Relative Newcomer Seeks Some Advice
In this group of Final Four coaches, Bruce Weber says, “I’m the pup.”
His colleagues in St. Louis have reached a combined 14 Final Fours, and Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo have won national championships, Pitino at Kentucky in 1996 and Izzo with Michigan State in 2000.
To compensate, Weber said this week he sought the advice of Final Four veterans such as Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun and former Utah coach Rick Majerus. But he said his greatest challenge has been to endure what has been an emotionally draining month. His mother, Dawn, died at 81 on March 11 after suffering a ruptured aorta as she picked up her tickets for the Big Ten tournament at Chicago’s United Center.
“Really, the last four or five weeks, it’s been difficult to enjoy,” Weber said. “It’s more relief. Every time, we get a win, it’s been a relief.”
Weber, 48, has made a rapid rise in the last seven years after spending 18 as an assistant to Gene Keady at Purdue before being hired as coach at Southern Illinois in 1998.
Five seasons and two NCAA tournament appearances later -- including a Sweet 16 showing with the Salukis in 2002 -- he replaced Bill Self at Illinois when Self left for Kansas. Two seasons later, Weber is in the Final Four.
“I thought about Coach Keady,” Weber said, keenly aware that Keady, who retired after this season, never reached the Final Four despite taking 18 teams to the NCAA tournament.
“To be honest, I wish he could have had the chance to go,” Weber said. “I’m not sure I deserve it. I think he deserves it. But we’re going to do the best with our chance and make a run at a national championship.”