Illinois Public Media News
Illinois coach Bruce Weber sat at a card table surrounded by reporters Sunday night, getting to know UNLV, the team his Illini will face in the NCAA tournament, as best he could with nothing more than a roster and rundown of wins and losses to work with.
The one thing Weber and the rest of the Illini know for sure, the eighth-seeded Rebels (24-8) are coached by one of the two main men Illini fans sometimes compare Weber to, Lon Kruger.
And if the ninth-seeded Illini (19-13) can get by UNLV Friday in Tulsa, Okla., they might well face the other one, the man Weber replaced, Kansas coach Bill Self.
All of that mattered little Sunday to an Illinois team just relieved to be in the NCAAs for the first time in two years. A year ago, they were stunned by an NCAA snub and trying to muster some enthusiasm for the NIT.
"After what I experienced last year, you never know," said senior Bill Cole, who pointed out that Illinois had to wait for two of the tournament's four regions to be filled before learning it was in. "When the first two regions go by, you're just begging to hear your name called."
The Illini were shocked to be left out of the NCAAs last year, their second tourney miss in three seasons.
And their last trip two years ago, as a No. 5 seed, ended with a first-round upset loss to 12th-seed Western Kentucky, a game that still leaves a bad taste for Illinois' four starting seniors: Cole, Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis.
That 76-72 loss, Davis said Sunday, should hold a lesson for the Illini: Cliche or not, take the tournament one game at a time.
"Back then we saw Western Kentucky and we thought "Aw, we're gonna' win this one,'" he said.
The Illini aren't exactly riding a high as they get ready for UNLV, either.
They lost 60-55 to Michigan in their opener at the Big Ten tournament on Friday after leading by as many as 12 points.
That loss was reminiscent of a string of disappointing and often close losses for Illinois. The Illini opened the season ranked No. 13 and considered a contender for the Big Ten title. They finished in a tie for fourth.
UNLV spent four weeks in the Top 25, but dropped out for good after an up-and-down start in the conference.
The Rebels finished third in the Mountain West and won their last five regular-season games. They knocked off Wisconsin and Kansas State early but lost twice each to the elite of their conference, San Diego State and BYU.
Kruger coached the Illini for four seasons, leaving after the 1999-2000 season to become head coach of the Atlanta Hawks. He took over at UNLV in 2004.
Kruger's Illini went to the NCAA tournament three times in four years, won a Big Ten title in 1997-98 and finished in the Top 25 three times.
At UNLV, he's had similar success, coaching four of his seven teams to the NCAAs, including four of the last five.
The Rebels are led by Tre'Von Willis, who averages 13.5 points a game, and Chace Stanback, who averages 13 points a game and six rebounds.
Sunday night, Weber said he knew Kruger fairly well and faced him while an assistant at Purdue.
"He's a very, very good coach and that team will be well coached and play hard," Weber said.
Beyond that, he said he didn't know yet just what to expect beyond the likelihood that a smaller UNLV team was likely to press and trap.
McCamey said the Illini will need to rely on good defense to counter that strategy.
"If you get stops and get out in transition, they can't press you," McCamey said.
Weber declined to look ahead at a potential matchup with Self and the Southwest top-seed Jayhawks. Kansas opens with Boston University, a 16 seed.
Some fans on Internet message boards and elsewhere over the past couple of seasons have compared Weber unfavorably to Self, sometimes saying Weber's best year, the 2005 run to the NCAA final, was built on players Self recruited.
Tisdale said, while he's focused on UNLV, the idea of beating at least one of his coach's predecessors would add a little extra incentive.
"Everybody's going to be talking about Kansas and Illinois and all this stuff, but our focus right now is UNLV," the 7-foot-1 center said. "We're going to do what we can to win one for our coach.
Heading into the Big Ten tournament, Illinois coach Bruce Weber has questions.
Will Jereme Richmond's banged-up shoulder hold up? Can he count on slumping guards D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul for at least tough defense in Friday's game against Michigan? Will Demetri McCamey's solid form of the past few weeks last?
