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Deposed Illinois coach won't be forgotten

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Good is not great enough.

Just ask Bruce Weber.

Weber couldn't sustain greatness at Illinois. He reached it, lost it, tried for it, prayed for it, approached it but couldn't sustain it. Something always was missing. So athletic director Mike Thomas, whose tenure resembles a Quentin Tarantino movie, axed him before the NIT. It had to happen.

Was the consistent failure to sustain greatness Weber's fault? Perhaps. But maybe he had a few tough breaks. Here are a few post-Dee Brown what-ifs.

2006-07: What if Jamar Smith and Brian Carlwell didn't play power hour with tequila on the night of Feb. 12? What if Smith, a Big Ten All-Freshman selection, was the scorer Weber desperately needed? What if Carlwell, a massive Tribune All-State center, was a glue guy, defensive force and spark off the bench? What if Smith put the keys down?

2007-08: What if Eric Gordon, Rivals.com's No. 2 recruit, didn't hold the program hostage? What if Indiana's Kelvin Sampson didn't pull the robbery like Vinny from "Jersey Shore"? What-if Weber sensed Gordon waffling and signed Evan Turner or E'Twaun Moore as insurance? What if Shaun Pruitt didn't poison the locker room? What if Weber watched Smith and Gordon, potential All-Big Ten shooting guards, rain 3s like an orange-and-blue bomb squad?

2008-09: What if Alex Legion, a five-star transfer from Kentucky, averaged more than 3.5 points on 29 percent shooting in 11.1 minutes per game? What if Chester Frazier, this overachieving team personified and its beating heart, didn't break his hand the night before the Big Ten tournament? What if Weber squeezed one more drop from a 24-10, 12-8 team devoid of NBA talent?

2009-10: What if Legion shot in games like he did in practice? What if Carlwell were a senior, providing an unquestioned leader and steadying force? What if Weber wasn't forced to lean on Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale, who did an admirable job but weighed a combined 250 pounds? What if anyone cared about the NIT?

2010-11: What if this talent-laden squad lived up to its #Houston2011 hashtag and No. 13 peak ranking? What if Demetri McCamey, maybe the Big Ten's best player for half the season, didn't let NBA scouts infiltrate his psyche? What if Jereme Richmond, whose slippery style and versatility would've frustrated Kansas in the NCAA tournament, hadn't been suspended?

I never understood how Weber, not exactly Jay-Z cool, related to 16- to 21-year-olds. But Meyers Leonard's tweets Friday made it clear: "Coach Weber will always have a special place in my heart. He was always there for me no matter what. He truly cares about people and Taught me so much about life and lessons along the way to becoming a good person and he will always be a part of my life. #Love+Respect"

Mike Shaw: "Continue to be a great person..."

Davis: "Didn't deserve this! Great man and coach!"

Rich McBride: "Much love coach! Can't say it enough"

Sam Maniscalco: "Privileged and honored to say I played for such a great coach and even better person!"

Brown: "I know how much Coach Weber loves his job, love basketball n loved coaching at the best school in the world it's a sad day HES A GREAT COACH"

Deron Williams: "Everything happens for a reason praying for Coach Weber…"

Trent Meacham: "Tough to see Coach Weber go. Great coach and even better man!"

McCamey: "Whoever get coach weber will get a winner"

Brandon Paul: "great coach but even a greater person"

D.J. Richardson: "Love coach weber taught me a lot on and off the court…… #Great #memories"

Richmond: "My heart goes out to Coach Weber. He's helped me so much and is a great man! keep your head up BW"

He might have a squeaky voice, might smudge marker on his nose and might morph into Bob the Tomato on occasion. But he's good. He cares. Genuinely.

He cares about the team over himself, about the person over the player, about the players over the media, about team growth over attention. He is a rarity.

I always held out hope that someday it would all come together for him, that the on-court success he deserved would match reality. It didn't.

In the sometimes-twisted world of college athletics, a sad thought was reinforced by Bruce Weber's nine-year tenure as Illinois basketball coach.

What if nice guys didn't finish last?

Best of luck, Bruce. I was proud to call you my coach.

Rich Mayor graduated from the University of Illinois in 2010. He is an editor for Preps Plus, and can be found on Twitter @CityHall03.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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