Bill Self recruited Deron Williams, but the Nets point guard became a superstar during his final two years at Illinois under Bruce Weber.
That’s why it was difficult for Williams to accept that Weber was fired by the University this week after coaching nine seasons there.
“He’s struggling a bit. This is definitely tough for him and his family,” Williams said Monday. “He had a couple of lucrative job offers last year, but he turned them down because this is where his heart was. He loved that program, and he wanted to stay with that program.”
Williams became extremely close with Weber and his assistant turned interim coach, Jerrance Howard.
“They wanted [Jerrance’s] players to stay, because he gets all the players,” D-Will said.
Williams said he knew Weber was in trouble because newly installed Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas has a history of going into programs and gutting their coaching staffs.
“That’s his M.O.,” Williams said.
Williams figures Weber will land back on his feet and fill another coaching vacancy soon.
“I’m sure he’ll have some opportunities that come up, as they should, he’s a good coach,” D-Will said.
Williams arrived at Illinois in 2002-03 and started 30 of 32 games as a freshman, ranking third in the Big 10 conference in assists.
Self left for Kansas after the season, and Weber took over. That year, Williams averaged 14 points and 6.2 assists and the Illini advance to the Sweet 16.
And in his junior year -- and last one with the program before turning pro -- Williams became a second-team All-American and Illinois went 37-2 before losing in the national title game to North Carolina.
But the program has won just two NCAA Tournament games since, and this season, they lost 12 of their final 14 games after opening up 15-3, prompting Thomas to let Weber go.
“I’d be very disappointed [if Weber were fired],” Williams told ESPN Chicago in mid-February. “That’s my coach, and it would be hard for me.
“I would still support the program, but it would be hard.”
Williams hasn’t been able to address Weber’s firing because he’s been out of action due to a lingering right calf injury, which will cause him to miss Monday night’s game against Milwaukee.