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October 29, 2009

Bruce Weber


THE MODERATOR: The first coach up this morning is Illinois head coach Bruce Weber. Weber enters his seventh year at the helm of the Fighting Illini program and welcomes back eight letter winners from last year's team that finished tied for second in the conference.
Opening statement from Coach Weber, and then we'll open it up to questions.
COACH WEBER: I think we're I guess cautiously excited about the upcoming season. We were -- finished second last year. Kind of had a great deal of improvement, but maybe faltered a little bit at the end of the season.
The majority of our team is back and we've added some quality freshmen group, but I think -- at the same time I think the cautiousness comes because of the depth of the league. It seems like not only do we have a lot of people back, but everybody else does. And I think for the first time in a while our league is getting some great national publicity, as maybe possibly the strongest league in the country.
We're led by our group of juniors would be our mainstays of our team, Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale. We also have only one senior, Dominique Keller, but a group of eight upperclassmen.
We feel great about it, but at the same time we'll be a little cautious until we see how everything unfolds.

Q. Coach, with all of the leagues, some of you having to play people twice, some people once, would you be in favor of 20 Big Ten games so everyone plays twice?
COACH WEBER: I think it's probably coming down the road. I'm not sure as a coach -- I think we all don't feel great about it. I think it's a good thing for having a true league champion.
Your problem is you don't have the opportunity then to play the nonconference games, some of the national games, possibly the exempt events, some of those things. You would have some limitations with that.
For our fans, there's no doubt. But we're trying to win games. The question, too, comes down to the RPI. They always say it doesn't mean anything, but we have a pretty good RPI as a league last year. We have more teams in.
So I'm not sure which way to go, but it will come in the future.

Q. Coach, I know you had a couple of bouts with Indiana in the past. With both of the teams getting a little better this year, what do you expect from that match-up?
COACH WEBER: I think Tom Crean did an excellent job last year coming in, trying to reenergize the program, did it with a bunch of young players. Added some more young guys. I think they'll take a step forward. But how big a step will probably be determined by the rest of the league. And that's the problem.
We think we're improved, but everybody else has improved in the league. And the quality of your players, I think the quality of coaching, just makes the league so tough.
So I think that's Tom's biggest dilemma right now. He could have come in the league at a different time when it was a little bit down, he might have been able to make a bigger step. But they were very competitive. Played everybody close. And now I'm sure -- I think with all of us, can you win a close game early? And when you win the close games early, now you start getting confidence and then maybe you win when you're not supposed to.
It's probably the key to who ends up winning the league at the end.

Q. Can you talk about D.J. Richardson and the impact that he might be able to have with this team in the upcoming season?
COACH WEBER: Our whole freshmen group has shown signs of being very, very productive players. D.J. is the one that's maybe gotten the most publicity. Nationally he was from Peoria, went to Findlay Prep. That experience of being out at a prep school out in Vegas, being away from home, I think his maturity, the travel, the playing on national TV, they win the national -- so-called national ESPN championship, prep school championship, I think it's all helped him.
He replaces what Chester Frazier gave us, that tough, hard-nosed guy that has great intensity and just gets after it as soon as he steps on the court. He has shot the ball better in practice than we maybe anticipated.
To go along with that, Brandon Paul was Mr. Basketball in our state, a high-flying kid that cannot only get to the basket, can jump up and shoot even a 3. He gets off the floor when he shoots the ball.
And then another young man, Joseph Bertrand from Sterling, Illinois, has good athleticism. They -- all three of those guys kind of mix guards. They really push each other.
And then maybe the biggest surprise might be Tyler Griffey, the young man we got from St. Louis, showed some better toughness than we anticipated. Our whole freshman group has pushed our upperclassmen. So it's been great for us in practice.

Q. Can you just talk about the value of playing tough nonconference teams at home? Do you think there's any advantage there to get some of those early competition?
COACH WEBER: I don't think there's any doubt. It's that fine mix. Obviously we have to have a certain number of home games to provide income for our athletic department. At the same time, we have to mix in some games that are going to prepare us.
We try to get -- not only for the Big Ten, but hopefully for the post-season play also. So we try to play teams from a variety of leagues, variety of styles, even venues.
If you can get in the venues, the neutral venues which possibly might be NCAA sites in the future. But you want to be ready. You want some close games. You want to play against pressing teams, just a variety of things that will help prepare you.
And you hope you win games, too. That's the biggest thing. And last year that was what our league did. We won not only a lot of nonconference games, but we won big games in the nonconference also.
So I hope that trend continues this year and that will determine what our conference ends up at the end.

Q. Bruce, the 38-33 game last year got a lot of strange press all around the country. And it really was seemed to be disregarded how tough the game was and really just how unsightly it was. It got a lot of negative press. Did you hear that? Did you see it? And do you think it affects the whole league at large? It seems like people wanted it to.
COACH WEBER: Well, I don't think there's any doubt it got some national attention. I don't know how many of the national guys called me the next day. I probably had six, seven calls. And I'm like -- to be honest, I'm wondering why the heck they're calling me, but they were looking for I guess a negative story, a story kind of what's wrong with the league and the whole bit.
I just think it was one of those games where we couldn't make a shot. They couldn't make a shot. Now it got -- guys get a little tight. The defense picks up, and it just becomes a hard-fought game down to the end.
Obviously I wish it wouldn't have happened. I wish we would have won the game. But I think it was just one of those situations. We played them at the end of the season. It was one of our better offensive outputs. We seemed to get down the court better and score baskets and they ended up beating us on a buzzer beater there. And I think it was exaggerated, to be honest, and maybe gave a little bit of a tough light on our league.

Q. Coach Izzo talks often about you. You're friends. Can you talk about when you have to go head to head and compete against friends? Some guys like it. It's enjoyable. Some don't. I know for him he's talked before he doesn't like going against his friends.
COACH WEBER: I don't think it's any fun for anybody. But at the same time now in the league, not only Tom, Matt Painter was my assistant, and you get to know different guys.
I think once it's before and after is the toughest time. Once the game starts, I don't look down. We're playing Michigan State, they're in green, we're in whatever, we're in white, and you're just competing.
But the before factor, you know, a little bit -- you know, not looking forward to it after, depending if you win or lose. It's a tough thing. And Tom wants to beat us, Matt wants to beat us but we want to beat them. I think there is a very good respect between us, and that's what kind of keeps us together.
We're able to compete in recruiting. We're able to compete on the court. But at the same time stay friends and I think it's because of the respect that we have for each other.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.

End of FastScripts

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