Weber glad to keep Howard at Illinois

Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber would rather Kentucky hadn’t recently tried to sway away Illini assistant Jerrance Howard, but Weber does realize there was significance to it.

“In a way, it’s a compliment to our program and him,” Weber said on Monday night. “If we’re struggling and not doing a good job recruiting, they wouldn’t contact him. He’s very loyal to the Illini and appreciates everything. At the same time, you always listen to things and see what’s out there.”

Weber said he expected Howard to remain with the Illini based on conversations they’ve had since Howard was contacted by Kentucky on Friday.

“As far as I know, he’ll be back,” Weber said.

Howard does have a prior relationship with Kentucky. He spent time under former coach Billy Gillispie in basketball operations before taking a position with Illinois, his alma mater, in 2007.

Howard, who just finished his third season on Weber’s staff, has been credited for much of Illinois’ recent recruiting success. He was key in the recruitment of incoming freshmen Jereme Richmond and Crandall Head and 2011 recruits Tracy Abrams and Mycheal Henry.

“With Jerrance, you have a rare combination of being a talented, rising assistant coach and an influential presence who also just so happens to truly cherish and bleed for the program he works for and a sincere loyalty to it,” said City/Suburban Hoops Report’s Joe Henricksen, one of the Chicago area’s top recruiting analysts. “He owed it to his family and himself, both professionally and financially, to entertain an offer from one of the few jobs in the country that he could ever leave Illinois for. But as long as Illinois stays competitive, values and appreciates all that he does for that program, he will stay right where he loves. He brings an energy, passion and spirit for this specific job that is awfully difficult to match.”

Weber does understand what Howard means to the program.

“He obviously brings a lot of enthusiasm and loyalty,” Weber said. “He just brings that bubbly personality, just a youthfulness that is a positive for our program. He can relate to the kids. All of that kind of adds up.”

Howard was given a raise after the 2008-2009 season and had his contract extended until April 2013, but Weber said there had been recent discussions about further “tweaking” Howard’s contract.

A voicemail left for Howard was not returned on Monday night.

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at spowers@espnchicago.com.