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Bernie Bits: Illini's Weber wins games and convert

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  • Bernie Bits: Illini's Weber wins games and convert


    Bernie Bits: Illini's Weber wins games and converts
    Post-Dispatch Sports Columnist

    We're assuming Illinois fans have warmed up to first-year basketball coach Bruce Weber. Approaching March, the streaking Illini are one of the most dangerous teams in college hoops. You win NCAA Tournament games with outstanding guard play, and Illinois is talented and deep with their three-guard attack. How many teams can match up with Dee Brown, Deron Williams and Luther Head when all three guards are shooting, passing, creating, rebounding?

    After a rough start, Weber has shown his true value. His team is 10-3 in the Big 10 and seems poised to go far into March. Weber rankled fans and players by installing a new offense, and there were stumbles during the transition. And Weber's homespun, almost corny, personal style didn't go over well at first. In a sport that elevates pretty-boy coaches, Weber is no match for the slick and smooth Bill Self. And some Illinois fans had a peculiar reaction: instead of getting mad at Self for leaving to go to Kansas, they took out their frustration on Weber.

    Well, Weber is winning games and converts. And don't say that he's doing it with Self's players. Yes, Weber inherited formidable talent, but success isn't always automatic. It can be difficult for a new coach to get players to do things his way, a new way. Self went to Kansas, and there's plenty of talent at KU. But the Jayhawks -- ranked No. 1 earlier this season -- are moving in the wrong direction under Self.

    And what about Weber's role in building the program at SIU-Carbondale? And what about his mentoring of assistant Matt Painter, now the head coach at SIU-C? In the 2003-2004 season, Weber is Mr. Illinois Basketball.

    As Others See Us

    Jim Matheson, Edmonton Sun, on Joel Quenneville's future:

    "The best coach for the New York Rangers might be Joel Quenneville, who was fired in St. Louis. Quenneville is probably too smart to dive into the black hole, though, unless the Rangers make him an offer he can't refuse. Truth is, the Phoenix Coyotes, who just fired Bob Francis, should be thinking of Coach Q, too, but Colorado assistant Rick Tocchet, who has a long history with Wayne Gretzky, may be their man."

    Meanwhile, other NHL coaches praised Quenneville.

    "Joel is one of the elite coaches in our league," said Anaheim coach Mike Babcock. Nashville coach Barry Trotz said, "it's a strange business. Joel is a good friend and he's done a terrific job in St. Louis. He won't be out of work very long. He's a quality coach, a quality person."

    Reading Time, 5 minutes

    Free Kurt Warner?

    According to media reports in San Diego, the Rams are shopping QB Kurt Warner, and the Chargers have an interest -- on their terms. "We're not interested in a trade," Chargers GM A.J. Smith told reporters. ""If the Rams put him on the street, we would revisit that. Like anything else, we'd check the waiver wire on the quarterbacks. But to trade for him? If they called me, I'm not interested. But no one has called me," . . . the Oakland Raiders may also be interested in Warner.

    We want to note the end of a special basketball-coaching career. The indefatigable John Campbell will be coaching Sanford Brown College on Saturday night for the final time, when his current team plays a squad of Sanford Brown alums. Campbell coached Sanford Brown for 55 seasons, winning 626 games and losing 788. Campbell never had a homecourt; Sanford Brown had to rent gyms for "home" games. His teams played "home" games in 36 gymnasiums in the area. Campbell was appointed head coach at Sanford Brown on Sept. 9, 1949. Sanford Brown, under new ownership, is disbanding its athletic program.

    I checked with Jim Henzler and STATS Inc. And from the time Mike Kitchen became an NHL assistant coach in 1989 until he was hired as the Blues head coach on Tuesday, 123 men had been employed as head coaches in the NHL. Kitchen obviously waited a long time for his shot. I hope he succeeds. But in all candor, one of his biggest challenges is this: convincing the players that he's his own man instead of a flunky who will get pushed around by general manager Larry Pleau and team president Mark Sauer. . . . item: Detroit lands Robert Lang. Comment: the Blues do nothing. Again.

    Our condolences to Post-Dispatch sportswriter Kevin Boone and family. His mother, Thelma, died last week. . . . and the St. Louis soccer community is mourning the loss of Meramec CC's Chris LaRocca, Jr., who died in an auto accident Tuesday morning. LaRocca, 18, was a DeSmet grad and he'd played very well as a freshman starter on defense at Meramec. . . . congrats to Southwest Missouri State director of athletics Bill Rowe. His number 22 baseball jersey is being retired by SMSU; no SMSU baseball jersey had been retired until now. But Rowe coached the baseball Bears for 19 seasons, had a 394-230 record and led his team into four Division II World Series.

    Fox Sports Midwest Dan McLaughlin recently conducted an interesting interview with former Blue Brett Hull, the future NHL Hall of Famer who continues to pump in goals for Detroit. Hull said he looked forward to having his No. 16 Blues jersey retired in St. Louis "when the time is right. I relish that day. I look forward to it." . . . Hull said it "kind of saddens me that I look back and I'm not (in St. Louis) anymore." . . . of his time in St. Louis, Hull said, "I went to St. Louis in '88 and that was the start of it all. St. Louis and the people, the fans, all the friends I made, everyone that was in the organization from the day I got there to the day I left, they just made it so easy for me and we had so much fun for those 10-plus years that I won't forget it and never have a bad word to say about St. Louis or the hockey team."

    Best of luck to Brad Hainje, who is leaving his post as a Cardinals' assistant media relations director to become the Atlanta Braves' new media relations manager. Hainje did a superb job in his six seasons with the Cardinals. . . . after the Blues played in Chicago on Sunday, MLaughlin, Blues Hall of Famer Bernie Federko and their wives spent a few days skiing in Banff, Alberta. . . . congrats to McKendree College assistant basketball coach Rick Darnell, who is headed to the University of Idaho to serve as the executive director of the school's primary scholarship fund.

    Vashon senior football wide receiver William Franklin should be an exciting football player for coach Gary Pinkel at Mizzou. Franklin, who also plays for Vashon's basketball team, has awesome leaping ability and I can just see him going up to grab those end-zone passes from QB Brad Smith. . . . congrats to Martha Schuessler, a junior at Kirkwood High. Last weekend in Chicago, Martha was selected to try out for the U.S. Water Polo National Team tryouts in late May in San Diego.

    Our guy Jim Henzler of STATS Inc. offered these comparative numbers on Stan Musial and Albert Pujols. After three major- league seasons, each player was 23. And they'd appeared in a similar amount of games (Pujols 475, Musial 455). Some stats. Hits (Musial 584, Pujols 591). Batting average (Musial .344, Pujols .334). Doubles (Musial 135, Pujols 138). Homers (Musial 36, Pujols 114). RBIs (Musial 254, Pujols 381). Runs scored (Musial 315, Pujols 367). Walks (Musial 226, Pujols 220). Slugging percentage (Musial .539, Pujols .613).