Groce: 'We recruited to our system'
Of all the statements John Groce made on a Wednesday teleconference about his first recruiting class while he surveyed the scene from the balcony of the team's hotel in Hawaii (82 degrees and sunny by the way on the island compared to 42 and sunny in Champaign-Urbana), one stood out above the rest.
"We recruited to our system," the Illinois men's basketball head coach said. "I felt like one of our primary objectives with this '13 recruiting class was to try and get a guy at each position that fit that mold of what we're looking for in terms of our aggressive style at both ends of the floor."
A quick and enthusiastic talker, Groce also wants his teams to play fast and aggressive. That's evident by the 164 points the Illini have put up so far heading into Friday night's game at Hawaii.
"As I've told the guys, you've got to get up and down on offense and up and down on defense if you're going to play the way we're trying to play right now and even accelerating that moving forward," Groce said. "All five of those guys certainly fit that aggressive style of play."
Those five — 6-foot-5-inch guard/forward Malcolm Hill of Belleville East (Ill.) High School, 6-10 center Maverick Morgan of Springboro (Ohio) High School, 6-3 guard Kendrick Nunn from Chicago Simeon High School, 6-2 point guard Jaylon Tate from Chicago Simeon and 6-9 forward Austin Colbert from Gill St. Bernard's (N.J.) School — all signed letters of intent on Wednesday to wrap up Groce's first batch of recruits since he replaced Bruce Weber in mid-March.
Would all five of those players have signed with Illinois if Groce wasn't here? Most likely not, with four of the five commits coming from June on.
Hill was the only one who committed with Weber still in town, and Groce said it was a main priority to have Hill on board.
"He's one of the first calls I made when I got the job," Groce said. "We got him to campus relatively quickly. He came on an unofficial visit and wanted to continue to be an Illini. One of the things I really appreciate about Malcolm right from the outset is he wanted to play for his state school. That meant something to him. We've got five guys that want to be at Illinois."
No, the Illini didn't land a top-notch point guard like a Demetrius Jackson or a shooting guard like Xavier Rathan-Mayes, but Illinois did get some love from several recruiting services. Rivals.com ranked Illinois' Class of 2013 10th-best in the nation, with Scout.com tabbing it 22nd and ESPN listing it at No. 23.
Groce gave props to assistant coaches Jamall Walker, Paris Parham and Dustin Ford in helping put together the five-man class.
"For them to do what they did in seven months, and if you look at other job transitions with first-year recruiting classes after seven months, it is astonishing," Groce said. "I'm really proud of our staff, and they deserve all the credit."
Even with Wednesday's signings, recruiting never ceases. Class of 2014 targets Illinois would like to zero in on include in-state players like forward Keita Bates Diop from Normal University High School, Champaign Centennial High School forward/center Michael Finke and Springfield Lanphier High School guard Larry Austin Jr., among others, and out-of-state recruits like Evansville (Ind.) High School point guard Jaquan Lyle, Park Tudor (Ind.) School guard Trevon Bluiett and point guard Kevin Zabo from Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H., among others.
"You gain a little momentum anytime a guy says yes and wants to be a Fighting Illini," Groce said. "I think we're starting to see some carryover with that as we're starting to recruit some of the underclassmen."