Luther may be our best guard and people don’t even know it,” Illinois head coach Bruce Weber said.

For Weber, he gains instant credibility with the win – on the recruiting trial and with national recognition. Before Wednesday, he was best known for being “the guy” who threw a funeral for Bill Self.

That reputation couldn’t bring in national recruits. Now, Weber doesn’t even have to talk – he just has to show a tape of this game.

What recruit wouldn’t want to come to a team that runs and guns, plays with a smile and allows players to utilize their strengths while destroying top teams?

Illinois is on the first stone to becoming a truly elite program.

It has the rest of the year to get there.

But now’s as good a time as ever to jump to the next stone.

Bobby La Gesse is a senior in communications. He can be reached at [email protected]