Weber has Guenther in his corner
What was once a basketball school has now gone football crazy, but Illinois Athletic Director Ron Guenther remains solidly behind basketball coach Bruce Weber.
The Illini finished 16-19 overall and 5-13 in the Big Ten Conference last season -- the first losing mark in nine years -- and prospects for the upcoming season were damaged when junior guard Jamar Smith was dismissed from the team. With commitments from high school seniors and juniors giving the program hope for a big rebound, Guenther hasn't lost faith because the Illini are "working out of it,'' he said.
"I don't think anybody is saying this is a critical year,'' Guenther said. "We're going to have a better basketball team this year than last year. We've adjusted our recruiting. Bruce and his staff understand how we got where we are. There's a lot of pride in the program. Historically, that's been the program that's been more consistent among the two in terms of being able to win at a high level.
"Every once in a while, a program hits a down period. It had to do in recruiting, making reaches on student-athletes who didn't show up here. It's not a total rebuild, but I think you'll see in the next couple of years Illinois basketball being back where we expect to have it.''
Guenther doesn't listen to disgruntled fans who want to make a quick fix, he said. Weber is 128-47 overall in five seasons at Illinois. History might be on his side, but the loss of Smith, who was expected to lead the Illini in scoring, doesn't help. Illinois hasn't posted a second straight losing season since 1975.
"People get restless,'' Guenther said. "What do you do about it? The only time we make a change is when I have lost confidence personally that we can't get it done. That's not the case with coach Weber and the basketball program. We got some good players who were young last year and they're going to be a year older.
"The Jamar Smith situation was a sad situation. We worked very hard here to support Jamar and his issues. It didn't work out. That's one year and now two years. If I'm right, which I will be, you'll see things turn around and settle into what we expect -- this basketball program competing for championships.''
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.