Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber scanned the Final Four teams and noticed the similarities. "To me, the biggest things are they have toughness and they guard,'' Weber said Wednesday.
Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber scanned the Final Four teams and noticed the similarities.
"To me, the biggest things are they have toughness and they guard,'' Weber said Wednesday. "You can say there's parity in college basketball. It wasn't the best year. It didn't have quite the stars. That's what these guys had.''
Weber will employ a Get Tough policy from here on out. It's what he learned as a longtime assistant to Purdue coach Gene Keady. A team filled with delicate psyches and egos will get pushed rather than pampered. Toughness, bulk, defense and competitive drive are all ''musts'' for the Illini, who finished with a 21-15 record after an NIT quarterfinal loss.
"I tried to coddle them,'' Weber said. "At the end, we went back to competitive drills, hard-nosed practices and competing in everything we did. That's how you get tougher instead of worrying about egos and being fragile, worrying about if they break. We have to get after them. That doesn't mean yelling all the time. It's being demanding of them. They have to be demanding of themselves.''
It's a "no-brainer'' that Illinois should be a top 25 team next year, Weber said.
"But some things definitely have to change,'' he said. "It's going to start with a lot of competition through spring, motivated workouts throughout the summer. In all of that, mental and physical toughness will be emphasized.
"The most important thing is we get in the weight room. We get stronger. The workouts have to be competitive, and we set a great foundation for the fall to make a big jump next season. This next six months are going to be very important.''
Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale already made appearances in the weight room. There's no question the Illini need more bulk. But every player needs to grow his game: Davis must put the ball on the floor, Tisdale must battle inside, Demetri McCamey should continue to improve his conditioning and explosiveness, and play defense. Bill Cole needs more strength. Freshmen guards should create off the dribble. Tyler Griffey can expect more from himself.
"I told Tyler to go beat out Mike Davis,'' Weber said. "That should be your goal. Put fear into the older guys. If that happens, those guys get better, and (Griffey) gets better. That's the fire we need from guys.''
In other news:
- Weber met with McCamey again about the NBA evaluation process. A return from the league is expected in two weeks. Weber didn't initiate paperwork for any other Illini player.
- Weber was unsure if redshirt freshman Stan Simpson would return. Simpson logged 17 minutes this season. Said Weber: "We'll just have to wait and see as the spring goes along where he kind of sits and stands with us and his own thoughts.''
- The annual United Center game next season still looks like a date with Illinois-Chicago, a possibility that excited Weber about as much as Illini fans in Chicago, who would prefer a high-profile opponent. Illinois will also play a road game at Western Michigan.
- Illinois was still taking a look at adding another player this spring. Toughness would be a priority. If so, one possibility could be James Siakam, an undersized power forward who learned he has enough credits to graduate from Brehm Prep in Carbondale. Siakam missed most of the season with broken bones in his face.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.