January 7, 2013
By Mark Janssen
Bruce Weber: a competitor, but injury prone as a kid. A nifty dresser, but one who prefers a spiffy sport coat to a classic suit.
I recently picked up "Bruce Weber: Through My Eyes," which is the book that detailed the greatest season in Illinois basketball history. As the sub-title described, it was the "Inside look at the man, the coach and the greatest season in Illinois history."
It was a writing of the historic 2004-05 campaign when, in Weber's second season and the 100th year of basketball at the university, the Illini won its first 29 games, ended up 37-2, and second only to North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament.
It was a season summarized this way by book author Mark Tupper: "They'll say an unselfish team led by second-year coach Bruce Weber became the school's first to reach the national championship game. They'll say fans followed this team in record numbers, that the Orange became the benchmark color of the Illini Nation, and how something magical occurred on a journey two years in the making."
Along with the "Orange Krush" ride to history, within the writing were some tidbits about Weber's background that perhaps you haven't learned in his first year-plus in Manhattan.
THE VOICE: It's been called raspy, gravelly or even squeaky. As Tupper pens: "It's as though he has gargled with razor blades or sipped from a bag of wet sand."
But it's all for good reason.
As a young kid, Weber had a host of ear and throat infections, which resulted in a surgery to burn polyps off his vocal chords.
Even as a young kid, doctors warned the young Weber boy not to yell.
To that, Weber laughed, "Well, our house was loud. We had five kids, a dog and friends were over all the time. My dad had a hearing aid from an accident in the military, and when we came home you had to yell like crazy to get his attention.
"The doctors went as far to suggest that I never go into any profession where I had to yell a lot," continued Weber. "That became a joke because I was the loudest person and yelled the most."
THE WEBER HOME: Louis and Dawn Weber had five children - daughters Carrie and Jan, plus sons Ron, David and Bruce - in their modest Milwaukee home.
Louie worked for Heil Company, which made dump trucks, plus had a second job of being a distributor for truck parts. He loved sports and even played hoops until he was 60 years of age.
Bruce defined his father as "street smart - not book smart - but street smart, and his whole life was people. He loved talking."
Now 57 years of age, Weber adds, "My relationship with him was good, but at the same time, he was tough on us. He was real tough on us. That's how it was in that day and age."
As a kid, Weber defined his life as "simple," and one where "...I went to the playground every single day. I played until it got dark, and when it got dark we went to someone's house and played in their driveway."
It was the 1960s, and as Weber relates, those were turbulent times with racial tension in the inner-city of Milwaukee.
"You weren't supposed to leave your house. When we did go to the park to play, the police told us to go home," Weber recalled.
At home, it was more sports whether it be a basketball court outlined in duck -tape in the basement, playing "strike out" baseball in the basement with a whiffle ball, or the Weber clan playing football on their knees in the living room.
"Everyone loved to come to our house because you could do anything you wanted," said Weber, who defined his mother as one of patience and understanding.
While limited in funds, the Weber family found ways to get to Marquette games and Milwaukee Bucks NBA games on "Buck Night" when tickets literally cost $1. Plus the family listened to any game they could find on the radio.
Sports, and especially basketball, was the way of life in the Weber home.
DID YOU KNOW: When Kansas State stunned No. 1 seeded Purdue, 73-70, at the 1988 NCAA Midwest Regional in Pontiac, Mich., Weber was an assistant coach to Gene Keady.
BIG BUCKS: While his coaching contract has a couple of commas in it today, it wasn't always that way. At Western Kentucky, Weber made $200 a month for 10 months for a hefty $2,000 salary.
Later at Purdue as a first-year assistant in 1980-81, Weber made $4,000, which included camp revenue.
On Thursday, we will examine more on the life of K-State basketball coach Bruce Weber.