April 5 Illinois basketball chat

Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 1:00pm

When is Kendrick Nunn going to commit? Who's getting to the NCAA tourney first, Bruce Weber or John Groce? What's next for Jerrance Howard? Ask beat writer Paul Klee about college basketball during Thursday's chat.

Paul Klee — 01:02 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

Afternoon everyone. Beat writer Paul Klee joining you for another Illinois basketball chat - the first of the John Groce era. Plenty to discuss. Spent time with the three new coaches yesterday - John Groce, Jamall Walker and Dustin Ford - after their second workout with the Illini. I'll be here for about an hour, maybe a few minutes longer. We're going quickly today to get to as many questions as possible. Fire away. Klee

Don, Madison — 01:06 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

Has there been any news about how Groce's practices have been?

Paul Klee — 01:10 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

Don- Sure. Asked John Groce about his focus in offseason workouts. He's big on individual skill development. It has been a steady lineup of shooting, ballhandling, passing etc. - skillwork. That has been the focus of their workouts this week, and there is another workout today. Watched the Heat-Thunder game with noted NBA fan Sam Maniscalco last night. He saw the same thing in workouts - a focus on skill development. And that's what this group needs at the moment. You need better ballhandling next season, in particular. Anyway, here's what John Groce told me about the first round of workouts - knowing that it's very early in the process.

“I like the kids a lot. Like we just talked about, they’ve been really coachable, really teachable. That part’s been exciting for me," he said. "They’ve welcomed us. I think their work ethic — in the weightroom or on the court — has been really good. Now it’s easy to do that on Day One or Day Two, but if they can keep the mindset they’ve got now, they can continue to better. They seem like they want to get better. And that’s all you can ask.”

Hope that helps. Klee

Chris Nichols — 01:12 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

How might a John Groce team look in 4 years?  Three guards? Big or small front court?  And also, how will his offense transition with next years team and into the future? Thanks!

Paul Klee — 01:17 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

Chris- Focus on the point guard position. These guys would prefer to have three point guard-types on the roster. Not necessarily three "pure" point guards, but three guys that can do the things a point guard should be able to do. And they've already grown a fondness for Tracy Abrams. They like his toughness and competitive streak. No surprise there - he's a gem. They will be able to recruit more size than they could at Ohio. One of their better players at Ohio, for example, was Jerome Tillman, an All-MAC caliber forward. He was only 6-foot-6 but played bigger. For this next season, until you recruit some more size, I think you'll see Myke Henry get to show what he can do at the 4 positions. If he's comfortable playing the 4 - and Myke is a better rebounder than he's been able to show - I expect he will get significant minutes as a sophomore. The bottom line with a Groce-coached team is this: "I want to play fast," as he put it. So the lineup often will reflect that preference. Klee

RushStreet Illini — 01:21 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

Does it make sense to schedule as many games as possible at the United Center while the Assembly Hall is being renovated? Seems like it could be quite a selling point to the great Chicagoland recruits over the next 2 years....is it possible Illinois could play a half dozen or more games in Chicago during the renovation? Where is Illinois going to play during the renovation or will all the work be complete in offseason? I think Chicago kids would be very open to the idea of being able to play several games per year in the city in front of friends and family.....what are your thoughts Paul?

Paul Klee — 01:27 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

Rush- Appreciate the idea, and we welcome all opinions in this space. But you need to play your home games at home - if at all possible. And if the Illini's recent record there is any indication - without double-checking, since this is a chat, I believe Illinois is 1-5 in its last six games in the Chicago area - I don't think you want any more games in Chicago than you have to. Their past two trips to the United Center, in particular, weren't pretty. Klee

Paul Klee — 01:28 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

Just joking, by the way.  Playing (and winning) games in Chicago is critical to improving the image of Illini basketball. You need a significant presence there. It would be tremendous if - somehow - you could play a Big Ten game at the UC. Wisconsin? Then alternate home games. Klee

foxie@mchsi.com — 01:28 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

Paul, thanks for all the great chats. This is not about Illinois, but about Kentucky. When is the APR finally going to nail Kentucky? Losing 3-5 players early every year has got to kill them sooner or later.

