Weber on the road through July heat

Illinois Head Coach Bruce Weber gestures during a March 8 game at Assembly Hall against Minnesota. Susan Kantor

Illinois Head Coach Bruce Weber gestures during a March 8 game at Assembly Hall against Minnesota. Susan Kantor

By Jeremy Werner

July is a hectic month of almost non-stop work for Bruce Weber. The Illinois coach has often been on the road recruiting, attending multiple national AAU tournaments to scout some of the nation’s best prep talent.

But even during the NCAA-mandated dead period from July 16-21, during which coaches are prohibited from recruiting, Weber finds himself doing work – yard work, that is.

Weber woke up early Wednesday morning to cut the grass and pull some weeds after driving home from Ohio late Tuesday night.

Even Big Ten coaches have household chores.

Weber’s first 10-day recruiting stint included trips to Philadelphia, Chicago, Augusta, S.C., Louisville, Ky. and Akron, Ohio among other destinations.

“Hotels get old, and games get old,” Weber said. “(But) it’s a necessity. You have to do it. It’s important.”

Assistant coaches Wayne McClain, Jay Price and Jerrance Howard also returned to Champaign after their 10-day journeys.

Wednesday marked the first day the entire Illinois coaching staff had been in the same city in almost two weeks, according to a team spokesman. The coaches took the rare chance for a staff meeting and had individual meetings with the players.

After decades of constant July traveling, the summer recruiting period can become tiresome for a veteran coach. But for Howard, a second-year assistant who is making his first round on the recruiting trail this summer, the experience has been thrilling – in the short term.

“Jerrance is all excited about it,” Weber said. “I’ve done it, this is my 30th summer. (Howard) started, ‘I don’t know if I could do it that many times.'”

Weber has little contact with the Illini players while on the road and counts on other members of the staff to motivate the team in his absence.

Strength coach Jimmy Price is a constant presence at the Ubben Basketball Complex, but Weber has another person to keep an eye on things: senior guard Chester Frazier.

“He’s talked about coaching in the future,” Weber said. “I said, ‘Here’s your chance to coach. You can grab these guys and go.’ A couple of guys have teased, ‘Coach Frazier had us doing this or that.’ So I think that’s good that he’s taken the team on.”

But still, Weber worries. He receives constant reports on each player’s situations.

“There’s always something,” Weber said. “I get my calls in the morning from home, the little crises at home. There’s a daily crisis, something always happens. Missing class, or doing this or doing that, somebody late. You know, they’re kids. But overall, it’s been pretty good.”

Thanks in part to a solid recruiting class, July 2008 has been much more laid-back than July 2007 for the Illini coaching staff. Last summer, Jereme Richmond, then a sophomore at Waukegan High School, was the only prospect who had verbally committed to Illinois.

But Weber received verbal commitments from four Class of 2009 commits (Joseph Bertrand, Tyler Griffey, Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson) and one from the class of 2010 (Crandall Head, brother of former Illini Luther Head) this year to give him a little sense of comfort.

“It’s a little easier this summer … because we have a lot of commitments, and you’re not chasing around quite as much as you normally do,” Weber said.

July can be draining on his family as well, but Weber added that July has become easier since his daughters Hannah, Christy and Emily have grown up. But he added that it is still tough to be away from his daughters and wife Megan for long stretches.

“My first year I got married, I think I was gone like 19-20 days and I had just got married,” Weber said. “I don’t think she was real happy her first summer month being my wife.”

The homecoming won’t last long for Weber though. He has a flight to Las Vegas scheduled for Monday morning to the Reebok Summer Championships, one of the biggest AAU tournaments of the summer.

While in Sin City, Weber plans to attend a Team USA basketball practice to watch former Illini guard and Olympian Deron Williams.

But the nomadic Illinois coach will fit in as much relaxation as he can during one rare weekend off in one place: his freshly cut back yard.

“I hope by the weekend I can stay at home, barbecue a little bit, jump in the pool and get back on the road early Monday morning,” Weber said.