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Monday, April 21, 2003

Illini fans saddened to lose leader to KU

'I think it's kind of a poor career move'

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— Bill Self's apparent move to Kansas University left fans at the University of Illinois feeling insulted, disappointed and sympathetic toward the players he leaves behind.

Self, Illinois basketball coach for three seasons, arrived on the Kansas campus Sunday afternoon and ate a meal with Jayhawk players. Kansas officials said that the school had scheduled a news conference for today to introduce its new basketball coach.

Illinois officials also refused to confirm Self was leaving to replace Roy Williams, who left Kansas last week to become coach at North Carolina. The Illini sports information director said the school would wait for an announcement from Kansas.

But Illinois fans winding down their Sunday afternoon at a tavern near campus seemed resigned that the school will be searching for a new coach.

"Obviously, it's very disappointing," said David Kraft, 31, of Urbana. "It just seems like we have all the pieces in place, and he's just leaving at the wrong time for me as a fan."

It's the second time in less than three years that Illinois fans have had to cope with a coach's sudden departure. Lon Kruger left in May 2000, to coach the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA.

"We felt real lucky to get Bill Self," Kraft said.

Self was hired away from Tulsa three weeks after Kruger left. Self had spent three seasons there and left with a record of 74-27, similar to the 78-24 record he amassed in three seasons at Illinois.

Self may be landing his dream job at Kansas, but not everyone agrees it's the best decision.

"I think it's kind of a poor career move," said Adam Watkins, 23, a U of I senior from Naperville.

He said the team was performing well under Self and would have a chance to compete for a national championship.

The Illini won a share of the Big Ten regular-season title in Self's first two seasons in Champaign and won the Big Ten tournament championship this season. Illinois reached the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals in 2001.

Kraft said he understood Self's apparent decision to take the prestigious Kansas job, but he wondered why Illinois was not viewed the same way.

"It's an insult to us that we can't be considered in that same class," he said.

Caleb Parker, 22, a U of I junior from Champaign, said his sympathy was with the players.

"You know they don't come here for the School of Engineering. They come here for the coach, and he's gone," he said.

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