You can’t see it, but you can feel it,” Bruce Weber says, describing what he calls the chemistry of the University of Illinois men’s basketball team he led to the NCAA championship game last March. “It’s very hard to find, but when a team really does have chemistry, they’re a special group,” says the head coach from the Champaign-Urbana campus.
|Illini Coach Bruce Weber analyzes their big—and close— win with his team after they defeated Arizona 90-89 in overtime in the NCAA Regional Final to advance to the Final Four, March 26.|
I caught up with him this summer at a Chicagoland golf outing—as he caught his breath. Rushing from one event to the next, an enthusiastic Weber had only 20 minutes to chat.
This particular “special group” we talked about finished the 2004-05 season with a 37-2 record, tying the NCAArecord of victories in a single season. One loss came in that final game against the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “It’s amazing. We lost—and yet we weren’t a failure,” Weber says, “because of our team, their personalities and the way they played.”
“Having chemistry” may be handy shorthand in the U.S., but explaining the concept of a team having chemistry is hard to translate, Weber explains.
This concept isn’t new to Weber’s coaching. While an assistant at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., Weber was invited to lead a clinic for the Turkish Basketball Federation in Istanbul. The coach had to clarify how a team could “have” chemistry: “When I said ‘chemistry,’ the interpreters looked at me and asked: ‘You mean mixing, chemistry—making drugs?’
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