Slaughter on Groce: 'He's the right guy for the job'
Tyrone Slaughter initially had the viewpoint many Illinois fans had last March.
The Chicago Whitney Young head coach wanted to see Shaka Smart, the Virginia Commonwealth University head coach who instantly rises to the top of any college basketball coaching search, roaming the sidelines for Illinois this season after Bruce Weber was fired.
Instead, Illinois hired John Groce, who has led the Illinois to a Top 15 ranking and a 14-3 record going into Saturday's game at Wisconsin.
"I would have liked to have seen a young African-American with the job," Slaughter said, "but once we got the opportunity to meet Coach Groce, I was immediately struck with his passion for the game and his passion to build that program."
Delving into the Chicago recruiting scene with full force by nabbing two Chicago Simeon players (guards Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate) in his first recruiting class from esteemed Simeon head coach Robert Smith's program, Groce is trying to make inroads with other Chicago Public League coaches.
Slaughter, whose 11-1 squad was ranked first in Tuesday's Class 4A Associated Press poll and features four Division I prospects among the Class of 2014 (Jahlil Okafor, Paul White, L.J. Peak and Miles Reynolds), is one of the influential coaches in Chicago.
He has players who will help Division I teams in the future and had players who are helping Division I teams right now (see: Sam Thompson, Ohio State).
Hiring Paris Parham as an Illinois assistant has helped in terms of the Chicago recruiting scene, according to Slaughter.
Slaughter has had a longstanding relationship with Parham, a Chicago native who was the head coach for one season at Chicago Morgan Park (2007) and two seasons at Chicago Phillips Academy (2005-06).
"I thought when he went out and hired Paris Parham (it) was a slam dunk for the program from a Chicago perspective," Slaughter said. "From Coach Groce's perspective, it was a positive hire, and it says a lot about him as a coach and as a visionary. You have to look down the road as you start to make some decisions. We all can find great basketball people, but unfortunately a lot of this recruiting is regional and local. If you lose that local flavor, it can set you back a bit. I think (hiring Parham) has helped him immensely. It's clearly a great conduit to have someone that these kids know and the coaches know who they can speak to in a very honest way about a lot of different things."
Getting an assistant familiar with Chicago should boost recruiting ties for Illinois in the future. While the quick start Illinois was on has subsided a bit, Slaughter still is impressed with what Groce has accomplished in his first season so far.
"He's the right guy for the job," Slaughter said. "I think he's doing a phenomenal job with the team that he has, and the belief is that as he continues to get the kind of players he wants and he's comfortable coaching, he's only going to do a better job. We're very pleased with what Coach Groce has done and what we believe he'll continue to do."