Back in the days when Bruce Weber was a Purdue assistant basketball coach under Gene Keady, the Boilermakers always seemed to have a linebacker or two in a basketball uniform. Maybe it was because Keady was a former Kansas State football player.

Back in the days when Bruce Weber was a Purdue assistant basketball coach under Gene Keady, the Boilermakers always seemed to have a linebacker or two in a basketball uniform. Maybe it was because Keady was a former Kansas State football player.


Stephen Scheffler comes to mind. He could have played football at Michigan. Instead, Scheffler left a black-and-blue mark on Big Ten basketball.


"It's nice to get big ol' strong guys,'' Weber said. "You could use a physical guard, too. One thing we don't have is somebody that played football. Through our years at Purdue, we had guys who played some football.''


After Saturday night’s disappointing 70-67 loss to Georgia, the what's-wrong-with-the-Illini theme took over the last two days. Manhandled by Georgia, Illinois failed to defend the post and struggled to battle against the bigger, stronger Bulldogs. Before Illinois (8-3) meets Missouri (7-3) in the Braggin' Rights game at Scottrade Center in St. Louis on Wednesday (8:30 p.m., ESPN2), Weber reminded everyone that he said toughness and rebounding would be concerns heading into the season.


"It's all the things I talked about before the season,'' Weber said. "Probably no one listened to me probably ‘cause I don't know what I'm talking about. Now it's the stuff that comes out. Defense, leadership, rebounding and toughness. (The media) and the fans are all up in arms.


"I was hoping it would come quicker. It hasn't come as quick as I wanted. We made some steps. Now we have to go back to the drawing board and get after it.''


Toughness can be developed over a four-year span, Weber said. Case in point: Trent Meacham, the guard who disliked physical contact when he arrived before earning the Lou Henson Courage Award last season for taking the most charges. Yet it's probably better to spend a scholarship or two on tough, physical players even if it means going after a player with less talent.


Weber talked with recruiting ace Jerrance Howard, and "sometimes as a young coach you never have too much talent. You have to have other things, too,'' Weber said.


Elite basketball players generally don't play football, Weber said, but expect the Illini to look for some basketball players with a football background or just a tough personality. A name to remember is James Siakam, a junior at Carbondale Brehm Prep whose season ended earlier this month after suffering facial fractures.


ASSEMBLY HALL: When Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther lands naming rights for Assembly Hall, expect the university to release a renovation plan and schedule for the arena that opened in 1963. Renovating Assembly Hall would take well over $100 million, and the revenue stream to pay for such an undertaking must start with selling the name to the building, he said.


While it might always be Assembly Hall to some folks, someday the Hall will have a corporate title above the front door. The university will meet soon with four or five corporations to sell the naming rights for roughly $2 million per season for 20 years.


"We're moving forward,'' Guenther said. "It's tough economic times. We're very pleased with the progress we've made with corporate contacts. We're looking for corporate naming rights.''


With the university wanting to keep the Hall as a campus icon and a small market unable to support two facilities, Assembly Hall will be renovated over the option of building a new arena. There has been no other recent talk concerning a new facility.


"The building is competitive,'' Guenther said. "We win ballgames there. The fan base needs to have amenities they'd have in a brand new building.''


Plans call for lowering the floor to add more students closer to the court without blocking sight lines, adding luxury boxes, installing elevators and escalators and rebuilding the seating configuration. Air conditioning would also be added. Architects have devised a schedule over a 2- to 3-year plan that wouldn't displace the Illini.


A timetable won't be known until the university cashes the check from naming rights. Guenther will apparently oversee the project. He gave no hint that he plans to retire following the end of his current contract, which runs through 2010.


FOOTBALL: Although Illinois coach Ron Zook would make a late offer, running backs coach Reggie Mitchell was likely to leave for a job at Kansas under newly hired coach Turner Gill, a source close to the Illinois program said. Mitchell hadn't given a final decision to Zook or signed a contract as of early Monday evening, but the chances of him staying with the Illini were remote.


One name mentioned as Mitchell's replacement was Kenni Burns, the former Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin running back who played at Indiana and worked the last two seasons as tight ends coach at Southern Illinois.


IN OTHER NEWS: About 600 tickets remain for Illinois' conference opener against Northwestern on Dec. 30. . . More information on the status of Destiny Williams on the Illinois women's basketball team may come shortly after Christmas. Williams hasn't played or practiced with the team since early in the season in what is essentially a suspension. She was the program's first McDonald's All-American and rated as the nation's No. 8 prep senior last season by ESPN.


John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.