By Doug Halberstadt
The teams have all been bracketed for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament that tips off this week. Of the 68 teams that either played their way into the tournament or were selected by the committee, a grand total of zero are from our state. Thirteen colleges and universities in Illinois are classified as Division I for NCAA competition, and not a single one qualified for this year’s tournament.
With the amount of high school talent this state produces, it’s a shame not one of our 13 schools was able to field a team worthy of making the biggest postseason tournament in the country.
Bruce Weber was fired last week from his head coaching position at the University of Illinois. After starting the season with a 15-3 record, the Illini then went on to drop 12 of their next 14 games and finish the season with a 17-15 record. Many of Weber’s critics cite his inability to bring homegrown talent to Champaign as one of the reasons he was let go.
Many of the other schools around the state are battling that same demon. It seems the top-tier players leave Illinois and head south or to the East Coast to pursue their college careers. Last season, Ryan Boatright and Chasson Randle shared the Mr. Basketball title here in Illinois. Boatright chose to go to Connecticut, and Randle is at Stanford. Persuading these kids to stay and play for one of the home teams must be more difficult than anyone can imagine.
Even the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player, Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, played his high school ball at Simeon Career Academy in Chicago and then chose to bolt from Illinois for greener pastures at the University of Memphis.
I’m not sure there’s an easy cure for the mass exodus of high school basketball talent from our state. Until our schools find a way to keep these “hot shots” closer to home, it looks as though we’ll be forced to cheer for teams from our neighboring states come tourney time.
This year, the closest teams to our area are from Wisconsin. Both Marquette University (Milwaukee) and the University of Wisconsin at Madison will play in the “Big Dance.” The Badgers are the No. 4 seed in the East and will face Montana in the opening round.
Marquette drew the No. 3 seed in the West and will await the winner from the Iona vs. BYU play-in game. Since I have a couple of close friends who graduated from Marquette, I’ll be pulling for them to do well. Instead of yelling “Go” Illini, Braves, Red Birds, Blue Demons, Salukis, Ramblers or any of the other teams from Illinois, you’ll hear me shouting “Go, Golden Eagles!” during the next few weeks.
Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.
From the March 14-20, 2012, issue