History, tradition part of Bill Cole’s journey to Illinois

For junior forward Bill Cole, the 2009-10 basketball campaign began the same as every other since his arrival at Illinois — with Cole sitting on the bench.

But when freshman guard Brandon Paul began to struggle early in the Big Ten schedule, head coach Bruce Weber gave Cole the start against Indiana on Jan. 9.

It’s a role the junior hasn’t relinquished in nine games since, despite a bout with the flu before the Illini traveled to Iowa last week.

Adjusting to the added minutes hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Cole, though.

“I think Billy, just because of his body and the number of minutes we’ve played him, he’s worn down,” Weber said. “And he even told me, the second game of the week he has more trouble than the first game.”

But Cole said his body is adjusting to the grind, and he doesn’t mind sharing time with Paul because they both bring a different dynamic to the court.

“I think every position on the team’s the same way, we have one or two guys that can spell each other when we need different things,” Cole said. “I like how coach Weber’s using the depth right now, and I think that’s going to be to our advantage in the long run, something we haven’t had in a while.”

Whether he’s starting or coming off the bench for the Orange and Blue, Cole knows Illinois is more than just a place to play basketball. It’s a family tradition.

Can you talk a little bit about the recruiting process and what it was like for you?

“It probably started with coach Weber, coach McClain coming to a couple of Peoria Richwoods open gyms, probably when I was a freshman or a sophomore. They probably first started because, you know, (former Illinois guard) Jamar (Smith) was on the team, and then they saw me after. And then, you know, a bunch of phone calls, talks, the AAU tournaments, the Nike camp. After all that, I really fell in love with the offense, my role that coach Weber pictured me in. And that’s probably how I ended up (here). Plus you add that to all my family history that’s here and it was a good equation to come here.”

What is your family history with Illinois?

“My dad played football here, and my sister went here, she’s graduated. Probably like five or six cousins have gone here.”

So would you say Illinois was your dream school?

“Definitely. I mean, basketball-wise it doesn’t get much better than this. I mean, when they offered me a scholarship they had just went to the national championship game in 2005, so that’s a big pull for me. It’s tough to say no to somebody when they just say, ‘Hey, we went to a national championship last year.’”

Were there other schools recruiting you?

“Yeah, there was a lot of Big Ten schools, some schools out East. I took my time, I kind of narrowed it down to a top ten, top five, and then made a choice. Even though it was kind of early in my career, I still felt I made a good decision.”

What were your top schools when you narrowed down the list?

“That was a long time ago. My top five was something like Illinois, Wisconsin, Purdue, Tennessee, Xavier.”

Are you still happy with your choice?

“Yeah, definitely. I have a great time.”

Did you visit any other schools?

“No, I committed so young, I committed the winter before my junior year. So I committed pretty young, so I didn’t really take any official visits anywhere else. My only official visit I took was here, and that was after I already committed.”