Who picks Meyers Leonard? Who gets the assistant coach's job? Was that really Jabari Parker on Green Street over the weekend? Ask N-G beat writer Paul Klee about John Groce's team. This week's chat is 12:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Afternoon everyone. Beat writer Paul Klee joining you for another Illinois basketball chat - all the basketball info fit for a Tuesday in June. Try to get to as many questions as possible in the next hour. Fire away. Klee
Under Bruce Weber we were used to seeing a lot of off-the-ball screens, constant movement (well, in Bruce's earlier years, that is), and multiple passes per posession.
I didn't get a chance to watch any Ohio basketball games when Groce was the head coach. How is his half-court offense different? What can we expect in the half-court?
Anonymous- Sure, we'll start it off with a bang. First, these guys lean heavily on the point guard. And they prefer to have two quality ballhandlers (playmakers) on the court at the same time. You saw that with D.J. Cooper and James Kinney Jr. early in John Groce's tenure at Ohio. You can see in their recruiting patterns that they are looking to add as many ballhandlers as possible. That is the weakness of this team. They would like to add (at least) one more ballhandler, and that could be Nic Moore - if not two more - this offseason. This is an offense heavy on ball screens. When Ohio University was playing its best, D.J. Cooper and Walt Offutt were coming off ball screens and getting to the basket. That's why Cooper and Offutt were 1-2 in free throw attempts for the Bobcats. That's an area where guys like Brandon Paul and Joe Bertrand can see their scoring numbers increase - by getting to the foul line more often. The two main issues with this roster: there isn't an established post presence and there aren't enough ballhandlers. Second, Groce has shown that he will adapt to fit the personnel. His first season at Ohio, the Bobcats didn't go as deep into their bench as they did later in his four years. He told me the other day that in a perfect rotation he would play nine guys double-digit minutes - last season at Ohio, nine players saw at least 11 minutes per game - but that depends on whether he has nine guys that are good enough to play that many minutes. Right now he would have an eight-man rotation. They're searching for that ninth guy - and summer and fall workouts will help decide who that is. And while he will adapt to fit the personnel, he's going to showcase his style of play in 2012-13 - even if it isn't perfect for this roster. He wants fans and recruits to see how he wants to play. This style of play is a selling point for the future of the program. That was long-winded, but I liked the question, and we'll move forward now. Klee
Paul, is there any way that Leonard is taken before the 11th pick? Also, when is Jabari Parker supposed to cut down his list of schools?
Anonymous- Yes on your first question. I can't name 10 guys I would take ahead of Meyers Leonard. Several scouts have told me the same. (I should note that others worry about his college production - why didn't he get more touches? - and think he'll go in the 20s.) I think he goes higher than projected (mid- to late-teens). Thoroughly enjoyed his interviews after his workout with the Blazers. Looking back to when Meyers was a high school senior or college freshman, it's remarkable to see how he has matured in a media setting. Back then it was jokes and nerves. Now his interviews are mature and thoughtful. And those matter. He was well-schooled on the Blazers roster and where they pick in the draft, for example. So he did his homework. Here's another nugget: Yesterday, Meyers Leonard had a workout with Tyler Zeller (UNC), John Henson (UNC) and Terrence Jones (UK). And he had excellent reviews. As for Jabari Parker, the Parkers have been consistent in saying they will go through the entire process before making a decision. That means they won't cut a list until the fall, at the earliest. And it could be later than that. Klee
this is from Sundays paper:
"Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas indicated the school hopes to have blueprints for the Assembly Hall renovations by the end of the summer."
Has that not been the plan for the last few summers? Will we finally be moving forward in hearing more plans about the renovations?
Brian- I am simply the messenger. Until there are shovels in the ground, I'll be skeptical. Loren Tate tells me they've talked about renovating the Assembly Hall for decades. The delays go back to its birth - the opening of the Assembly Hall was delayed due to a worker's strike and a particularly miserable winter. But yes, Mike Thomas said he hopes to have blueprints by the end of the summer. You can learn more about the Assembly Hall's history - and how it usually takes longer than anticipated - by reading this. Klee
Is there any interest in hiring Deon Thomas as assistant coach? Hows Devon Langford doing don't hear anything about him?