Paul Klee — 01:31 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

Fox- Thanks. Our good friend Brett Dawson, who brought with him a fine bottle of Kentucky bourbon on his most recent visit, says the early entries haven't hurt the 'Cats one iota. As long as they're eligible (and all but Daniel Orton have been), it's a 1-for-1 on the APR. In the most recent APR, Kentucky was tied with Vandy for best in the SEC. Klee

Nathan — 01:34 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012


Outstanding coverage the last several weeks and great call on giving Groce the best odds early on on getting the job.  My question has to do with how the freshmen seem to be connecting with Groce?  It seems a given from your opinion that Jerrance will more than likely leave.  Are they aware of that and what do you think the chances are that all the current freshmen remain at UI in light of what you've seen in their interactions with Groce to this point?  Thanks again for the chats...

Paul Klee — 01:37 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

Nate- At this point none of the freshmen have given an indication they are looking to transfer. And - at this point - I don't expect you will lose any of the freshmen. The key will be when they go home - some to the Chicago area - and hear what people around them have to say. Much of the time - particularly in the past 5-6 years - I've noticed more and more that players don't have as much influence in those decisions as their people. But the feedback I've gotten has been quite positive. Much too early to say for certain, though. And you've only had two workouts so far. Long way to go. Klee

NJ Alum — 01:42 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

Paul, do you get the feeling that Coach Groce understands how important it is to the fan base to have "an Illinois man assistant coaching Illinois"?

It's a shame if there is not a former player or someone with a connection to the school on the staff.

edwardgreen55 — 01:42 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

With the addition of a second assistant coach from Ohio U., it looks more and more like Jerrance is not going to be part of the staff going forward. Who is likely to fill the third assistant coach position for Groce?

Jerrance for President — 01:42 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

Who would you like to see fill the vacant coaching slots?  Who do you think is most likely to fill the vacant coaching slots?  

Chester F — 01:42 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

I think the key announcement from Groce will be who he hires for the third and final assistant coaching vacancy.  Any idea of who that may be, or when we will hear?  He can't be seriously considering hiring Travis Steele after his involvement with the Eric Gordon fiasco?

Naples Bob — 01:42 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

Any guesses on the final assistant coach?

Paul Klee — 01:54 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

All- Thanks for the questions. So we don't answer the same question a dozen times, I bunched you together. Jamall Walker and Dustin Ford (along with John Groce) were at the practice facility and put the players through workouts yesterday. I disagree with the notion you need a "Chicago guy." I heard the same - for months - when Jerrance Howard was hired and the city groaned. Jerrance worked out pretty well, I would say. As for the final assistant, I expect Brandon Miller will be a candidate. (How's that for a new name?) The former Ohio State assistant has Big Ten experience and recruited the region, etc. From the coaches I've talked to around the region, he would be an excellent choice. I'm sure there are other candidates as well. What I gather is that John Groce puts a premium on coaches that can handle all aspects of the game - from running a practice to running a recruitment to player relations - in order to get the most out of his staff. And familiarity and loyalty also seem to be priorities. Klee

Barrington Dan — 01:56 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

Why is everyone in an uproar about the last assistant positions?  Whats your thoughts on this and how will he use the remaining scholarships available for 2012?

Paul Klee — 01:59 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

Dan- Fascinating, isn't it? Right up there with the use of a zone defense and a deep rotation. John Groce has two scholarships available at this point. He won't use them unless it's a no-brainer addition. "Every scholarship is like gold," he said. So he won't take a player simply to fill out the roster. If there is an addition, it likely would be a scoring post presence or another point guard. Klee

Jamie Singler — 02:00 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

Klee: Serious question. You predicted Groce would be the Illinois hire. You didnt speculate on other candidates (Smart/Stevens). Were you tipped off? Be honest.

One more: Will you go to Las Vegas? I could use those predictions luck :)

Okay one more: Is Groce the man to lead us back to the promised land? Thank you!

