Jimmy Collins seemed to be building momentum when he first took over at UIC, with three NCAA tournament appearances his first seven years, but as he explained in our final segment this week, some eligibility rules tweaks opened the door for the competition to appeal to some of the recruits he targeted. It’s not an excuse. It’s just an adjustment the program wasn’t quick enough to adapt to. When he briefly encountered health problems in 2006 and 2007, of course other programs would use that against him. Fortunately, Jimmy’s a picture of health now in retirement. That’s something the programs we’ve focused on can aspire to. But how can the Flames, Ramblers, Wildcats, Blue Demons and Illini do that?
There’s long been the argument that some of the most successful Public League and area head coaches should be rewarded by these local colleges and be hired to those coaching staffs, opening a pipeline to local talent through familiarity. The attempt has been made in some cases, and in others, what’s offered hasn’t been enough to convince them to leave the prep level. I inadvertently left one of UIC’s assistants with local ties off a graphic in Part Two: Ron Coleman, who attended South Shore and coached on the staffs at Whitney Young and the AAU Mac Irvin Fire. They had a couple of local products also go down with injuries that could’ve helped them win more than the five they ended up with. But we do show you a couple of impressive kids Steve MCcClain’s program can build around, so there’s a foot in that door. Northwestern probably would’ve made its first NCAA tourney had Vic Law of St. Rita not missed the season with a shoulder injury and Alex Olah been healthy all year. John Groce appears to be “on the clock” despite the recent vote of confidence from his new athletic director. They’re bragging about a great recruiting class coming in, which includes former Illini Frank Johnson’s son. But none of the players are from the Chicago area.
There are other parts in our series we wish we could’ve included. David Kaplan says practice facilities play a bigger factor in kids’ decisions than we know. That’s where they spend the majority of their time. Kendall Gill is adamant that the high school state finals need to return to Champaign. That’s where every high schooler dreamed to end his season before 20 years ago. And no one wanted to go on the record to speak of how kids can be persuaded through illegal means. They say it still happens, but the NCAA has a much closer eye on things and social media can reveal much more than it could years ago. Yet if someone has an open hand, they can probably find someone to fill it, if they’re among the most heavily recruited kids.
My thanks to all the people we interviewed and the producers and editors who finished the product we brought to you this week. We hope you enjoyed it. Now try to enjoy the tournament, despite this topic.