Illinois Bouncing Back
After a 10-0 start last season, any Illini fan would say sustaining success is more important than a hot start in November and December. Winning their first 10 games last season, Illinois was only able to finish a dismal 17-15 that ended up in the firing of head coach Bruce Weber. On top of that, the Illini lost their biggest inside threat in Meyers Leonard to the NBA and starting point guard Sam Maniscalco. Even though Maniscalco was a graduate transfer from Bradley, he seemed to be the only sign of leadership on a team that fell from national prominence in an instant. Even with a new coach and a sense of newfound leadership on this Illini team, one can only think about how this start seemed too familiar.
John Groce led the number 13 seeded Ohio Bobcats to a Sweet 16 berth in the 2012 NCAA tournament, eventually falling to number one seeded North Carolina. This was the second time in four years Ohio got to at least the round of 32 under Groce. That was good enough for newly appointed Illinois athletic director to reach out to Groce after being turned down by Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens. The recruiting aspect was evident under Groce as he was named Rivals.com recruiter of the year in 2006 while on the Ohio State staff landing Greg Oden, Mike Conley, and Daequan Cook. Every basketball fan in the state of Illinois would say a main key to sustained success is finding a coach that can solidify the Chicago region, another plus for Groce.
During an AAU trip, Groce witnessed the phenomenon of DJ Cooper. Out of Seton Academy in Chicago, Cooper had only offers from Kent State and Loyola Chicago at the time and the under recruited guard eventually led the Bobcats charge come tournament time.
Groce has since then started to establish the prestigious Chicago recruiting pipeline. Landing guards Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate from Chicago Simeon was a sign of things to come. Even though fellow teammate Jabari Parker decided not to go along for the ride, it’s evident Illini Nation has now entered the Windy City and is here to stay.
So what’s the only flaw in the new era in Champaign? Well, if a 12-0 start is a flaw, Illinois needs fixed. After winning the Maui Invitational and winning at Gonzaga, the Illini found themselves as high as #10 in the country. Then staring at number 1 Indiana and a 2-7 conference record, the outside talk and presence was starting to be noticed around whether Groce was the right man for the job. Illinois has since then rallied off 4 straight wins and are playing like they did before the slide.
Up to this point Groce has been saying all the right things and getting supporters behind this team. His main message was to not let what outsiders say affect us. A team with scorers like Brandon Paul, DJ Richardson, and Joseph Bertrand haven’t lived up to expectations yet as a part of the Illini. Spurts of greatness have been shown, but no consistency has been shown yet. As encouraging a 12-0 start may be, the face this team can not only deliver punches, but get back up from taking some shots from the public gives signs John Groce has Illinois heading in the right direction at the right time.
Ryan Stevens is a Freshman majoring in Telecommunications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Contributors
Senior / Broadcast Journalism
Ryan is a senior from Bloomington, Illinois majoring in broadcast journalism with a minor in english. He has been involved with numerous radio shows, play-by-plays, beat writes and producing various Penn State athletics events since his first days of being on campus in the fall of 2012 with ComRadio. Since the fall of 2013, Ryan has been involved with State College’s ESPN Radio 1450 as an assistant producer intern and high school football reporter.
During the summer of 2014, Ryan co-hosted Sports Central with Cory Giger streaming over Altoona, Pa. and State College Pa. markets. Ryan also assisted USA Basketball media coverage in New York for World Cup of Basketball exhibition games.
Ryan was the marketing & communications intern for USA Track & Field at the national office in Indianapolis, Indiana. He was the media contact for the 2015 USATF Hershey Youth Outdoor Championships as well as the 2015 National Junior Olympics.