By Joe Henricksen
Wow! Can there be any more recruiting drama out of Champaign? The latest, however, is absurd, bordering crazy.
There are two certainties that come with the recent move of assistant coach Tracy Webster
from Illinois to Kentucky.
First, no matter what anyone says or how the situation is spun, the loss of Webster is a huge hit for the Illini
program. A little more on that in a minute. But the notion that Webster was all along working for Kentucky, playing
the role of a double secret recruiting agent and sabotaging Illini basketball recruiting efforts is ludicrous. That is the
rumor making the rounds, along with others. This is more about an opportunity presenting itself and, quite possibly,
frustration finally setting in. Why would Webster even entertain those thoughts? As I said, absolutely ridiculous.
There are those out there that believe the loss of Webster is no big deal, that the Illini weren’t able to secure top-
notch talent on Webster’s watch anyway. But look at it this way. The smooth, well-connected assistant coach that
gets in on top talent early is the starting pitcher. They put in the innings, do a lot of the leg work, help put the school
in position to succeed recruiting wise. The head coach? Of course, he’s the closer, who comes in to finish things
off in the ninth inning. Now imagine being the all-star caliber starting pitcher–in this case the assistant coach–and
the closer imploding in the ninth and losing all the recruits you’ve put so much effort into. In the end, it hurts the
assistant coach’s reputation as well, along with future aspirations. And it gets frustrating.
In the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s previous blog, the topic of putting together a terrific coaching staff was
addressed. It doesn’t matter what level you’re at–low Division I, mid-major or the highest level–putting together the
best possible staff is critical. Bill Self did it at Illinois and at Kansas. And now Kentucky coach
Billy Gillispie, who is on the fast track to coaching superstardom after coaching for several years
under Self, is doing the same. Adding Webster is a brilliant move. Kentucky is not that far in distance from Chicago.
Gillispie already has ties to the state after being an assistant coach at Illinois, and now with Webster on board
expect Chicago to be a feeding frenzy for both Kentucky and Kansas as it pertains to recruiting. Throw
John Calipari of Memphis and Kelvin Sampson of
Indiana into the mix of recruiting the state of Illinois and never before have there been so many
major players in the coaching ranks hovering around Illinois gyms.
Illinois now has lost it’s one influential figure in the Chicago area. It doesn’t matter if the results haven’t been what
Illinois or its fans have hoped and wished for with Webster on staff. Tracy Webster was not the recruiting problem
at Illinois. All you have to do is ask the countless number of coaches and players that have been recruited by
Illinois and see what they have to say about it. Again, Webster was not the problem. Webster was the
one city and suburban coaches and AAU coaches looked to first, connected with, respected and had a
relationship with. Webster was the one “in on” so many of the 2010 stars in the state. Now what does this say to
all those coaches and players out there? Make no mistake about it, the loss of Webster is a big blow to
Bruce Weber and Illinois, no matter what the results have been. Will Weber be able to land the
sexy-named assistant to a program that is quickly being perceived as a sinking ship?