Weber brothers look to basketball in time of grief

By BobLa Gesse

The Webers are basketball.

Basketball is the Webers. They are intertwined. They just go together.

The family forges its identity from the sport.

So it’s fitting Dawn Weber’s final words were telling her sons to keep coaching even while she was in the hospital.

The best thing to get the Weber family through Dawn’s death is the one thing that always brings them together. Basketball.

“Basketball is a part of our lives,” said Illinois head coach Bruce Weber.

And there is plenty of the roundball to go around in March. Bruce is leading Illinois to St. Louis and his brother Dave’s Glenbrook North squad is still alive in the IHSA Class AA Playoffs.

Tournament pressure is nothing compared to what the Webers have faced in the last 24 hours.

“I have to keep my team focused,” Weber said. “I have to coordinate the next three or four days so we have the best opportunity to do our jobs. He gets to state. We’re in the NCAAs.”

Dawn wanted Bruce to coach. So coach as long as you can, for her. At this point, basketball is more than just wins and loses.

Now Bruce can honor his mother with a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. She called Illinois’ season a fairy tale. What would be better than the Illini hoisting up a national title trophy and dedicating it to Dawn?

The final chapter to the fairy tale.

Dawn supported her sons through every comeback win and heartbreaking loss. Now those same games are a way for the Webers – even those in the stands – to lose themselves in something other than grief.

Bruce did that in Illinois’ 64-56 win over Minnesota Saturday. Dave did it too, in a sectional final win, 37-36 over Conant.

During the game Saturday, Bruce was no different on the sidelines than he was on Friday before he learned of his mom’s condition.

Same high-pitched scream and all.

It was the only time in the last 24 hours the usual energetic coach of Illinois appeared.

“There have been a lot of tears since six o’clock (Friday),” Weber said.

And it showed in the post-game press conference.

Weber sank into a chair and answered question after question on his mom and his decision to coach.

Bags formed under his eyes after a night of little sleep.

Worn out does not describe Weber. He passed that stage long ago. Dawn’s spirit drives Bruce during this conference tournament.

So did the outpouring of support from his players and the Big Ten.

There could not have been a better tribute for Dawn than the moment of silence before Illinois’ game.

The mother of a basketball family being honored by an entire basketball conference.

It was the only time Bruce cried during the game. That’s how touching it was.

The only thing more heart-felt came from Illinois players. Senior forward Jack Ingram spoke to Weber on behalf of the team before the game started.

“As much support as he’s given us, we are giving back,” Ingram said on the message of his speech.

Weber spent Friday with his immediate family. Senior forward and ordained minister Roger Powell led the team in a prayer.

The players always say Illinois is a family. Weber’s their father figure. Weber’s loss is a loss for them.

Saturday, the Illinois family united to get over the same tragedy in the only way it could. On the hardwood.

But there is a whole day before the next group therapy takes place.

Before then, Weber must make funeral arrangements. Family plans for the next week must be made.

The next basketball game cannot come soon enough.