- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Remember when Bruce Weber couldn't recruit?
For a while there, that implication -- whether true or false -- hung like a weight around Weber's neck. Illinois fans saw their guy could coach, but Weber's best seasons (including the brilliant two-loss run to the national title game in 2005) came with the benefit of predecessor Bill Self's players. Once those players left the program and the talent (and wins) seemed to dwindle, Weber was stuck answering the age-old succession question: Yeah, but can he recruit? More specifically, can he recruit in Chicago?
The first question has been settled by the past two signing days; Weber's 2009 and 2010 classes were both among the 15 or 20 best in the country. And if there was any remaining doubt about the second question, Weber's 2011 class has made it officially moot.
That's because the 2011 class, which Weber officially inked yesterday, features four players ranked among the top 20 at their positions and three in the ESPNU 100 and -- get this -- all of them hail from Chicago. Forward Mike Shaw, small forward Mychael Henry, point guard Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu all played their high school hoops in and around the Chicago area at schools like St. Ignatius, De La Salle Prep, Orr Academy and Mt. Carmel high school. There are other good Chicago-area players heading to other schools in the class -- Kentucky commitment Anthony Davis, the No. 2 player in the class, for one -- but the depth and breadth of Weber's domination in the area is impressive all the same.
This isn't the first time Weber's done well in Chicago, of course. Top 2010 recruit Jereme Richmond hails from Waukegan, Ill. His classmate, Crandall Head, is from the city proper. In 2009, Illinois Mr. Basketball Brandon Paul, a Gurnee, Ill., native -- brought his talents to Champaign, Ill., too. Weber had made serious strides in the city before 2011. But altogether, with the 2011 class in the fold, six of Weber's past 11 recruits come from the Chicago area. Only D.J. Richardson, a Peoria, Ill. native, can be counted as top Weber recruit who isn't from the Second City.
In other words, the question is answered. Yes, Bruce Weber can recruit. Yes, he can recruit -- maybe even own -- Chicago. And yes, after once feeling the pangs of uncertainty about their new coach, Illinois fans can rest easy. The Illini are going to be good for a while.