But Weber figures, surely, there's at least one thing he doesn't have to question -- what happens to Illinois (19-12, 9-9 Big Ten) after the conference tournament is done.
If Illinois isn't in the NCAA tournament, "I would be dumbfounded, to be honest," Weber said, counting off the tough non-conference opponents the Illini faced this season -- Texas, Maryland, North Carolina and Gonzaga among them. Illinois beat the last three and took Texas to overtime.
Then again, the Illini were stunned a year ago when they were left out of the NCAA tournament for the second time in three seasons. Their record then (19-14, 10-8) was even a little better as far as conference play goes.
This season, Weber said, the Illini went through a tougher schedule with last year's snub in mind.
If games against Texas, North Carolina and the rest don't get the Illini into an expanded tourney that now includes 68 teams, "I will totally change my mindset of scheduling philosophy, I promise that," he said.
Illinois has rebounded in recent weeks from a midseason slump that saw them slide out of the Top 25 and into the middle of the Big Ten pack. McCamey's game in particular fell off and losses to Indiana, Penn State and Northwestern piled up like failing grades on the Illini report card.
Since then, the Illini sandwiched wins over the Hoosiers and Iowa around a close road loss to Purdue.
The team that won those games, Weber said, looked a lot more like the one that handled North Carolina than the one that couldn't buy a key basket when it needed one at Indiana.
"We had the puzzle pretty well put together early; it got messed up," Weber said. "Now we're putting those pieces back into the puzzle."
The biggest piece of that puzzle is McCamey..
The senior guard, even with his midseason slump, is Illinois' leading scorer with 15 points a game. And no one on the roster can run the offense the way McCamey can -- his 6.1 assists a game are second in the conference, behind the Wolverines' Darius Morris.
McCamey traces his problems -- and his team's -- to a tentative streak he believes is behind them.
"I think I've just got to be aggressive," he said, adding that the Illini were often slow to get into transition during their slump. "We are a real dangerous team when we get out in transition."
Weber said his other questions still need to be answered.
Richmond, the first player off the bench for Illinois, is playing with pain in his injured shoulder but will have to be a factor for the Illini if they're going to get past Michigan (19-12, 9-9).
Paul and Richmond, Weber said, could be important, too. Paul is one of Illinois' only options for spelling McCamey -- and when he's on, the sophomore guard can be a dangerous shooter. Richardson, meanwhile, will likely have a lot of the defensive responsibility for Morris.
"Morris is kind of the head of the group," Weber said. "A Steve Nash-like player that wheels and deals and sets up everyone else.
Buck O'Neil is regarded today as an ambassador to baseball history, particularly that of the Negro Leagues.
The 16-year veteran with the Kansas City Monarchs went on to become the first black coach in the major leagues, joining the Chicago Cubs organization in the early 60's, but he also was a Negro League manager and big league scout.
A documentary by a Champaign physician sheds new light on the legend's contributions to Chicago's rich baseball history. Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert talks with Dr. David Fletcher, the man behind plans for a Chicago Baseball Museum, about how Buck O'Neil's contributions to the game are helping that effort.
Some Illinois high school football coaches hope the departure of half of the state's high school championship games from Champaign doesn't mean they will move to Chicago.
Tuscola coach Rick Reinhart's team won the Class 1A championship last November at Memorial Stadium on the University of Illinois campus. He told The News-Gazette in Champaign that's where the games should be played.
But that's no longer possible every year. The Illinois High School Association said this week that it will need to look for new locations because Big Ten expansion means Illinois will need its stadium over the championship weekend every other year.
Reinhart and St. Joseph-Ogden coach Dick Duval both say they hope a central location can be found rather than settling on Chicago.
Part of Market Street in downtown Champaign was closed Wednesday morning, after the pavement collapsed.
The section of Market Street between Logan and Bailey runs past the Illinois Terminal Building, and is heavily traveled by both buses and motorists using the Terminal Building's parking lot.
