It seems bizarrely fitting that, in a frustrating, underachieving year that most Illinois basketball fans just want to end, one of our former coaches will be the one to administer the Last Rites. My money’s on Lon Kruger.
It will also be a cruel reminder of what many fans – this one included – came to finally realize this season: that the current coach is not up to the task. The moment I knew for certain? It wasn’t the comically bad loss to a SEVEN-win UIC team; it wasn’t even the loss to a hapless and shorthanded Indiana squad. No, it was when he went on ESPN 1000 the day after benching Demetri McCamey and essentially trashed him, his family and his friends on the radio in his hometown.
Sorry, but that’s bush league, and eight years on in this job, there’s no excuse for it. That’s the kind of stuff that you can get away with in the Valley, but you need to ditch once you get to a BCS conference and program that’s historically Top 20. Because you know who else has to deal with kids hearing from outside influences? Every single coach in high-major college basketball. In fact, if you’re kids aren’t good enough to have people talking to them about their game, they’re probably not the kind of kids you should be recruiting. And if I was a coach recruiting against Illinois, especially for kids in Chicago, I’d probably print that article out, pull it out of my back pocket, and show it to the player, his parents, his grandparents, high school coach…..anybody with eyes.
I could drill down on the basketball deficiencies that have been on constant display this year, but really, it’s all related. Who wants to work hard and improve for a coach who may use you as an excuse when things go south? How can you trust a coach’s offensive or defensive philosophy when you don’t trust him to protect you in front of the total strangers that make up a listening audience? How do you acquire the courage to step up in a game’s final moments if you’re thinking that, should you fail, you could be publicly flogged in the post-game presser? Setting aside the losing, I actually feel bad for the kids that are wearing my alma mater’s basketball uniform, and maybe that’s what troubles me the most.
UPDATE (3/16): It seems that members of the team and their families would agree, according to this Tribune piece:
And it was tough for the Illini to win consistently when their best player, McCamey, was going through a slump in conference play. Coach Bruce Weber pinned some of McCamey’s struggles on outside influences such as family members, friends and even runners for agents whispering in McCamey’s ear. That was the most trying moment of the season for the team, Steven Davis [Mike Davis’ father] said.“The whole thing with coach and Demetri, that took a toll on the team,” he said. “There are three sides to every story — coach’s side, Demetri’s side and there’s the truth, it’s somewhere in between. … Demetri’s the heart and soul of this team and if you don’t have him 100 percent committed, it’s tough to win without him.”