Sunday Morning: Happy Father’s Day & The Illini Basketball Week That Was

Happy Father’s Day to all those Illini dads who do so much and make so many sacrifices for their kids.

Speaking of fathers, here’s why Bruce Weber is a great fit at the University of Illinois, and why fans should be proud to have this man leading our team, not only on the court but off of it.

Back in February, Fox Sports’ Jeff Goodman wrote a story on former Illini guard Jamar Smith, who was starring at Division II Southern Indiana after his dismissal from the U-of-I team prior to the 2008-2009 season.

Goodman recaps how Smith nearly killed himself and then Illini teammate Brian Carwell in a 2007 drunken driving accident.

After being suspended for the rest of the 2007 season and the entire 2007-2008 season, Smith would eventually be dismissed from the team in the summer of 2008 after police found him outside a bar with alcohol on his breath.

Goodman leads to the moment when Weber dismissed Smith from the program:

Next came the realization that his career at Illinois was history.

“It probably saved his life,” Weber said.

Smith and his mother went into Weber’s office and were informed he’d been dismissed from the program.

“When he said it, I was emotional, but my heart went cold,” Smith recalled. “I just tried to brush it off, but then he gave me a hug like he loved me. I knew — and still know — all those guys on the staff genuinely loved me.”

Now isn’t this what we should demand from our college coaches, to be more than just teachers of the game but father figures for their players, young adults who are most often on their own for the first time in their lives and going to make mistakes.

In an era where too many coaches are all about winning and many athletes view college as nothing more than a pit stop to the pros, this story is a great reminder of the impact that coaches can have on their players well beyond shooting a basketball or throwing a spiral.

Bruce Weber is a throwback to an era when a coach was a father figure and the player was more than just a commodity who could help you win games and even advance your career.

His responsibilities are not limited to just winning basketball games.

In that regard, I couldn’t be more thankful that Weber is at the U-of-I.

Now onto this week’s major Illini basketball stories.

● Since leaving Illinois, Smith has had frequent contact with the Illini basketball coaches. This week, Smith was back on campus, playing with some of his former teammates at the Ubben Basketball Complex and training for what he is hoping to be a pro career. Smith recently worked out for the Charlotte Bobcats and has been invited to play with their summer league team. It is not likely that Smith will play in the NBA, though he can have a long career overseas.

● Not only are the returning Illini players back on campus, but so is the heralded freshman class, with the exception of Jereme Richmond, who is practicing in San Antonio after being named to the USA Basketball U18 National Team on Wednesday. The main question regarding freshman center Meyers Leonard and wing Crandall Head has been their health.

● Recovering from a stress fracture in his left foot, Leonard skipped trying out for the U-18 team and has not been participating in any pickup games or drills with his teammates. However, he has been working on his upper-body strength, with the News Gazette’s Paul Klee noting that Leonard set the Illini team high for bench presses with 14 reps of 185 pounds.

● After missing his senior season at Rich South High School with a career-threatening ACL tear, Head has been playing in pick-up games with his teammates and also working on his lower body strength. Head says he is currently at 90%. Prior to coming to campus, Head was working out in Chicago with his brother Luther, the Illini basketball great who played last season with the Indiana Pacers. Barring any unforeseen setbacks, it does not appear likely that Head will redshirt his freshman season (thus missing two years of basketball). Assistant Coach Wayne McClain describes Head as a wildcard, someone who could be one of the best players that the Illini have.

● By many accounts, senior Demetri McCamey has been the best player in the summer pickup games, with Smith noting how surprised he was to see how much McCamey has improved his game since the two were teammates at Illinois.

● Former Illini defensive stalwart Chester Frazier has also returned to campus, specifically to work out some of his former teammates. Could Frazier be returning to U-of-I in some form or another as a graduate assistant/coach? In the past Weber has indicated that he would love to have Frazier involved with the program. Frazier is not sure yet as to what’s next in his career after playing professionally in Germany last season.

● Other former Illini who have been back on campus playing with the team include Calvin Brock and C.J. Jackson.

● Back to Richmond, he is the first player to represent the Illini in the U18 games since Dee Brown and Deron Williams in 2002.

● Speaking of the freshmen, noted earlier this week that they have picked their numbers for next year. Richmond will wear #22 (he wore #23 in high school), Leonard will wear #12 and Head will wear #4 (the same number that his brother Luther wore at Illinois).

● Mount Carmel senior guard and 2011 Illinois recruit Tracy Abrams also participated in the USA Basketball trials with Richmond but did not make the team. Nonetheless, Abrams had good things to say about the experience.

● Back to Weber, he had this to say about Tom Izzo returning to Michigan State. He also shared his memories of John Wooden, the legendary UCLA coach who passed away two weeks ago.

● Dick Vitale has Illinois ranked 18th in his ESPN preseason Top 40. Guess who’s ranked #1? Duke followed by three Big Ten teams (Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State) and then Villanova. I don’t get the fascination with Duke as the preseason #1. I know Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith are returning, and Kyrie Irving is coming in, but it is going to be hard to replace 60% of the starting lineup (Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek). While those guys weren’t the most talented players, they did a lot of little things that are going to be hard to replace.

Anyways, have a good rest of the weekend.

Until tomorrow and another Illini Tale of the Tape (Illinois at Indiana).

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Tags: Bill Cole Brandon Paul Bruce Weber C.J. Jackson Calvin Brock Chester Frazier Crandall Head D.J. Richardson Demetri McCamey Illini Basketball Illinois Basketball Jamar Smith Jereme Richmond Luther Head Meyers Leonard Tracey Abrams University Of Illinois

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