Illinois hires Matt Bollant

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- New Illinois women's basketball coach Matt Bollant said Wednesday that while he doesn't know how long it will take, he believes there is enough talent in the state to turn around a team that's had losing records three of the past four seasons.

The hire leaves the Illini now looking for one more basketball coach, a replacement for fired men's coach Bruce Weber.

Bollant was introduced Wednesday at a news conference in Champaign by athletic director Mike Thomas. The new coach comes from Wisconsin-Green Bay, where he won almost 90 percent of his games in five seasons and has taken the Phoenix to the NCAA tournament in four straight seasons.

Bollant takes over for Jollete Law, who was fired earlier this month after an 11-19 season. None of her five teams made the NCAA tournament, extending a drought that dates to 2003. Illinois in the 1990s twice made it to the Sweet 16.

"It can be done again," Bollant said. "How fast? I'm not going to stand here and make promises."

Bollant added that he'd already met with Illinois' players, whom he said he'd tried to recruit to Green Bay but couldn't because they had Big Ten-level talent.

"As talented as they are, if they give us as much effort as they can give, great things will happen."

Thomas marveled at Bollant's record at Wisconsin-Green Bay: 148-19 overall -- an 88.6 percent winning percentage -- and 85-5 in Horizon League play.

"That is not a misprint, that is real," Thomas said. "He's doing a great job at UW-Green Bay."

Law was fired March 2, a week before Thomas fired Weber.

The two searches were conducted side by side, and it wasn't clear until Wednesday which would end first. Thomas thanked his wife, Jenny, for attending the news conference, joking he seldom sees her anymore.

Illinois is said to be pursuing Ohio coach John Groce to replace Weber, but Thomas on Wednesday declined to answer questions about the men's search.

Bollant will be paid a base salary of $330,000 with potential performance bonuses still to be determined, Illinois spokesman Kent Brown said.

Law was paid $310,000 a season, and, with two years left on her contract, Illinois faces a $620,000 buyout. All of that money, the school has said, will come from privately raised Department of Intercollegiate Athletics funds.

Law was hired in 2007 after spending 12 years as an assistant to Vivian Stringer at Rutgers. Law also played several seasons as one of the few women to ever suit up for the Harlem Globetrotters.

Bollant's team finished this season ranked 10th in the AP Top 25, going 31-2 and making it to the second round of the NCAA tournament before losing to Kentucky.

The Phoenix's wins included an 82-62 blowout of Illinois back in November, as well as wins over Georgia Tech, Marquette and Wisconsin.

Bollant said he plans to run the dribble-drive motion offense, and start working on better skills among his players. He said his team is very athletic but needs to work on skill.

And Bollant said he plans to recruit close to home.

"I really think you have to be great within five hours -- within five hours of Champaign, there are plenty of great players," he said. "I'm not going to stand here and tell you we're going to get every player out of Chicago. We are going to get more."

Seven of the 15 players on this season's Illini roster were from Illinois -- three from Chicago and four from the suburbs.

When Thomas fired Law, he said a major factor was attendance. Illinois' average draw has dropped from just under 1,500 a game in 2008 to just over 1,000 a game in the Assembly Hall, an arena that seats more than 16,000.

Bollant said two things should help improve the attendance -- winning and making sure he and his players spend time in the community.

"People love a winner," he said.

Bollant said he hasn't started assembling a staff yet, but said he'd like his associate head coach at Green Bay, Mike Divilbiss, to join him if he doesn't become the Phoenix head coach.

A Wisconsin-Green Bay spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.