Jman- To answer your first question, there will be interest, because John Groce has told me numerous times he would like to add a former Illini in some capacity. But I don't expect he will be the eventual hire. Right or wrong, they would prefer an established recruiter. To answer your second question, Devin Langford would be a guy fighting for minutes in that eighth or ninth spot in the rotation. Langford and the rest of the players will return to campus Thursday or Friday. They will work the parent-child camps that are Friday-Saturday and Saturday-Sunday. And summer workouts begin Monday. Rayvonte Rice, Joe Bertrand and D.J. Richardson have been on campus and working out together for a while now. Klee
Looking at 2013, it seems like a Kendrick Nunn commit would be a big deal, from a purely basketball standpoint with pairing him with Malcolm Hill, but also from the perception standpoint, as Nunn was a player that Illinois wasn't going to get with Bruce Weber. What is the timeline for Nunn making a decision and who else is involved? Who is the "leader" there?
Other question-the emergence of Joe Bertrand was one of the few bright spots last season, with 2 years left, does he project even better in a more uptempo system?
Thanks for all your hard work
Ty- The Nunn family has said they will go through the process and I don't expect a decision any time soon. They enjoy the process. A commitment from Nunn would be as important with perception as it would be with his ability. Okay player, but it would be just as big from a perception standpoint, in landing a Simeon guy with plenty of hype behind him. The staff has a good relationship with the family, evidenced by his campus visit to Ohio University back in the day. They haven't announced a leader to this point. And the loss of Isaac Chew didn't hurt you with Kendrick Nunn. As for your second question, the coaches expect a great deal from Joe Bertrand. He would be the sixth man - playing starter's minutes - if the season started today. (And I wish it did.) The coaches like that he fits into a ball-screen offense and can get to the basket. The concern is how opposing defenses will guard him. After his outbursts against Missouri and Minnesota last season, teams changed how they guarded him. Purdue didn't guard him. They made him shoot. I expect an uptick in Joe's numbers as a fourth-year junior. This scheme fits him. Klee
Outside of Jabari Parker who is in own category, is there a recruit that's a key to the future of where John Groce wants to take the program to? Is there a 5th year point guard out there to help fill the role behind Abrams?
Duece- Outside the usual suspects in '13 and '14? I'd say a Nic Moore/Demetrius Jackson type. Nic Moore has proven he can produce against postseason-caliber competition. And you need ballhandlers, badly. Some would say Moore is a bridge-the-gap guy; I think he's better than that, as do several high-major assistants I've talked to. He would fit in quite well with John Groce's plan, and Illinois will continue to push for the Illinois State transfer. I expect Nic Moore will be on the SMU campus this week, and I expect Illinois will try to get him on campus next week. I don't expect Purdue will be on the final list, but that could change. The Illinois staff has a relationship with Moore. Assistant coach Jamall Walker was their lead recruiter on the point guard at Ohio, and Groce has those Indiana ties. As for fifth-year seniors, Wright State transfer Julius Mays was the best prospect in that regard. He's going to Kentucky. As for other visits, I think you'll see Maverick Morgan on the Illinois campus early next week, along with visits from East Chicago guard Hyron Edwards and Springfield Lanphier combo guard Larry Austin Jr. Thanks. Klee
Why are we still talking about Meyers Leonard? Yes he is tall and reportedly has great potential, but he was mostly a disappointment while playing for the Illini, especially in relation to the hype. He had some good games in his sophomore season but made costly mistakes and did not dominate the league as you would expect of a future NBA first round pick (and some even talking lottery pick!).
George- Thanks for writing in. I don't know what to tell you. We will have to disagree. Opposing teams game-planned around stopping Meyers Leonard. He routinely was the first player mentioned when I talked to other Big Ten teams about the Illini roster. "He's a problem," as one assistant always would say. As for your question about dominating the league, UConn early entrant Andre Drummond averaged 10 points and seven rebounds and is regarded as the top center prospect in this draft. Meyers averaged 13 and 8 while not getting enough touches. So college production isn't the only factor under consideration. He needs to mature in several areas and likely will take several seasons to work into an NBA rotation. But John Groce would give up coffee to have him back. Klee
Ok We still need a backup bigman 6'10" or taller and a backup point guard for the 2012-2013 season. I have seen no movement or talk on either of these positions. The transfers are great but all fans know what we need position wide. Does Groce have any plans to fill at least one if not both of the postions before the season starts? I do not want the excuse of how valuable scholarships are or the right fit. I just want to know if they are even talking or offering to anyone who can play in the 2012-2013 season at these positions. BTW wins are valuable. Tracy and Nana are valuable. Last I believe Deon Thomas stated how much he loved the Illini. How serious is his consideration for Asst Coach.
