Illinois Public Media News
Once again, registration for this weekend's Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon in Champaign-Urbana is at a new high, according to figures as of Friday morning.
Race Co-director Jan Seeley says participation in the Saturday morning marathon itself will be about the same as last year, with 2,269 long-distance runners. But she says registration for all events --- including a half marathon, and 5 and 10 K races --- had reached about 20.300. That's up by about 1,700 from last year.
Seeley says the Illinois Marathon has probably gotten as big as it can get, and still be manageable in a metro area the size of Champaign-Urbana. In fact, she says the big challenge for the organizers and volunteers is making sure people get to where they need to be for the various events.
"We've spent almost all of our brain-trust energy this year, working on ways to move people", says Seeley, who notes improvements in crowd management this year at the Health and Fitness Expo that accompanies the marathon. "And hopefully the changes that we've instituted tomorrow, on the field and up in the food area will show that we've made good changes in logistics, moving people. That's been just a huge goal of ours this year. "
The field of runners includes 43 top-flight runners, categorized as Elite Athletes. Mike Olmquist of the sports event management firm Go Far Events is working with the Elite Athletes. He says the Illinois Marathon is giving more top runners reasons for returning each year.
"Number one, is it is a flat, fast course; it's got a reputation for being fast", says Olmquist. "Number two, it's well-managed; all the bells and whistles are here; they know they're going to have well-organized, marked race. Course safety is an issue. And number three, they really enjoy the east-central Illinois hospitality. There's a good community support here, there's fans. People are very gracious here.
Some of the top contenders in the Saturday marathon include Jose Munoz of San Antonio, who won last year's marathon; Kenyan runner Kipkurui Geofry; ... and Kentuckian Peter Kemboi, who's won marathons in Mississippi, Scranton, Akron and Louisville.
The women's field includes Jackie Pirtle-Hall, who won the GO! St. Louis Marathon earlier this month.
The 4th annual Illinois Marathon kicks off Saturday morning, April 28th at 7, on a route that travels around Champaign and Urbana. But the first race is a 5-K run and walk set for Friday evening at 6:45.
Illinois sophomore center Meyers Leonard has announced he will declare for the 2012 NBA draft.
Leonard averaged 14 points, eight rebounds for the Fighting Illini. His average of two blocked shots last season led the Big Ten. The graduate of Robinson High School in southeastern Illinois earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors.
In a statement, Leonard said it was a very difficult decision, but he believes the timing is right for him to follow his dream of playing in the NBA.
Illinois hasn't had a first round NBA Draft pick since Deron Williams and Dee Brown in 2005. Williams plays for the New Jersey Nets. Brown was waived by the Dallas Mavericks in 2010.
Bruce Weber knows that Kansas State fans may not accept him right away. That much became clear when a small rally for another coaching candidate turned into a protest of his hiring.
The former Illinois coach doesn't have a problem with that, though.
Weber is up for any challenge that's presented to him.
The former Illinois coach was hired by Kansas State on Saturday to replace Frank Martin, whose departure for South Carolina earlier in the week sent shockwaves through the program. The school moved quickly on the hiring, reaching out to Weber in the last few days and finalizing a deal late Friday.
Weber agreed to a five-year, $8.5 million contract that will pay him $1.5 million next season and an additional $100,000 each remaining year. There are also several benefits.
"It's been a whirlwind, to be honest. Just a few hours ago I was in New Orleans thinking I was going to have gumbo," said Weber, who was attending the Final Four before hopping on a plane with Kansas State athletic director John Currie and heading to Kansas on Saturday.
"We wanted a coach who recognized the tremendous opportunity that exists here at Kansas State," Currie said. "Bruce Weber's name repeatedly rose to the top of the list, whose personal values and integrity matched those of K-State."
Weber was greeted at Bramlage Coliseum by a small group of fans who had been planning to support another candidate, and who were displeased with the hiring of a coach recently fired by Illinois.
Weber was let go after compiling 210-101 record over nine seasons, which included six trips to the NCAA tournament and a national runner-up finish in 2005. The Illini went 17-15 and 6-12 in the Big Ten this season, prompting the administration let Weber go with three years left on his contract.
"I'll be honest: We had a young team, six freshmen, one returning starter," Weber said. "The disappointment of a lot of close losses took a toll. It happens." Weber takes over for Martin, who returned a once-proud program to national prominence after Bob Huggins' departure for West Virginia five years ago. Weber will be the fourth coach to lead Kansas State in the past eight seasons - and the third to cause some consternation among fans.
Huggins was hired still carrying baggage from his messy divorce with Cincinnati, while Martin was a nondescript assistant who had never been a college head coach. Weber certainly has experience running a program. It's just that not all of it has been good.
