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Columnist
Looking at Weber's visit through eyes of diehard Illini fan
By John Lemon | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 2/5/2011 1:35 AM

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I'm happy to say professionalism won out.

Anyone who knows me knows that besides family, there's no greater love in my life than the University of Illinois, especially Illini basketball.

So of all the people to be sitting a row behind me at the Geneva-St. Charles East game Friday night, it was none other than Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber. He was on hand while his team is in the suburbs for their noon game Saturday at Northwestern. Weber came to St. Charles East to watch Saints sophomore Kendall Stephens.

Besides wishing I would have brought my 6-year-old son who would have really enjoyed meeting Weber heck, he knows more about Illini freshman Myers Leonard from watching last year's high school state tournament than most Illinois fans I focused on my job and what turned out to be a key St. Charles East win in the Upstate Eight race.

I'm lucky to have plenty of good friends in this journalism business who were also at St. Charles Friday. A couple of them couldn't believe I didn't introduce myself to Weber.

It's probably a good thing I didn't. For one, he's not allowed to talk about players he's recruiting. And my frustration of Illini losses to Indiana, Ohio State and UIC among others might have spilled out. "Bruce, great to meet you! Now tell me why your team always loses the close games?"

And don't even get me started on how long it's been since Illinois has won an NCAA Tournament game.

Yes, no doubt, it's a good thing I kept my mouth shut. How does that saying go? It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear a fool than to open it and remove all doubt?

But I did ask Saints guard Charlie Fisher, who led all scorers with 16 points, what it is like to play in front of famous coaches even if the coaches like Weber Friday and Purdue's Matt Painter at the last SCE-Geneva game are there to see someone else.

"You always hear after games this person is in the stands, that person is in the stands," Fisher said. "You know you played a good game you feel good about it. But you know they are here for Kendall."

Anyway, Weber had plenty of company. Among others Batavia coach Jim Roberts chatted with Weber, who knows how to handle himself in public. He's a great sport, mingling with the fans and shaking hands during the game. He listened to the Geneva student section chant "Web-er saw that!" at Stephens after Stephens was called for a charging foul.

Then while waiting outside the Saints locker room afterward, Weber smiled for every photo that the Saints sophomore team players wanted to take with him. And there were a lot. He shook hands with Saints coach Brian Clodi and talked about the Upstate Eight Conference River Division race. He didn't talk to Kendall, there's NCAA rules to follow and all, but did have a warm greeting for Kendall's parents. Then it was time to get back to the Illini's hotel.

And time for me to get back to putting out Saturday's sports section. He's got a game to win, I've got stories to write. A professional after all.

jlemon@dailyherald.com