When will Meyers Leonard make his Summer League debut? What was John Groce doing at Team USA practice? Is Mike Thomas ready to tear down the Assembly Hall? Ask Illinois beat writer Paul Klee about anything on your mind. Chat is 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Afternoon everyone. Time for another Illinois basketball chat. This one comes from a top-secret, remote location. The Illinois coaches are on the road today for the July evaluation period that begins at 5 p.m. One coach was on his way to Indianapolis (Mav Morgan, Demetrius Jackson, others, are there) about an hour ago. As always - originality with your questions is appreciated. Try to keep this thing fresh. I'll be here for about an hour or until my coffee runs out. Klee
How do you think Crandall Head would have fit into Coach John Groce's new system? I wonder if both Crandall Head and John Gorce are having second thoughts, or transfer's remorse, about his transfer from UIUC to SMU.
Spokie- I don’t think it would be a good fit. Ballhandling and decision-making would need to improve. I think there’s a misconception about John Groce’s system, that it excels with athletes that run fast and jump high. Actually, you need skilled players that can dribble, pass and shoot. On defense, Groce doesn't extend the pressure and deny passing lanes. It's a packed-in defense. "It's totally different. It's packed," D.J. Richardson told me the other day. Back to Crandall. He had intentions of transferring from Illinois a full year prior to his actual transfer. Jerrance Howard did a good job talking him into staying, even though it didn't work out in the end. I’m hoping you see a great final run from him at SMU. Always enjoyed him from a media perspective, going back to our visit at his Richton Park home where he showed us all of Luther's memorabilia. At SMU he will be given the necessary playing time to show we he can do. Look forward to seeing how it plays out. SMU has its work cut out right now. Klee
What's up with the photo of John Groce at the USA Basketball practice. Did he and Deron talk? Would love to know that the program is still in good shape with our Olympian.
K- Yes, John Groce was in Las Vegas for the senior national team's training camp. Spent some time around Coach K and his staff, watching practices. The open scrimmages were the most impressive part of the experience. Groce got an invitation from USA Basketball luminary Jerry Colangelo, who was indirectly involved with the coaching search. Mike Thomas talked to Colangelo a few times during that process. And that's a big thing - to get an invite like that from Colangelo. He's as influential as there is in the game. I talked to him a couple times during the search, just to get his opinion on matters, and it was readily apparent Mr. Colangelo has a sincere interest in the state of Illinois basketball. Perhaps most important - from an Illini perspective - Groce spent time with Deron Williams. They really need to keep D-Will involved with the program. To me, his career is only beginning. I don't think he's peaked yet. Playing in Brooklyn, the personal brand that D-Will has created will only grow in stature. Hope that helps. Klee
Klee and fellow Illini fans Hello...I was reading a article on ESPN about Illinois pushing the pace, and i wanted to know what your thoughts were...I know that the old is out and in with the new...but in your eyes, was last years team and this years team more suited to push the pace of the game..I know they can't run the entire game..and they will have to set up in a half court offense,but turnovers aside, should they push the pace with the players on the roster now...
Lamont- Don't expect this roster will be able to play the kind of tempo John Groce prefers. You might see it from time to time, but you need more ballhandlers to pull that off. And Groce has told me a few times he probably won't be able to play at the speed he wants, but he's still going to play that way (at times) so he can showcase (for recruits) the style that he ultimately will play at Illinois. And he's attempting to acclimate the current roster to his style of play by using different tactics in workouts. This is going to be a process. Talking to D.J. Richardson the other day, he said the central focus of his workouts (with assistant coach Jamall Walker) has been ballhandling. Richardson - a huge fan of these workouts - works mainly against Tracy Abrams in that setting. We'll have more on those workouts in Sunday's News-Gazette. Klee
So I see Meyer's playing in Summer league at games are being televised on NBAtv. I believe the following former Illini are also playing on summer teams:
Jamar Smith - Boston
Demitri McCamey - Chicago
Dee Brown - Dallas
Did I miss anyone? Do you see any realistic show of those guys making next year's respective roster?
Don- Yes, we wrote about that on Sunday. And Jamar Smith was in the Celtics' camp back in the day. He hit it off with Shaq, of all people. To answer your question, Demetri McCamey has the best chance. He's a ball-screen point guard trying to make it in a ball-screen league. Klee
Paul, Thanks for the chats! With only one walk-on and one graduate student transfer coming in this fall and the H.S. graduating class of 2012 pretty well gone, will Groce add anyone via the JUCO route or will he stand pat?
