OMAHA, Neb. – As the nation watched Virginia Commonwealth do away with higher-seeded Wichita State on Thursday, there is little doubt that fans of the Illinois basketball program went to bed counting Shaka's in their sleep.
The Illini got rid of Bruce Weber a week ago and VCU coach Shaka Smart is near the top of every list for potential replacements that Google can research.
"Certainly for a program of our stature,” Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas said in a news conference last Friday, “I think it's important we're playing at the highest level."
Sort of like what Weber's predecessor, Bill Self, accomplished in Champaign and is now doing at Kansas.
“The Illinois job is a terrific job,” Self said Thursday. “It's a great job.”
Self had that “great job” for three seasons, and did a great job while in Champaign before leaving for an even greater job at Kansas.
“The reason that it is a great job is that there are so many potential recruits right there in your state,” Self said.
Aside from lack of success, another criticism of Weber was his inability to recruit Illinois players well enough. But Self isn't buying that Weber deserved to be let go.
“In my opinion, they had a coach that succeeded there,” Self said. “Bruce won a lot of games. Not as many games (in) the last couple of years as he did when he started, but he still had a pretty good run.”
Self guided the Illini to three NCAA Tournaments in three years and advanced to an Elite Eight and a Sweet 16. He did so “primarily” with Illinois kids.
“When we had a pretty good run there,” Self explained, “there was just one guy (Deron Williams), of course he was pretty good, on each of those teams, well maybe two, that actually contributed in a big way, that were out of state.”
Whether Smart, Butler's Brad Stevens, Duke assistant coach Chris Collins, or any of the other names being rumored about end up in Champaign, Self is confident that success – big time success – can be achieved.
“It's a great job and great school,” Self said. “There are so many positives with it. We loved it there. You can certainly win and win big there.”