"John Groce allows his players to use Twitter during the season, provided they tweet in a responsible way. Bless him for allowing that freedom."
That's a sample of what beat writer Paul Klee had to say during his weekly chat Wednesday.
Afternoon everyone. Paul Klee joining you for another Illinois basketball chat. Plenty to talk about, originality is a virtue, be here for about an hour, fire away.
Any chance Illinois gets involved from the kit that de-comitted to Indiana? What are the odds Nunn ends up an Illini? Love the chats!! Keep up the excellent Illini coverage.
Anonymous- Illinois will do its homework with Trey Lyles, check around, see where he stands. The UI staff has recruiting history with his teammates in the past. I don't expect it will go anywhere, though. Several coaches I've talked to said the same thing - they don't know about Lyles' recruitment, because he was never really recruited. Committed early and rival coaches figured it was over, so they didn't mess with him. Several coaches said Kentucky will be involved. Odds with Nunn? Same as I've said for months - not good. That could change, and Illinois will continue to recruit the family. Klee
It sounds like we will be in until the end with Ennis, Jackson, and Nunn. If we can get only one of those three guys, which one would you want and why?
Wayne- Demetrius Jackson would be my guy. NBA-level athlete, wants to beat you, plays how John Groce wants to play, