Column: Thank You

By Ian Gold

How badly did Illinois want Eric Gordon? Years and years of recruiting frustration kept piling up and suffocated the Illini nation.

Head coach Bruce Weber did great things as an assistant under Gene Keady at Purdue. He took a mediocre Southern Illinois program and turned them into a top- 25 tournament contender. And finally, he traveled north to take a good Illinois program and unfurl the much awaited national championship banner.

Since being hired, Weber is 68-9. He took the Illini to their first national championship contest and was named National Coach of the Year. But there were red flags sticking out from his resume.

Shaun Livingston, Julian Wright and Sherron Collins were painful reminders to Illini fans that their elite program might be heading down a dangerous path of mediocrity.

Today is a day that could stand out as the moonwalk in Illini basketball. Eric Gordon, listed as the No. 1 shooting guard in the class of 2007 by Scout.com and the No. 5 prospect overall by Rivals.com, committed to take his talents from Indianapolis to Champaign. A united jump for joy set off seismic events and a collected sigh of relief opened up an ozone hole over the Midwest.

Nobody had ever questioned Weber’s ability to manage a basketball game. His players had a visible upgrade in their skills over time and in only one game during his two year tenure at Illinois did his team look unprepared. Weber’s trophy case is full to the brim, but his talent level on the team was criticized as depleting.

If Illinois was to stay on top and actually become a perennial national power such as Duke, UConn or North Carolina, Weber was eventually going to have to start winning these high profile recruiting battles. No matter how good a coach he is, without top talent, the program would not be where the expectations had been carried.

After last season, everyone living under an Orange sun stopped looking for Big Ten championships. Illinois wants Final Fours and the elusive National Championship.

I believe there is a small window available for Illinois basketball. After last season, there are only a few years to restock with elite recruits before Illinois is once again thought of as being good.

The magical run of last season will only keep Illinois in the limelight for so long, just long enough to once again re-establish itself as a national title contender; and although Weber has been able to find very good sleeper prospects, an Eric Gordon was so necessary.

The impact of landing a prospect of his caliber takes all the past burdens off the coaching staff’s shoulders. Illinois can now establish street credit as a major player in the national recruiting scene, but more importantly, Bruce Weber is complete.

Illinois fans tried their best to support their coach while watching the state’s best prospect go to their old one, but it was getting harder. Articles were getting more frequent questioning the persuasiveness of the program and restless fans vented frustrations on web forums and chat rooms. But now fans can use Gordon and his rankings as a handkerchief to wipe the sweat off the brow. Already 31,934 people have looked at a topic on Illiniboard.com titled Eric Gordon = Illini.

Yes indeed, he is an Illini. If you’re not smiling now, you’re a Duke fan.

Ian Gold is a senior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]