He was considered one of the rising stars of the profession after taking Southern Illinois to a pair of NCAA tournament appearances, one of which ended in the regional semifinals. He then took over a program at Illinois that had been built into a perennial contender under Bill Self - now the coach at Kansas, just down the Interstate from Manhattan, Kan., and the Wildcats' biggest rival.
The Jayhawks were scheduled to play Ohio State in the Final Four on Saturday, just hours after officials at Kansas State were to announce Weber's hiring. Weber had immediate success at Illinois with players largely recruited by Self, returning to the NCAA tournament his first four seasons. That included a 37-2 record during the 2004-05 season, which ended with a 75-70 loss to North Carolina in the national championship game.
The program began to slip soon after, though, and fans who had grown accustomed to winning began to sour. The Illini had a losing record by Weber's fifth season in charge, and despite winning 20 or more games the next three seasons, the program had faded from the national spotlight.
Weber never seemed entirely comfortable following Self at Illinois, and now he'll be matching wits with the Jayhawks' coach at least twice a year.
In fact, Weber had grown so tired of the comparisons to the uber-successful Self that he walked into the locker room before a game in 2003 dressed entirely in black. The quirky coach told the Illini that he was "going to throw a funeral. It's the end of Bill Self."
The idea was to somehow get across the message that the program had moved on.
That's exactly what Kansas State fans are being forced to do.
Martin's intense style and own quirks endeared him to many Kansas State fans. Of course, the winning helped - at least 20 wins each of the past five seasons, four of them ending in NCAA tournament berths, with a trip to the regional finals with Jacob Pullen in 2010.
The school's career scoring leader, Pullen grew up in Chicago and now plays overseas. He offered his assessment of the hiring via Twitter, even misspelling Weber's name: "Bruce Webber didn't think I was good enough to play at Illinois and I don't think he is good enough to coach at Kansas State."
Others have praised the hiring of Weber, whose strong recruiting ties to Chicago will no doubt come in handy at a school that's forced to recruit nationally. Weber is also energetic and personable, two traits that will help as he attempts to quell a fan base wary of more change.
"Give me a chance," Weber said. "It doesn't matter where you go or which coach you hired, there was always going to be a question mark. There's no doubt about that. That's part of college sports.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
The University of Illinois has hired Ohio University's John Groce, 40, as it news head coach of the men's basketball team.
He replaces Bruce Weber, who was fired this month after a disappointing season, losing 12 of their last 14 games.
Groce said he hopes to improve the team's winning streak.
"I'm not going to pre-judge," Groce said. "I'm going to start working with them. I'm going to look forward to doing that, and then we're going to figure out the best style here in year one that fits them that gives them the best chance to be successful. I think adaptability is important."
Groce spent the past four seasons as the head coach at Ohio, where he led the Bobcats to an 85-56 overall record and a run to the Sweet 16 of this year's NCAA tournament.
At the U of I, he will earn $1.4 million per year over five years.
Ohio fans this week started an online petition to try to keep Groce, and school administrators said they were trying to raise money to increase his pay and keep him at Ohio. Groce is being paid $355,000 this year, according to the school, including bonuses.
Groce was an assistant with Thad Matta at Butler, Xavier and Ohio State before taking over at Ohio. He was reportedly targeted after Virginia Commonwealth's Shaka Smart and Butler's Brad Stevens passed up chances to take over at Illinois.
Meanwhile, the U of I on Wednesday hired University of Wisconsin-Green Bay's Matt Bollant as its new women's basketball coach.
The Chicago Tribune and CBSSports.com are reporting that Illinois has agreed to a deal with Ohio University's John Groce to replace Bruce Weber as men's basketball coach.
CBSSports.com, citing an unidentified source, reports that Groce is expected to meet with his team in Athens, Ohio, Thursday and will be introduced at a news conference in Champaign later in the week.
The Tribune, also citing an unidentified source, reports that a disagreement on terms of the contract delayed the hiring for a few days.
Groce has been at Ohio since 2008, leading the Bobcats of the Mid-American Conference to the NCAA tournament twice, including a run to the round of 16 this year that ended with an overtime loss to North Carolina.
Weber was fired after nine seasons at Illinois.
The news means the U of I could be filling vacancies on back-to-back days. Matt Bollant was announced as the new women's basketball coach Wednesday, leaving the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay after a 31 and 2 mark.
Illinois has named University of Wisconsin-Green Bay's Matt Bollant as its new women's basketball coach.
Illinois Athletic Director Mike Thomas announced Bollant's hiring Wednesday morning. Thomas said Bollant has a proven track record and the type of experience that will help him duplicate that success in Champaign.
Bollant said he cannot guarantee instant success, but he said the effort will eventually pay off.
