RECRUITING: Despite verbals, Weber targets other players



By Jeff LaBelle

The Illinois coaching staff has collected verbal commitments from Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson, Joseph Bertrand, and most recently Tyler Griffey for the 2009 men’s basketball recruiting class. Crandall Head and Jereme Richmond have given their word for 2010.

So now everyone can breathe easy, right?

Taking into account recent history, head coach Bruce Weber said Friday that he is not taking any of those commitments lightly. Weber said he has learned a few things from what transpired with potential recruits Eric Gordon and Quinton Watkins and is keeping in mind numerous plan B’s should the occasion arise.

“Because of what happened to us the first time, we have to be smart enough to keep our eyes and ears open for other kids and other opportunities,” Weber said. “And it gives us the chance to go see freshmen and maybe eighth-graders and seventh-graders. Just get ahead of the schedule.

“And at the same time (we) hope those (recruits) keep improving and make the strides they need to.”

ESPN is sure to remind the country what transpired between Illinois and Gordon when the media mogul telecasts the Illinois-Indiana matchup on Thursday. Gordon, as it has been highly publicized, verbally committed to Illinois as part of this year’s class only to change his mind. The guard’s 21.8 points per game has since brought great joy to fans in Bloomington, Ind.

Quinton Watkins, a guard out of Dominguez High School in Compton, Calif., was recruited to replace Gordon but was ruled academically ineligible. Watkins has since landed on his feet with San Diego State’s program, but the guard situation at Illinois has struggled to reboot.

“With recruiting, we learned the hard way that even with commitments you got to keep working, maybe even harder this day in age,” Weber said. “Make sure those kids still (want to come here) until they sign – with some it’s eight to nine months away with others it’s 17 to 18 months away. So we’re going to have to do that.”

Demetri McCamey has come along as the coaching staff expects, but between solid games he has shown signs of mental lapses and poor judgment.

Trent Meacham has stepped up his play, as has Calvin Brock, but the two don’t have quite the offensive prowess Gordon’s commitment promised.

Chester Frazier has been a solid defender and team leader, but tends to makes his biggest mark through hustle plays and gritty performances.

All will likely return next season, though will most likely have different roles when Jamar Smith and Alex Legion become active.

The recent commitments, all in the top 100 of their respective classes, bring the coaching staff at least a little satisfaction.

“It makes you feel good, no doubt, any time you get a commitment,” Weber said.

“It’s a little bit of a rush and maybe a little relief too that you finally get it done and get the kid. Again, I guess I’m oversensitive now because of what happened until it’s finalized – you don’t really feel it now. I guess I just patiently wait until signing day.”

Illinois is 10-13 overall this season, 2-8 in Big Ten play while No. 14 Indiana is 18-3 overall with a 7-1 conference record. Weber said that his 2009 and 2010 recruiting classes shed a positive light on the University’s program heading forward.

“Until they come, it looks good,” Weber added.

“At least it looks like it’s a positive step for our program to have those young kids committed. And again, (we) hope the young kids keep getting better, the freshmen keep getting better, and you know, we have enough (players) in the mix to be a top-20 team in the future.”

With so many wild cards, as the coach and his staff have noted, will Weber keep targeting seventh- and eighth-graders as the recruiting trend swings that way?

“I joke about that,” Weber said about scouting junior-high players.

“We’ve gone a few times and you know – when we have an opportunity … and we can get involved with another kid early and he ends up being a good player, it helps us.”