City Operations Manager Tom Schuh said the collapse was due to the failure of the material packed underneath the street's original brick pavement. He said the collapsed produced a series of depressions in the street, cracking and displacing the asphalt surface.
Schuh said it will take until Friday for a crew to rebuild the roughly 50-foot section of Market Street. Until then, he says that section of Market Street is closed to all but parking lot traffic.
The University of Illinois has never postponed a home basketball game for the weather, and that record will remain intact despite the latest winter storm.
Penn State's basketball team arrived in Champaign by bus early Tuesday afternoon, clearing the way for the Tuesday night game to be played as scheduled.
A massive winter storm moving across the Midwest was already affecting central Illinois, and more than a foot of snow was possible by Wednesday.
The first African-American to wear a major league baseball uniform in Chicago said the sport was ingrained in his blood at an early age, and he owes everything to it.
May 1 marks 60 years since Orestes "Minnie" Minoso broke the city's color line with the White Sox in 1951. He is also the first black-Latino in the major leagues, breaking through with Cleveland two years earlier.
Minoso was honored on the University of Illinois campus Thursday night as part of events commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. He was part of a panel discussion on the Latino integration of baseball, part of two days of events entitled 'Pioneering Latinos: Building a Legacy On and Beyond the Playing Field.'
Minoso said he has always learned to keep a smile on his face, no matter the circumstances. He recalled working in sugar fields as a child in Cuba.
"I had to cut the sugar, clean the sugar field, and plant the sugar field, everything you do, you name it" Minoso said. "I had to get up at 3 o'clock to get ready to make $2.50 a day to find out God opened the door for me to play baseball."
Minoso was honored with an award from the U of I's Latina/Latino studies department, reading: "In recognition of the courage, spirit, and excellence demonstrated as the integration pioneer for the Chicago White Sox."
Appearing with Minoso in Thursday's panel was filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz, Chicago Cubs outfielder Fernando Perez, and moderator and U of I History Professor Adrian Burgos.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure went to his old school Tuesday morning, and told students at the Centennial High School gym in Champaign what his plans are for the fall.
"I'm here to announce that I will forgo my senior season at the University of Illinois, and enter the 2011 NFL draft," Leshoure announced to cheers from the assembled students.
Leshoure rushed for 17 touchdowns last fall, and set Illinois' single-season rushing record, with 1697 yards, breaking the mark set by Rashard Mendenhall three years earlier. He said he has done everything he can do at the college level, and is ready for professional football. He also said he is not deterred by the possibility that a labor dispute could lead to a player lockout that curtails his first season in the NFL.
"I definitely thought about all those things in my decision, took a long time to think about it, prayed on it," Leshoure said. "I still woke up with the same decision that I made today. So, I'm willing of the risks and I know, you know, what's at stake."
The 6-0, 230-pound Leshoure is projected to be taken anywhere from the first through fourth rounds in the April draft.
Although he is giving up his senior year in college, LeShoure said he still plans to eventually earn his degree in communications. He told the athletes in the Centennial High student assembly to study hard if they want to reach their goals and have a good life beyond the playing field.
"Sports won't be here forever," Leshoure said to students. "Regardless of how good you are and what you think, it won't be forever. You need a backup plan and it starts here at Centennial."
Leshoure's old high school coach was on hand for the announcement. Centennial High School Football Coach Mike McDonnell cited Leshoure's maturity as a high school player.
"I was always impressed with his character and his maturity, because he was always older than what he was," McDonnell said. "I think that's part of his success, because he understood the importance of working out during the off season, getting his grades."
McDonnell credited Leshoure's mother, with instilling her son with self-discipline at an early age.
Illinois football coach Ron Zook also had praise for Leshoure. An article posted on the U of I's Fighting Illini website quoted Zook: "I am extremely proud of how Mikel has matured as a young man and leader for our football team since his arrival at Illinois. He'll be remembered here as one of the greatest running backs in Illinois football history. We hope he has a long and successful NFL career."
