ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale is familiar with first-year Illinois basketball coach John Groce, and he's very familiar with the history of the Illini basketball program. Groce showed everyone in the country he can coach last season by leading Ohi to a Mid-American Conference tournament championship and within a few seconds of knocking off top-seeded North Carolina for a berth in the Elite Eight.
The task for Groce at Illinois, Vitale said, will be getting top-level players to play for the state school.
"Certainly (Groce) has done a heck of a job everywhere he’s been," Vitale said Tuesday. "The bottom line at Illinois is they’ve got to lock down the great players in that state. They’ve got to go out and get those kids. They can’t let those kids go away.
"Obviously, now when I look at Jabari Parker, one of the better high school players in America, some say the best or one of the top five, he doesn’t have them on his list. That’s the area where they have to elevate and get themselves to.
"I was just with, the other day, Marcus Liberty, he’s living down here in Sarasota (Fla.), and we’re talking about the team in ’89," Vitale continued. "My God, when I think about that team with our own Stephen Bardo and guys like Lowell Hamilton and Nick Anderson, that team was special, man, that was special. You need players, I don’t care who you are. (Kentucky coach John) Calipari starts out, these kids are five-star players coming out of high school, five-plus in many cases. You need players, you’re not going to win with too many Dick Vitales. If you have some Jay Bilases, you can win, but too many Vitales, you’re going to the loser’s circle."
Vitale noted that he likes senior guard Brandon Paul and said Paul will have to have a big year for the Illini in 2012-13.
Fellow ESPN analyst Jay Bilas notes the success Groce had at Ohio and his time as an assistant under current Ohio State coach Thad Matta as to why the 41-year-old can get the Illini program trending in a positive direction.
"He’s learned how to do it the right way and has seen every level. He’s not going to have the kind of size hes been used to and that’s going to probably be the difference. His kids are going to play hard," Bilas said. "I think right now, for him, it's laying the foundation. John has been a great recruiter over the years because he knows how to relate to people. In addition to teaching and coaching, his greatest strength is building relationships and keeping them. I have no doubt he’ll be successful. It’s just a question of laying that right foundation down and he’s been at places where that foundation has been laid down and he’s been a big part of laying down so he understands how to do it."