Column: Winning is habit for Illini

By Ian Gold

I knew the Bears were going to win on Monday night – the mighty juggernaut from the Windy City could not possibly lose to the lowly Cardinals.

The game had nothing to do with how good the Bears are. And not one drop of the game reflected how bad the Cardinals are. If you watched closely enough, you would have noticed that the two teams were much closer than either of the fan bases would like to admit. When you break it down, very simply, the Cardinals have no idea how to win. The Bears have just become accustomed to it.

Recent basketball achievements have left the Champaign-Urbana area spoiled due to this same expectation of winning. The men’s basketball team has been as consistently victorious as any other team across the country in the past three years. Bruce Weber inherited an up-and-coming program and brought it to a new level of success and expectation. Individually he is a winner, and he has been a winner at every step of his coaching development. Ask Bruce what it feels like not to be in pursuit of a conference championship and he’ll go cross-eyed with confusion.

Of course he wishes that Eric Gordon was coming to Illinois; in fact I bet he wishes that he had an entire roster of McDonald’s All-Americans. But the mind of a 17-year-old kid is a tough thing to gauge; sometimes they don’t like your uniforms, didn’t get hot enough females to flirt with them on their visit or eventually make their way to greener pastures. If you look back on talent in college basketball, it alone will not bring home championship banners. The only constant is that an excellent head coach will keep the program in the upper echelon, and for all those who have bashed this current team or thumbed around with showing Weber the door over a kid from Indianapolis, I suggest you find a new color sweatshirt.

I was sickened with what I have heard or read from some “fans.” You are basketball blessed to have a coach who has provided you with so many W’s and so little reason to think that in a few years your program will be caught in scandal. The bottom line is that Weber wins, and he has instilled a tradition that positive results are created by hard work.

I have covered the basketball team since Weber’s first year. He had five current NBA players buy into his system and accept that if they out-worked their opponents on and off the court, they would be successful. The days of Dee and Deron playing full court one-on-one during the blistering summer heat are over, but the work ethic that Weber gave them carries over as long as he is at the helm of the program. From the second Dee Brown and James Augustine stepped off this campus, the non-McDonald’s recruits got to work.

In most instances, this exodus of such great talent would shake up a program. But this instance has the head coach glowing with enthusiasm. A proud coach boasts that his players have worked hard to improve their bodies, strength and athleticism; picked out the weakness of themselves and worked like Luther or Deron would have to improve it.

Winning is a habit, Monday Night Football proved it, the unheralded Illini are about to prove it and the man sitting in the big office at Ubben has done enough that he doesn’t need to.

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