Deron Williams defends Bruce Weber
Former Illinois star Deron Williams said he would be "very disappointed" if coach Bruce Weber were fired, and he believes blame for the team's problems lies with the players.
"He's in a tough situation," Williams said by phone Thursday after scoring 29 points in a losing effort for the New Jersey Nets. "I'd be very disappointed [if Weber were fired]. That's my coach, and it would be hard for me.
"I would still support the program, but it would be hard."
I would still support the program, but it would be hard.” -- Deron Williams
This year's Illini team, which has lost four in a row and seven of its past eight, is in a struggle to make the NCAA tournament. New Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas, who fired football coach Ron Zook after last season, has yet to offer Weber a vote of confidence.
And after losing to Purdue on Wednesday, Weber's confidence seems to be at an all-time low. He said he's been coaching not to lose for the past three years, and he openly criticized his players. He issued a statement Thursday trying to soften his remarks, saying they were made after another frustrating loss.
Williams was recruited by former Illinois coach Bill Self but played for Weber his sophomore and junior seasons. He led the Illini to the 2005 NCAA championship game, and he was selected third in that year's NBA draft by the Utah Jazz. He is a three-time All-Star and an Olympic gold-medal winner.
"We were such a great team, and once we all left --- myself, James (Augustine), Luther (Head), (Roger Powell), Dee (Brown, after the following season), it was rebuilding time," he said. "(Weber) didn't have to worry about that stuff with us. We held each other accountable, believed in ourselves.
"Things changed a little bit, but I don't think it's his fault. We were tough, hard-nosed people. We liked to compete on the road. We were just different personalities (than the players now)."
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That said, Williams does not fault Weber for recruiting those players.
"He's had some great recruits; they're getting guys," Williams said. "But I didn't care if I scored 30 points and had 12 assists, I just wanted to win. Dee, James, Roger, Luther, all the way down the line, we just bought into the system and philosophy, and the other classes haven't really done that.
"I watch some games now and they're not running things the same way, they're not getting the same looks."
Williams said it's not the system and it's not Weber's coaching.
"You can't scout the system. It's motion, it's just playing," he said. "We just knew how to do it, but it took us a while to get used to it. Really it wasn't until the second year (after Weber took over) that we picked it up pretty well."
As for Weber as a motivator, Williams also said his former coach did his job.
"He knew what buttons to push, how to get the most out of his players," Williams said. "But as a coach, you can only do so much. You have to hold yourself accountable, and the team has to hold itself accountable.
"There are so many rules where you can't make it mandatory to go to the gym and work on your game, but we wanted to play basketball no matter what, whether it was the offseason or the summertime. That's who we were. We wanted to win a national championship."
Melissa Isaacson is a reporter for ESPNChicago.com.