ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Illinois coach Bruce Weber said Thursday he didn’t feel any added pressure to win immediately under the watch of first-year athletic director Mike Thomas.
“I feel pressure every day of my life since I got to Illinois,” Weber said at the Big Ten basketball media day. “With a new AD, I don’t know him. He’s unknown like my team is unknown. [Former athletic director] Ron Guenther hired me, and I still didn’t know him. I had to learn about him. As you go through the process, you find out what he likes, what he doesn’t like, and it makes it easier.
“I hope [I’ll be given time.] I don’t know what’s in the future. I don’t have that crystal ball. I think we have a pretty good product. We’ve done some pretty good things, and we have some good recruiting classes and have a chance to be pretty good.”
Weber is entering his ninth season at Illinois. He has gone 193-86 overall and has reached six NCAA tournaments. The Illini went 20-14 overall and 9-9 in the Big Ten last season and advanced to the NCAA tournament’s second round.
Weber was optimistic about the upcoming season, but he thought the Illini could be a NCAA title contender the following season with this year’s roster, including only one scholarship senior and six highly-touted freshmen.
“I think we have a chance to be very competitive this season,” Weber said. “Things have to fall place. A year from now if it all holds and nothing crazy happens, I think we really could be one of the better teams in the country. But there’s a long way to go before the journey.”
Thomas hasn’t spoken of making changes in the basketball or football programs since he was hired in August. He was previously at Cincinnati and was responsible for the hiring of football coaches Brian Kelly and Butch Jones and basketball coach Mick Cronin.
When Thomas met with reporters in Chicago shortly after being hired, he laid out his expectations for his high-revenue sports.
“I assume we have the same goals that we want to win Big Ten championships, advance in the NCAA tournament,” Thomas said. “We want to play in BCS bowl games. We want to play in bowl games. That hasn’t changed anywhere I’ve been. Some places you’re under more of the national spotlight than others, and I get that.
“Everything else we want to do that is important to us whether building our brand or increasing our revenue or even the standard of living for our Olympic sports will be important knowing you have to have a healthy football and men’s basketball program.”
Weber thought the basketball program was capable of sustaining a high level success in the upcoming years just as the Illini did when he first was hired.
“You had an unbelievable run for two, three, four years there with 24, 25, 30 wins,” Weber said. “Now, it’s been 18, 20, 21. You want as a coach [to win.] That’s why you’re here. You want to compete for Big Ten championships.
“I thought last year going into it, I really thought we had a chance. But you know some things didn’t fall in place, you lose some close games and the season goes one way or another. Still, we had success. Over the next couple years, I hope we can take a big step where we feel like we’re one of the better teams in the country.”