John- Doubtful at this point. If someone emerges - and they think he can help - they'll take him. There's a need and there's room. They like what Sam McLaurin brings. Right now he'd be in that 3.5-man big man rotation and would be competing for starter's minutes. John Groce likes McLaurin's versatility on defense - that he often defended perimeter players in the Big South, a guard's league. Don't know if he'll be able to score. Maybe he can get 7-8 points simply on offensive rebounds, tip-ins, garbage stuff. We'll see. I like his personality and expect he'll be a media favorite. And here's hoping Sam continues to tweet at 2 a.m. Klee
I know that there are AAU tournaments all over in July. Will the coaching staff be splitting up to go to the different tournaments, or will they be at the same tournament watching different games? Who are some of the recruits that Coach Groce and his staff have not made an offer too, that they really want to take a look at during this July evaluation period? Is there any scenerio where someone like Brandon Miller will be at some of the AAU tournaments evaluating talent?
Brave- Got your money's worth with that lineup of questions. First one: coaches will be split up at different sites, but there will be scenarios (Indianapolis on Friday or Saturday) when you'll have two coaches at the same time. John Groce will spend more time on 2015 guys that he did in April. He mainly focused on '13s and '14s in April. Second one: There are several prospects that will be evaluated to see if they deserve an offer. For this new staff, there's an emphasis on evaluation during this evaluation period. They're still determining who deserves an offer and who doesn't. What I like is that they won't take players based on hype - they're working, more or less, with a clean slate. If he plays well in July, he might get an offer. If he doesn't, see ya. One guy that will get a better look is Jaylon Brown, a 2013 combo guard out of Fishers, Ind. And there are others. Last question: The only way Brandon Miller would be on the road is if something happened to one of the other coaches. Then the Illini could get an NCAA waiver that would allow him on the road. The former staff got a waiver a few times with Sean Harrington and Chester Frazier. As of today, Miller is planning on being in C-U for July. Hope that helps. Klee
Paul, love the info you always provide us B-ball junkies during this time of year. Do you believe Devin Langford, Ibby and Mike Shaw will have productive careers at the U of I? Is Mike LaTulip a good enough shooter to see time off the bench? Looking forward to your observations of the July evaluation period.
John- My pleasure. All three have a ways to go before they become contributors. Each needs to find a niche - one thing they do really well. I'm always impressed by NBA guys that found their niche and ride it through a 10-, 14-year pro career. Brian Cardinal's a great example. Kyle Korver's another. I'm watching Kenneth Faried last season and he blows me away. He's got more than a little Rodman to his game. So that's a roundabout way to say, "Guys, find that one thing you're good at. And be great at it." To answer your other question, don't expect LaTulip will see time. But he's still pursuing a dream. Nothing wrong with that. Klee
Hello again Paul,
A lot of questions about this years upcoming big ten basketball finish. Do you think Illinois has a surprise run in them because of change in direction in basketball philosophy? It seems the most effective way to get production out of what we have would favor Coach Gross system. Also, I don't seem to be one who would jump on the Indiana bandwagon just yet. I stlll believe it is much easier to defeat the hoosiers on their home court, than at any time during Knights tenure. It seems as if the mystique has run out on Assembly Halls intimidating factors. What is your take and do you think that this mostly was a Knight factor?..