Leshoure's announcement comes a day after Illini junior linebacker Martez Wilson said he'll also enter the NFL draft.
(Additional reporting from the Associated Press)
Mikel Leshoure ran for 184 yards and three touchdowns as Illinois earned its first bowl victory since 1999, beating Baylor 38-14 Wednesday night in the Texas Bowl.
The Illini spoiled the Bears' first bowl appearance in 16 seasons. Both teams finished at 7-6.
Leshoure had a 5-yard TD run in the second quarter, a 13-yard score in the third quarter and another 5-yard touchdown run in the fourth period. The performance gave him the school single-season rushing record with 1,697 yards.
The Illini built a 24-0 lead and Leshoure's last touchdown put the game out of reach.
Baylor's Robert Griffin III threw for 306 yards and a touchdown, but his two fumbles in the first half put the Bears behind.
Leshoure was chosen the most valuable player and wore a cowboy hat as he hoisted the trophy above his head after the game while the small but vocal group of Illinois fans cheered.
The Bears cut the lead to 24-14 when Griffin found a diving Kendall Wright on a 39-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-14 early in the fourth quarter. But Illinois continued its dominance in the rushing game after that and extended its lead to 31-14 on Leshoure's last touchdown.
Illinois finished with 291 yards rushing and 533 yards of total offense to give coach Ron Zook his first bowl win as a head coach in his fourth try.
Freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase got off to a sensational start, completing all of his 13 passes in the first half, and finished 18 of 23 for 242 yards. He scored on a 55-yard touchdown run with 41 seconds to play to make it 38-14.
Illinois opened the second half with an 87-yard drive capped by a 13-yard touchdown run by Leshoure. Leshoure also scored the 2-point conversion to extend the lead to 24-0 and set the Illinois single-season scoring record.
Baylor finally found its offensive touch on its first possession of the second half. Griffin completed five of seven passes on that drive, which ended with a 4-yard touchdown run by Jay Finley to get the Bears within 24-7 with about eight minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The Illini held Finley in check for most of the night and Baylor's 1,000-yard rusher finished with 12 carries for 63 yards.
Illinois led 9-0 before a 5-yard touchdown run by Leshoure about 10 minutes before halftime stretched the lead to 16-0. That score was set up by a 52-yard reception by Ryan Lankford a play earlier.
Baylor was driving with about 3 1/2 minutes left in the first half when a pass by Griffin was intercepted by Terry Hawthorne. But the Bears got a second chance when Corey Liuget was penalized for roughing the passer, giving Baylor the ball back.
The Bears still came away empty though when Griffin fumbled a few plays later to give Illinois the ball back on its own 32.
Baylor's problems started early with Griffin fumbling on the first possession. Travon Bellamy recovered that fumble and returned it 46 yards. The Illini couldn't get anything going on that drive and settled for a 38-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
Illinois added a second field goal on their next drive to push the lead to 6-0 and a third field goal early in the second quarter made it 9-0.
A central Illinois high school has agreed to phase out its cardinal logo after Illinois State University complained that it looked too much like ISU's Reggie Redbird mascot.
ISU's Director of Licensing Jerry Abner said the university has an obligation to protect its intellectual property, saying the Sangamon County school district needs to start scrubbing its website and printed materials of the logo right away.
Pleasant Plains Superintendent Maureen Talbert said that the school district will stop using the logo.
"They have a redbird mascot and apparently our redbird on our equipment and shirts and things is very similar," Talbert said. "They're very kind in understanding we'll work with them to make sure future products or things we sell won't have the same redbird image."
Talbert added that the district did not intentionally copy the image, and at least one parent, Laura Salvacion, in the Pleasant Plains district said the university is being too heavy handed.
"We're a little school," Salvacion said. "We send a lot of kids up there to college. You would think they'd just get a clue."
According to a letter sent to the school, ISU will allow current uses of the mascot image to continue on equipment and clothing until they are due for replacement.
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