Big- I would say there has been plenty of talk of immediate additions. That, along with the assistant coaching search, has been the main talking point, in fact. If there were a high school senior that could help and was available, John Groce would recruit him. There are limited options at this point, particularly in-state. It has been a rough few years for basketball in this state, and that goes for available players and for the college teams that are obligated to recruit them. Think about these numbers... There are 13 Division I teams in Illinois. Nine had losing records. Their combined overall record: 150-256. Five Illinois teams finished last in their conference. Those 13 teams averaged over 20 losses. And sast season was the second time in three years the state of Illinois didn't produce and NCAA tournament team. Illinois State projects to be the most highly regarded in-state team heading into next season. And the Redbirds didn't have an Illinois player among their top seven. (Please note: Didn't say Illinois State will be the state's best team, only that it projects to be. Thank you.) I think that speaks to the state of basketball in the state recently. And Illinois will continue to look for another addition - or two - to the current roster. Thanks for writing in. Klee
What are the Illini's realistic chances on landing Tyler Ennis? And also, even though Big Ten scoring is traditionally low. Will we see a dramatic increase in overall ppg next year under a faster paced offense?
Anonymous- Syracuse is the team to beat for Tyler Ennis. Illinois has a relationship there, but Jim Boeheim's staff is in tight. As for your second question, actually, I do expect a slight increase. You have some guys now that would prefer a quicker tempo - Fran McCaffery, Tom Crean, John Groce, to name a couple. Will it be "dramatic?" No, the quicksand schemes at Wisconsin, etc., will limit the pace in those games. It is easier to force a deliberate tempo than a fast one. The last time a Big Ten team averaged more than 80 points - in conference games - was 1998 (Purdue). Indiana led the league in scoring last season at 72.8 per game. And those are not tempo-free numbers so they don't tell the whole story, obviously. Hope that helps. Klee
Paul, I always look forward in reading your chats every week. Thank you for your time. As a true Illini fan, Groce is saying all the right things and he must be applauded for making the comments that he wants the the right people at Illinois that want to be at Illinois! It has been very quiet in regards to the assistant coach search and player development. What is the latest that you are hearing in regards to potential true candidates for the assistant coach job and how are we fairing with the development of our current roster.
Aaron- Thanks. Don't know that it's been quiet. We've written about the coaching search quite a bit. Houston assistant Daniyal Robinson should be on the short list. He's recruited the area from the Big 12, has pulled players out of Chicago (and his sister lives there, for what it's worth) and would open doors elsewhere, which, to me, is a big key. You want to emphasize Chicago - but you don't want to overemphasize Chicago. And recruiting for Illinois is a dream situation for Robinson, as he's from Rock Island. I've had several high-major coaches call to say he's the right guy. Another name is Derek Thomas, who spent a brief time on the Illinois staff with Lon Kruger and is an assistant at Detroit. He once helped recruit Larry Hughes to Saint Louis University. I expect Paris Parham, formerly of Illinois State, will be on the interview list, as well. He brings those Chicago ties. Like I've written, this will be about fit vs. perception. Do you get a guy that is the right fit or do you get one that is for perception in Chicago? If you hire someone that can get those players on campus, I feel comfortable saying John Groce will close the deal. It's interesting. When these openings happen, you learn a lot about the head coach - through rival coaches. And the feedback on John Groce has been impressive. For now, Groce is on holiday in Florida before attending his brother's wedding. But he is looking over and researching (calling references and coaching confidantes) candidates for the position. I expect you will see the process heat up next week. As for player development, that continues Monday with summer workouts. Thanks. Klee
We've gone over - going to wrap this up. Informative chat today - thanks to your questions. I'll be on with Steve Kelly's SportsTalk from 5-6 p.m. tonight. I believe Illinois assistant Jamall Walker will join us tonight. As the SLU point guard, he went 1-1 against Illinois. Call with any more questions you might have. Thanks. Klee