Sunday, April 27, 2003

What's the motta with Matta?

Some Illinois fans can't spell names of top candidates

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

It's not Indiana, but make no mistake, the people of Illinois view their state university as a "basketball school."

Illini fans expect to attract top recruits every year, and the top coaches in the country when there is an opening for the head job.

That makes it all the more troubling to the Orange and Blue nation that some fans have difficulty even spelling two of the names mentioned most for the UI job, Southern Illinois' Bruce Weber and Xavier's Thad Matta. It is believed Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther will contact Weber, Matta, Northern Illinois' Rob Judson, Creighton's Dana Altman or Oklahoma's Kelvin Sampson by Wednesday to offer one of them the job.

While Sampson is a well-known figure with Final Four experience, Weber, Matta (or Webber and Motta as seen on an Illinois fan board) and Altman don't have the national stature Illini fans expected when they presumed Marquette's Tom Crean would bolt for UI after Bill Self left for Kansas. It now appears Guenther will be settling for whomever he hires unless he can get a big name such as Sampson.

Guenther went after Sampson three years ago. In going to meet with Sampson then, Guenther waited until he got on his private plane to tell the pilot where to go. When the plane landed in Norman, Okla., Guenther saw a horde of media waiting. Realizing word had gotten out, Guenther flew home without talking to Sampson.

Perhaps that is why Sampson is listed as 50:1 odds on, an unofficial Illinois fan site listing the odds of potential candidates. Matta, Weber, Judson and Rutgers' Gary Waters lead the way with 10:1 odds.

A Division I head coach close to Matta said if offered, Matta would likely accept the job, although another DI coach close to Matta said it is more likely the Xavier coach would stay at XU. It's all speculation at this point, though, because sources say Guenther will not contact any coach or athletic director until he knows the candidate he wants is willing to accept the job.

SATO STAYING PUT: Xavier's Romain Sato, arguably one of the best all-around athletes in college basketball, will stay for his senior season, he told the Enquirer on Friday. Sato said an article that said the 6-foot-5 swingman was interviewing agents was untrue.

WEST CHOOSES AGENT: David West has signed with Octagon Sports Management and is represented by agent Jeff Austin. It didn't hurt Octagon's chances that the company also represents the San Antonio Spurs' David Robinson, West's favorite pro player. West was in Kansas City, Mo., this weekend accepting the Senior CLASS award.

VAN EXEL ON TV: Dallas Mavericks guard and former University of Cincinnati standout Nick Van Exel is the subject of tonight's "Beyond the Glory" episode on Fox Sports Net (8 p.m.). The show centers on Van Exel's successful, though sometimes volatile, career.

WISHY-WASHY: Either the wounds have healed in Olean, N.Y., or St. Bonaventure has hypocritical fans. More than 650 people attended a postseason Senior Night honoring outgoing seniors Robert Cheeks, Joe Sheperd and Patricio Prato. The same fans who blasted the players for quitting didn't seem to have a problem applauding the players for their "dedication" to SBU.

FALSE REPORT: A published report that Bridgton Academy forward Alexander Johnson had narrowed his choices to the University of Cincinnati and Florida State is not accurate, Bridgton coach Whit Lesure said earlier this week. "I think he was responding more to the fact that he liked both of those schools," Lesure said.

SOONERS NAB FORMER XU GUARD: Former Xavier guard Jaison Williams signed with Oklahoma after a one-year stint at Southern Idaho junior college. Williams received a scholarship offer from the Sooners when he visited the campus April 18-20.

Bill Koch contributed

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