Bill- Hope I'm following correctly. To answer, Illinois will be the toughest team to peg in the Big Ten heading into next season. That's par for the course with a new coach, but I think it's emphasized because you had a bipolar team last season. Last time you saw them play in a game situation, it was quite possibly the worst performance I've seen in six years, and that's saying something. Still trying to delete the Iowa game from my basketball memory. You earn a top-six finish and NCAA tournament berth next season, that would be a heck of a start to the John Groce era. As for the Indiana question, I trust you haven't attended a game over there recently. That Assembly Hall is the most - how should I put this - influential homecourt advantage in the Big Ten. That environment plays a role in the outcome of every game. I remember one fan - probably in his 70s - swearing at Bruce Weber because the Illinois coach was wearing sneakers with his suit. It was, of course, Coaches vs. Cancer weekend, when coaches were sneakers with their suit. And it was one of the rare moments Bruce Weber responded to a fan during a game. He told him it was for Coaches vs. Cancer, and the entire interaction was quite funny. Back to your question. If anything, the homecourt advantage has increased under Tom Crean because of how he plays to the emotions of the crowd. I've got some great photos on my phone of Tom Crean hanging out with the student section before home games. He stirs them into a tizzy. For what it's worth, D.J. Richardson listed Indiana third among the opponents he most wants to beat next season. I'll list the others on Sunday. Hope that helps. Good question. Klee
Klee it seems that your very close to the new staff/Jon Groce. Since they're hired all the big news comes from news gazette. Now I read your story on Brandon Miller? If he's great why isnt he still coach at tO$U??? Just seems like your being a fan and not objective
Media- I think highly of Brandon Miller's knowledge of the game. He's sharp. He's overqualified for his position at Illinois. Put it this way. Ohio State is the benchmark in the Big Ten right now, and Miller had worked with Thad Matta at Ohio State for six seasons, so that would mean he'd be a top assistant at any of the other 11 programs in the Big Ten, right? Now he's in a non-coaching, no-off-campus-recruiting position at Illinois. It was a coup for John Groce to convince his close friend back into the game. Groce was Miller's position coach at Butler, they shared an office at Xavier and their relationship is why Miller left a high-paying job in sales to return to basketball. And thanks - first time in a while I've been called a fan. Usually it's the other way, that I'm too critical. I like that balance. Thanks for the question. Klee
I have a wager with a friend. I say Meyers Leonard will be in the D league at least once during his contract, my friend says no way. Who will be correct?
Hitch- I like your style. Your friend will win. Go ahead and pay him now. I expect Meyers Leonard makes an impact sooner than most expect. Klee
Thanks, Paul, for the chats. We have heard a lot of interesting comments and analysis about the importance of a dynamic point guard to the Groce system. You've mentioned (don't mean to mistate your views) how he needs to be not just a good ball handler, passer and facilitator, but also someone who can drive and score. If Coach Groce is saying he really needs good point guard, how is that any different than any team saying it needs a good point guard? A truly dynamic point guard will be in demand by Top 10 teams, so is there some reason to think such a player would want to play in this system? I have lots of confidence in Coach Groce as he apparently he got dynamic point guards to come to Ohio. Does the Groce system allow a point guard to showcase himself in a way that playing for a top 10 team would not.
Derek- It's a legitimate question. I'll go quickly. What John Groce was saying in our article - find it here - is that his system is so dependent on a dynamic point guard. And the point guards he's had - from Lionel Chalmers to Mike Conley Jr. to Mike Allen to D.J. Cooper - flourished in his system. This system gives them a great deal of freedom. Their history with point guards is a big part of their recruiting pitch: "Look at our history with point guards." His ideal guy is a little different, however, in that he has to be a scoring threat. Everything they do comes off the ball screen, and if the point guard isn't a scorer, the defender gets the edge. The recruitment of a point guard is the biggest story of their recruiting efforts over the next 2-3 years. Hope that helps. Klee
Hi Klee thanks for chatting. First let me say your are the best source for ILLINI info anywhere. So this isn't mean as an "attack" on you. But you have always been a big supportor of Tracy Abrams since he committed. Are you just being a "fan" or do you really think TA is as good as you think he is?? I have doubts
Jim- To hopefully answer your question, Tracy Abrams has the intangibles to be a leader. Comes natural to him. That's what I've always liked about him as a lead guard. I also know his roots, I've seen where he came from, that life wasn't easy, and yet he's still a no-excuses guy. He appreciates what he's been given. On the court he needs to become a ballhandler, especially in traffic, and a better decision-maker. He needs to defend better. Guys get past him too easily. Right now he defends because he's a competitor, but he's not a great defender in technique. He knows all of that. Right now he would play 30-plus minutes, and he needs to be ready (and healthy) for that. Right now he's playing with a great deal of confidence. He's taking shots in pickup games that he wouldn't have taken before. He's drinking that John Groce Kool-Aid. In the minority, but I think Tracy Abrams is going to be a better, more complete player than most people expect. He just needs to continue improving. Klee
Going to wrap this up. Another chat in the books. Full page of college basketball coverage coming in Sunday's News-Gazette. You'll read D.J. Richardson's take on the new workouts and some other stuff that I haven't written yet. Good chat today - appreciate the questions. Thanks. Klee