After a few seasons of disappointment, Illinois basketball decided to go in a different direction by letting Bruce Weber go. Fan reaction was mixed initially, but the hunt for the next basketball coach certainly renewed optimism in the program.
While the majority of fans initially were hoping for either Brad Stevens from Butler or Shaka Smart from VCU, both coaches quickly made it known that they were not going anywhere. This began to send a little bit of panic through the Illini fanbase, until a little-known coach named John Groce started to make a splash on the scene during the NCAA tournament.
Groce led the Ohio Bobcats to the Sweet 16 in 2012, and actually had them one free throw away from the Elite Eight. While he has long been known as a strong recruiter in the Midwest (he was an integral part in helping land the “Thad Five” as an Ohio State assistant), many casual basketball fans originally were upset with the hire. They felt Illinois needed to make a bigger splash and hire a well-known name.
Once the dust settled, Groce headed to work. He has the task of taking over a team that did not make any postseason tournament last season, not to mention being forced to do without NBA lottery big man Meyers Leonard.
Groce has wasted no time in trying to do whatever possible to restore the faith in Illinois basketball. He was able to land Drake transfer, and former Illinois player of the year, Rayvonte Rice almost immediately. He then signed Malcolm Hill, Maverick Morgan and top 50 recruit Kendrick Nunn. With Nunn, a Simeon product, on board, that could really help open the Chicago flood gates that Illinois desperately needs to return to their former glory.
This first season in Champaign could be a bit rough, but Groce needs to first get the proper players to fit his system for it to really shine. He loves to play a high-tempo game, and his most recent success at Ohio was due in large part to a quick, heady point guard from Chicago named DJ Cooper.
Ironically, how he recruits Chicago in general will probably end up making or breaking his coaching career at Illinois. With a great upcoming class led by Jabari Parker not to mention stars Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander in the 2014 class, it starts early and often for Groce. It’s unfair to judge him much this season, but time will be ticking as soon as he is able to get the recruits he wants in Champaign.
This has been a guest post by the basketball guys at www.fanduel.com. If you play in fantasy basketball leagues you will love the daily play on their site.