Illini play Kansas in NCAA Tournament.

 

Eight years after holding a funeral to declare the memory of former Illinois basketball coach Bill Self dead, Bruce Weber still has to exorcise the ghost of the man whose departure haunts Illini fans to this day.

When Weber and No. 9 Illinois meets No. 1 Kansas in the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament Sunday, the Illini meet Self for the first time since he jumped to take the Kansas job in 2003, and the impact isn't lost on anyone.

"Eight years is quite a long time,'' said Self, surrounded by cameras and recorders in a hallway at the BOK Center. "They'd like nothing more than to clean our clock. We understand that.''

The Illini could reach the tournament's second weekend for the first time since 2005, but for Illini fans, beating Self would still make even an unexpected trip to the Sweet 16 that much more special. This rivalry between Illinois, Self and Weber means little to the players on the court.

"I hear more stories about me and coach Weber than Bill Self and Illinois,'' said Illini guard Demetri McCamey.

Weber called his funeral gig a compliment to a coach who made such an impact not only on the Illini program -- Self led the Illini to the Elite Eight in 2001, then recruited the players Weber used to reach the NCAA title game in 2005 -- but also on Self's players. Weber wore black to a non-conference game in his first year at Illinois, attempting to end the comparisons between Weber and Self.

Frazzled by constant comparisons of Weber to Self's coaching, recruiting, personality and even his haberdasher, Weber stepped to the podium with a message.

"This is a funeral. I’m going to throw a funeral. It’s the end of Bill Self,’ ’’ Weber said that night. “It’s over. There’s no more comparing. He’s gone. No more talking about it. I’ll be honest. I’m fed up with it.''

Years later, the NCAA saw this matchup as must-see-TV.

"When I did that, I'm not sure how Bill took it, but it really was a compliment,'' Weber said. "You saw how he captured the players, the fans and what he did at Illinois. Somehow, I had to say, 'We've got to move forward.' I could never understand people were mad at me because he left, and I had to deal with that.

"I did it for our players, too, because eight games into the season, people are still asking about Bill Self. I had to deal with a little bit of heat, but maybe it works, I guess, in the long run.''

Self apparently was more upset with the second part of Weber's rant years ago, when Weber said he kicked Self's butt twice in earlier meetings when Weber was coaching Southern Illinois and Self coached at Tulsa and Illinois. Always smooth, Self called major college basketball "a big boy game'' where coaches do things to benefit themselves and their teams.

"In my mind, I'm probably a little more amped up and watched a little more tape,'' Self said.

Since leaving Illinois, Self has only spoken with Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther once, a chance encounter at an event held by Jerry Colangelo in Chicago. Self said he's "not close'' with Weber.

Illinois had a love affair with Self, because he placed the Illini on the fast track. Self posted a 78-24 record in three seasons, winning two Big Ten titles and stocking the roster with so much talent the Illini won two more Big Ten titles and made their first title game appearance in school history. He was a rock star, whose smooth and engaging personality left everyone feeling the Illini had something special. The heartbreak is still painful.

"People are entitled to think and feel how they want,'' Self said. "That's why they call them opinions. What we did when I was there, even though it was just a brief period of time, I thought we had the entire Illini nation to rally around what we were trying to do. It made it a lot of fun. They had fun following it.

"I don't see it as a huge negative. In this business, you can't make people happy all the time. Timing is very rarely perfect. I hope enough water is under the bridge that people don't feel as strong about that. I'm sure there are people who still feel that way.''

Illinois defeated No. 8 UNLV 73-62 Friday for its first win in the NCAAs since 2006, and it came at the expense of coach Lon Kruger, who ran the Illini program before leaving in 2000 in a move that created the opening filled by Self. But Illini fans never embraced Kruger like they did Self. Despite that run to the NCAA title game, there's not the same feeling for Weber as Self.

"Illinois is a top 10 job,'' Self said. "The job I have is one of the best in the country. We had fun (at Illinois). It's unfortunate because the timing stunk that it kind of ended the way it did.''

No. 9 Illinois (20-13) vs. No. 1 Kansas (33-2)

7:40 p.m., BOK Center, Tulsa (TNT)   ILLINOIS (20-13) F Mike Davis Sr. 6-9 12.3 7.2 F Bill Cole Sr. 6-9 4.9 2.5 C Mike Tisdale Sr. 7-1 9.9 6.4 G Brandon Paul So. 6-4 9.2 3.1 G Demetri McCamey Sr. 6-3 14.9 3.4   KANSAS (33-2) F Markieff Morris Jr. 6-10 13.6 8.2 F Marcus Morris Jr. 6-9 17.3 7.3 G Tyshawn Taylor Jr. 6-3 9.2 2.0 G Brady Morningstar Sr. 6-4 7.0 2.3  G Tyrel Reed Sr. 6-3 9.9 3.0   Noteworthy: The Illini haven't won consecutive games since starting the Big Ten season with three wins. . . Illinois leads the series record 3-2, defeating Kansas in the Sweet 16 in 2001 and losing to the Jayhawks in the regional semifinals in 2002. . . The winner advances to Southwest Region semifinals to face No. 12 Richmond in San Antonio Friday in San Antonio. The Spiders defeated No. 13 Morehead State 65-48 Saturday. . . Kansas is a No. 1 seed for the 10th time since seeding began in 1979. . .    Key for Illini: If Richmond doesn't play for the second straight game, the Illini search for production from D.J. Richardson, Crandall Head and Tyler Griffey off the bench.   Key for Jayhawks: The Jayhawks will pound the ball inside to the Morris twins and let them throw their weight around.   Key quote: "When (the funeral bit) came out, it was the only time my wife has been real excited when I answered the phone.'' -- Kansas coach Bill Self.   Prediction: Kansas 78, Illinois 68