Ask Illinois basketball beat writer Paul Klee about John Groce's team.
Afternoon everyone. Beat writer Paul Klee joining you for another Illinois basketball chat. The Illini coaches held a workout with the players Tuesday before hitting the recruiting road again today. As always- original questions in this chat are appreciated. Fire away. Klee
Geoce has talked about togetherness and toughness being a theme for this year. Do you see any indication that either of those areas are improving this summer?
Anonymous- Wish I could tell you, but there's no way to identify that in the summer. Ask me after they lose two straight or blow a late lead or come back from a deficit on the road. Those are the sort of scenarios when you learn about a team's toughness.
I asked John Groce last night about his two concerns for the current team. He said A) toughness B) togetherness.
"There’s a difference between liking each other and going to the movies together and being totally in sync and connected on the floor," Groce said. "That’s totally different."
He also didn't classify those as "concerns" but "unknowns." Because he doesn't know yet. All teams say they're a closer unit in the offseason. It's usually just offseason talk. You don't know until they play the games. Klee
I know that John Groce is trying to bring in talented point guards over the next few years, but does HE think that Tracy Abrams is that kind of combo guard that can lead this team next year? I would also like to know if the Illinois big guys like Mclaurin, Egwu, Griffey are going to be good enough for us next year.
Nick- The coaches like that Tracy Abrams is playing with a great deal of confidence right now. He's taking shots he wouldn't take in the past. He's more confident. They like his toughness, that he competes every day. That's why I like him. They'd like him to become a better technical defender. He's a capable defender now because he competes. His shooting percentages (the staff tracks every shot in practice) are improving but need to continue improving. In this system, the point guard needs to be a threat to score. Right now he would probably play 30-plus minutes at the point. The question right now: Who plays the other minutes at the point? Brandon Paul is the most likely candidate but hasn't practiced for roughly one month, so they haven't been able to try him at the spot. They've also worked Joe Bertrand, Devin Langford, even Mike LaTulip at the point - just to see what they're working with. No one has locked it down - but no one has caused John Groce to say, "Well, that's not happening." So it's still open season for the backup point. Illinois has done a bad job recruiting point guards over the past five years. As for your question about the big guys, Sam McLaurin will be in the mix for starter's minutes. That much I'm sure of. Klee
First off, how is Brandon Paul doing?
Second, how do you see Team USA doing in the Olympics?
Third, what current player do you think takes the biggest step this year?
Thanks for the chats.
Anonymous- Here's how Brandon Paul is doing. He was in the gym taking shots yesterday but is waiting to return to contact drills. His jaw's still wired shut. He sometimes mixes steak and A1 sauce in a powerful blender for meals. He's even blended a Chipotle burrito bowl. (Double points for creativity.) Brandon can't wait for a plate of hot wings. As for Team USA, I expect most opponents will go Wisconsin on them and make it a long-possession, halfcourt game. I don't expect they will have a loss in London. I love the small lineup for this group - better than the traditional lineup. John Groce watched Deron Williams in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. Here's what Groce said about D-Will. The biggest leap? Right now I would say Nnanna Egwu. He's been a workout king - but it's anyone's guess how that translates into games. Klee
There was a lot of complaining about Bruce Weber's sideline demeanor. Groce seemed to be equally demonstrative when he was at Ohio. I figure surely they yell and jump around for a good reason, not just because they can't help themselves or want to micro-manage. Has either coach explained what they are trying to accomplish with all the yelling and gesturing? Is it effective? Has anyone asked the players if they can hear and follow the coach during play? Maybe some of the fans' complaints could be thwarted if the coaches and players had a chance to explain. . .
Illini- Not sure I can answer your question. My best - if Bruce Weber had won more games, fewer people would complain about his sideline demeanor, his voice or his recruiting. It comes down to winning; he didn't win enough and he got fired. The rest is nit-picking. If John Groce doesn't win enough games, people will nit-pick. He just needs to win. To answer your other question, yes, I have asked players many times, and yes, players notice a coach's sideline demeanor. They're not robots. Hope that helps. Klee
What impact do you see the PSU scandal having on PSU's men's basketball team? It won't help with recruiting. Also, you asked a question (rhetorical, I think) on the Sportspage show about Ed Decehllis leaving and if he knew what was coming. Further thoughts on that?
Pat- I don't know if Ed DeChellis knew anything like that. I doubt it, but I don't know him like that, so I won't comment. Coach DeChellis was always exceedingly generous with me, whether it was after a game or during a phone interview for Blue Ribbon/Athlon or whatever. I liked him as the coach at Penn State. As for your first question, I (and several coaches that I've talked to about it) see this ship going one of two ways: Either the university puts more resources into the basketball program and makes it a priority and the program rises up, or the entire department comes crashing down and PSU basketball goes with it. Basketballwise, I like their backcourt next season. Tim Frazier is a problem, and D.J. Newbill is a talented transfer from Southern Miss. As for Penn State, in general, I rarely trust people that seem too good to be true or say things like "we do things the right way" or consider themselves a "beacon." You shouldn't have to broadcast that, it should just be evident, right? The entire situation at Penn State is just so very sad, and hopefully the victims aren't forgotten in this mess. That's the short answer. Klee
Why doesn't the B10 and ACC play a different school each year until every school has played each other?
