John Groce is easy to respect
I would just like to start this forum post by saying that the level of admiration that I have for Illinois Men's Head Basketball Coach is off of the charts, and I am going to tell you why. John Groce inherited an Illinois squad that was incredibly dysfunctional. Between the inconsistent play and the lack of coaching leadership, Illinois was a mess of a squad, and was expected by most to miss out on yet another postseason experience.
After all, the star of the team, a soon-to-be junior center Meyers Leonard declared for the NBA Draft shortly after Groce was hired. Therefore, the only really "star" players that would be returning to Illinois would be Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson (both seniors), in which were recruited by Bruce Weber, and had never played under the leadership of someone like John Groce.
I want to set the record straight however before I go any further. Bruce Weber WAS NOT a bad coach. However, he was not an elite coach, and his biggest setback was that he couldn't coach guys with big egos. That's why he couldn't squeeze all of the potential out of players like Demetri McCamey, Jereme Richmond, or even Meyers Leonard for that matter. Whenever he was able to recruit top-notch talent, he couldn't stand against them. He couldn't even control Brandon Paul's ego as a junior. So, between his bad track record of recruiting and his inability to coach players with egos, he really made it difficult to have success at the University of Illinois.
John Groce however has proven to be the exact opposite in his first season on campus. Groce inherited a team that had gone 17-15, and 6-12 in Big Ten play. Not only that, but Leonard would also leave, and Weber hadn't recruited any prospects for the 2013 season. So basically, Groce was stuck with the same team without a leader, and now freshman gurus to work with. So what does Groce do as soon as he steps in? He is able to acquire two transfer athletes Sam McLaurin (5th year senior, Coastal Carolina, able to play immediately) and Rayvonte Rice (Sophomore Transfer, Drake, Sit-Out, 2 years of eligibility left). This helped him out tremendously as McLaurin turned out to be a defensive guru who helped out his interior defense and rebounding, and Rayvonte Rice is a leading candidate for the starting small forward position come 2013-2014.
After acquiring those two players, Illinois fans had gained a little confidence about this year and the future of our beloved program, although we feared that this year would still stand to be a rebuilding year for the Illinois Fighting Illini. Well, John Groce would have none of that. The Illini won their first 13 games, and finished with a 23-12 record, 8-10 Big Ten record, and a birth to the NCAA March Madness Tournament as a #7 seed. He took an arrogant, selfish player in Brandon Paul and literally polished him into a more efficient scorer, a better teammate, and a leader of the squad, and Paul took this team and made this season happen. Even though he was inconsistent at times, he was always assertive, and looked to be the best player on the court, a trait that you can admire about any athlete.
Illinois played well in the NCAA Tournament, surviving in the first round against the University of Colorado and Spencer Dinwiddie and Andre Roberson, and advanced to the Round of 32 to play the #2 seed Miami Hurricanes. Illinois played a tough game, and a couple of different calls at the end of the game could have sent this team to the Sweet 16. In these two tournament games, Groce's seniors (Paul, Griffey) really stepped up big for the squad.
What is more impressive is what Groce is doing in his first FULL offseason as the Illini's head honcho. Illinois has landed 5 total highschool prospects and 3 transfer students. 3/5 of the high school prospects are 4-star ratings, and 2 are 3-star, landing them the 15th best recruiting class for 2013, according to ESPN. Not only that, but the three incoming transfers are nothing to joke about, either. He's recruited Aaron Cosby (Sophomore, Seton Hall, Guard, Sit-Out, 2 years of eligibility), Jon Ekey (5th-year senior, Illinois State, Forward, Able to play immediately), and even Brandon Paul's little brother, who was the MAC Freshman of the Year, Darius Paul (Freshman Transfer, Western Michigan, Forward, Sit-Out, 3 years of eligibility).
So far, Groce has aggressively recruited highly-touted players, and his hard work has payed off, as the future for the Illinois squad looks very bright. He's bringing in a lot of young, top talent who is capable of taking this team and turning them into a contender down the road. As long as he stays aggressive, I am sure that Illinois fans will be able to rest easy for a very long time to come.
Groce is awesome unlike that loser Weber.
What a creative response.
I'm sure Weber feels the same way about you. With Groce, I'm not sure the feeling's mutual.
Groce "literally polished" Brandon Paul? I guess he did look shinier this year... In all seriousness though, I hope you're right that "Illinois fans will be able to rest easy for a very long time to come." I've been a U of I fan for my entire life and got spoiled during that early 2000s era. Next year I think they'll already be much improved even with the loss of all those seniors. Rayvonte Rice should be a breakout player in the conference next year. I grew up playing against him (still remember when he scored about 45 of his team's 50 points against us when I was 14) and he's really unguardable when he gets into the paint. Rice has a really quick first step and is definitely an above average athlete who will be stronger than any player who guards him all year. Just for some perspective, he's four inches shorter, but weighs ten pounds more than Carmelo Anthony! So, people on this site need to start looking out for him. That's maybe just my personal bias, but I really expect big things from him next year.
And, a team with Tracy Abrams, Myke Henry, Joseph Bertrand, Rayvonte Rice, and Nnanna Egwu returning in a weakened Big Ten looks like a contender to me. There's still quite a bit of experience there and definitely a lot of potential. I'm really interested to see Egwu play this year. He got so much better between his first and second years. He even improved by leaps and bounds from the start to finish of last year. In any case, I'm optimistic about the future. I'm a big fan of Bruce Weber (just look at what he's done at K State already), but John Groce definitely deserves a lot of praise for the team's turn around.
he does X's and O's as well as almost any coach in the nation, but sadly, the man has a personality like cardboard. He was a terrible recruiter and that really hurt the Illini program in the long run. Groce looks like he has been putting in work. He is young, energetic and likeable. Hopefully, he can pull a lot of talent from Chicago and Peoria and make them work hard, smart and together.
Also, like you just said, Weber did do well this year at K-State. He is a good coach and can make good teams with other peoples players, but in 4 years K-State won't have a single high profile recruit (like top 40ish).
Weber's a good coach, but his style lacks flexibility. Forcing kids who really struggle with decision making into a pass-heavy, read and react motion offense is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Some kids are just too dumb to play basketball like that.
Groce left a good impression on me. His style isn't overly complex, it looks fun to play in and it's a style that can be sold to recruits. He's got the personality to sell the program too. The only thing that I kinda don't like about his style is that it can reinforce bad habits and lead to shot jacking. It's very reliant on the 3 ball and jump shots in general.