Paul Klee — 02:05 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

Jamie- It's always a good time for a Vegas trip. As for the prediction... wasn't really tipped off. As for the Internet speculation... Smart and Stevens weren't coming to Illinois. Wasn't happening. I thought John Groce fit the profile, and coaches around the Midwest, guys that I trust, believe he is very good. He'll get players - the kind that fit how he wants to play. And he needs some more of those guys. The first season will be a challenge. Illinois finished 17-15 for a reason, and the centerpiece of the roster is gone to the NBA draft. So we'll see. This will be an excellent offseason to be the beat writer - storylines all over. That's the short answer, going quickly here, hope that helps. Klee

Anonymous User — 02:10 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

Mr. Klee thank you for the best (unbiased) coverage of ILLINI basketball. You tell it like it is which is rare in the "internet age." Please answer: What does Bruce Weber think of Kansas St so far? Did he move yet? Thanks again!

Paul Klee — 02:18 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

Anonymous- In terms of what he found on the roster, I think he's ecstatic. I heard from him this morning, actually, and he likes that it is an exceedingly physical team. That's a very good roster he inherited. The toughness culture already is in place from the previous coach. And Rodney McGruder is a borderline NBA guard. Yes, Bruce Weber is in Manhattan now. His house in Champaign sold in less than four days. (Remarkable considering the housing market right now). He's gone through two workouts - I believe - with the current Wildcats. Former SIU head coach and Illinois assistant Chris Lowery joined him on the flight from C-U to Manhattan - but only after having dinner at Cowboy Monkey in downtown Champaign. Lowery will be an assistant on Weber's staff. They are a benefit to each other and work awfully well together. It is an enviable situation in which to start a new job.

On a related note, Bruce Weber will return to C-U for the annual Illinois basketball banquet next week. (More on that on HQ when this chat is over.) And you will want to buy Sunday's News-Gazette to see Bruce Weber's thank you letter to the Illinois fanbase. Klee

Thad Matta — 02:19 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

Paul: I noticed you werent on "Sports Talk" last night... throwing in the towel now that the season's over? Come on man... youre the reason I listen to the show... I know we (Illini) stunk this year... but dont give up on us yet...

Paul Klee — 02:21 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

Coach- Never would give up on you. The Illinois basketball beat is just getting started. April and May often are two of the busiest (and best) months on this job. Don't worry - I'll be back on Steve Kelly's SportsTalk from 5-6 p.m. Friday. Feel free to call with a question. Klee

Jeff from Darien — 02:28 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

Hey Paul,

Any idea how a coaching transition works as far as recruiting? What can the previous staff take with them as far as prospect names, telephone numbers, etc? Could the previous staff effectively leave the new staff with nothing related to the kids who have already been offered scholarships (and committed)?

Thanks again for your great work!



Paul Klee — 02:33 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

Jeff- There isn't an exchange of phone numbers or anything like that. One significant advantage for this staff is that they've recruited the same areas. For example, assistant coach Jamall Walker is familiar with Chicago and, most notably, St. Louis. He's tight with several AAU staffs, including Wolves, Meanstreets, St. Louis Eagles and Southwest Illinois Jets, for example. You got a bang-up hire there. Here's a prime example: Chicago Simeon junior Kendrick Nunn is on the Illinois campus today. They got him on the Ohio University campus back in the day. Marquette recruit Steve Taylor was on the Ohio campus, as well. So you can see they already have more ties than people believe. And Illinois recruit Malcolm Hill has a visit scheduled for Saturday. Overall, I don't anticipate there will be much of a (recruiting) transition process. Many of those ties are already established. Now you just have to build on them and create others. Klee

Paul Klee — 02:36 PM on Thu, 04/05/2012

Going to wrap this up. Thank you for the questions - apologies to those that didn't get answered. Got to as many as possible in 90 minutes. I have some other stuff I need to finish. Look forward to Sunday's News-Gazette. We'll have an extensive report from John Groce on his first week as the head coach at Illinois. Informative chat today, thanks again. Klee