Anonymous- Those are made-for-TV matchups, so ESPN makes the pairings competitive. They don't want UNC-Northwestern. They want UNC-Ohio State. Makes sense, and I usually appreciate the pairings they come up with. On a related note, Illinois learns at 11 a.m. Thursday who it will play in Maui. Klee
Who do we have a legitmate shot at landing the next couple of years?
Nunn, Alexander, Okafar... no chance
Ennis, Jackson.... starting to blow up nationally, now a lot less of chance
JE- Right now - and these things change from week-to-week - I don't expect the first three that you listed (Nunn, Alexander, Okafor) will play at Illinois. And that's through no fault of the new staff. As for the others, you've got a good relationship with Tyler Ennis (an ideal point guard for that Phoenix system) and there's a good chance you'll get a visit. And few coaches are certain where they stand with Demetrius Jackson, who keeps his process under wraps. Most coaches believe Notre Dame remains the leader. Then again, he hasn't committed to Notre Dame or Michigan State, so he could be looking for a different type of situation. Illinois is still actively recruiting both point guards. Don't discount the Kentucky factor. If UK gets involved, all bets are off. Klee
These chats are always very informative. Thanks for having them.
About how many men's season basketball ticket does Illinois sell?
Konnie- Thanks. Do me a favor - send this question next week. I'll get an answer for you. Klee
Hi Paul. Thanks for the great updates this summer on Illini hoops. Feelslike season will be before we know it! I was wondering if you could provide some updates on Mike Shaw, Mike Henry, and Ibby... I really haven't heard a lot about their progress this summer under Groce. Maybe I'm off here but they don't strike me as the type of players Groce will be recruiting. Are they improving and more importantly can they (at least 2 out of 3, prob not Ibby) significantly contribute this year under the new staff? If so, seems like could tilt some key games our way throughout the season. Or do these guys feel like they're future isn't here and can we expect them to transfer? Many thanks!
Double- Had a great conversation with Mike Shaw on Tuesday. He's a pleasure. We'll profile him in Sunday's News-Gazette. He's dropped roughly 15 pounds (down to 215) and has improved his weightlifting numbers. The coaches aren't certain where he will fit in, so I'm certainly not certain. But we'll update his situation. Wrote about Myke Henry last week. Read about him here. Myke enjoys these summer workouts because they are offense-oriented. Klee
I know that we are a ways away from Midnight Madness, but It seems that a number of schools use this as a recruiting tool to help lure top prospects to their program. Are there any major plans by the new staff to make this a huge deal this year?
Brave- You've got the Bulls-Cavs game on Oct. 12 - the first day of official practice for the Illini. Players can attend the game but must purchase their own ticket. Perhaps they'll hold an open practice. That's been discussed. But it won't be a "huge deal," and it shouldn't be after last season. I've written many times before, the poorly attended Illini Madness events of years past didn't help. Few programs can pull off a successful (and helpful) Madness event - those coming off a Sweet 16-type season or the blue-blood, traditional powers. Need to win again first. Klee
A two parter for you Mr. Klee, is the staff looking at Kyle Davis as a potential 2013 point guard if other options (Jackson, Ennis, etc.) fail and what do you thing our chances would be getting him? Secondly, is Karrington Ward still a viable option for 2013 and what are the advantages of offering a JC down the road for future classes?
Bob- No, don't expect Davis will be an option at PG. Yes, Ward is still an option. Illinois is recruiting him. Going the juco route hasn't been John Groce's M.O. in the past - he only took one juco prospect in four years at Ohio. But if he thinks a guy can help, he'll take him. On a related note, Illinois is in better shape with Semi Ojeleye (2013, 6-6, SF) than people suspect. You have a good chance to get a visit and see where it goes from there. I also expect Sean O'Mara (2014, 6-8, PF/C) will get a longer look in this final weekend of the July evaluation period. The Benet Academy standout right now is your best bet for an in-state big man in the next two classes. I expect John Groce will be in Las Vegas to spend some time evaluating Sean O'Mara. This staff is organized and knows what it's doing on the recruiting trail. It's more a matter of time of when (rather than if) it gets players. The biggest issues, right now, are A) rebuilding the perception of the program B) the lack of high-level point guards in their breadbasket. It's a thin crop of PGs. Klee
Going to wrap this up. Good chat today - thanks to your questions. Apologies to those that didn't get answered; I've got some deadlines to beat. I'll be on SportsTalk from 5-6 p.m. tonight if you have other questions. And a full page of college basketball coming in Sunday's News-Gazette. Thanks again. Klee