"I will promise you this," Bollant said. "You're going to have a head coach that will be in the community. You'll have a head coach that works his tail off to make this great. I'm going to get up every morning and come to work. Find a job that you love, and you'll never have to work a day in your life. That's what I feel like I have. And our players are going to learn to play hard. As talented as they are, when they give as much effort as they can give, good things will happen. And everything else will take care of itself."
Under Bollant this season, Wisconsin-Green Bay finished 31-2 and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament. The 41-year-old coach was 148-19 in five seasons at Green Bay, and four of his teams made the NCAA tournament.
Bollant said he is proud of the success he has had in Green Bay, but is honored to take the Illinois job. He will make $330,000 annually plus incentives.
His Green Bay Phoenix finished 6-0 against Big Ten schools the last two seasons. But Bollant says coaching within the conference opens up new opportunities in terms of recruitment.
"If we're the 10th-ranked team in the country, which we have been the last two years, we can go after any recruit." Bollant said. "At Green Bay, we still struggle to beat out the Big Ten. We can beat them on the basketball court, but still, because of the academics, because of the campus, and all those other things, it was a challenge."
Bollant replaces Jolette Law, who was fired at the end of the season. Law was 69-93 in five seasons with the Illini.
(Photo courtesy of The Associated Press)
A person familiar with the coaching search at Illinois says the Illini are interested in talking to Ohio's John Groce.
The person said Sunday that Illinois turned its attention to Groce after Brad Stevens said he will stay at Butler. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the search to replace fired coach Bruce Weber is ongoing.
A message was left seeking comment from Ohio basketball spokesman Drew Wiseman.
Groce coached Ohio to a 29-7 record this season and a spot in the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament. The Bobcats lost 73-65 to top-seeded North Carolina on Friday in one of the best games of the tournament.
Stevens had reportedly been an Illini target after Shaka Smart elected to stay at VCU
Stevens says he is "happy and extremely grateful'' to be at Butler.
Shaka Smart says he will stay at Virginia Commonwealth.
Illinois had offered its coaching job to Smart, according to multiple reports.
In a statement released by VCU on Wednesday, the 34-year-old Smart said: "I'm looking forward to building on the successes of our program and university.''
Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas declined comment through a spokesman.
Thomas fired Bruce Weber on March 9 after a 17-15 season that ended with a 2-14 slump. Weber's teams missed three of the last five NCAA tournaments and this year didn't make the postseason at all.
Smart's Rams were the darlings of last year's tournament, going from the First Four to the Final Four after barely making it in as a No. 11 seed. They lost to Indiana in this season's third round Saturday.
The same collapse that cost Bruce Weber his job will keep Illinois out of the postseason.
Illinois (17-15, 6-12 Big Ten) was left out of the NIT on Sunday. Athletic Director Mike Thomas said after he fired Weber on Friday that the Illini wouldn't be part of the lower-level College Basketball Invitational or collegeinsider.com tournaments.
Weber was fired after his team collapsed over the season's final six weeks.
Some Illinois players reportedly wanted to skip the NIT even if Illinois had gotten a bid.
The snub completed a collapse in which Illinois sank from a likely NCAA tournament bid in mid-January. But after beating then-No. 5 Ohio State, the Illini lost 12 of 14.
This is the second year in the last five that Illinois has missed the postseason altogether.
Meanwhile, Illinois State will make its fourth appearance in the National Invitation Tournament in the past five seasons when it takes on Ole Miss Wednesday.
Fighting Illini men's basketball coach Bruce Weber will not return next season.
U of I Athletics Director Mike Thomas has announced that Weber, whose team lost to Iowa in the first round of the Big Ten tournament on Thursday, has been dismissed.
Weber came to Illinois in 2003, and guided the team to its first Big Ten title in more than 50 years, and a berth in the Sweet 16. In his second season, the team earned another Big Ten title, finishing with a record of 37-2, losing only to North Carolina in the NCAA title game. But the Illini have had a rocky season, losing 12 of their last 14 games. The Illini closed the year 2-12.
Weber said he is proud of what he accomplished at Illinois, but knows coaching is a bottom-line business.
"Trying to get us to come together as a team, we all had a link and mine was the last one," Weber said. "I only wish I could have connected it, and we had something special to finish the season."
Assistant Coach Jerrance Howard will fill in for Weber on an interim basis. Athletic Director Mike Thomas said a national search will begin to find a new head basketball coach.
"We will move quickly, but we will move diligently, and I'm excited about the prospects of this program for the future," Thomas said. "Certainly, a key to that is feeling like we have the right person in place to lead what is a very national program. "
Weber has three years remaining on his contract, and will receive a buyout of $1.3 million annually.
This is the third dismissal for Thomas, who fired football coach Ron Zook and dismissed women's basketball coach Jolette Law a week ago.
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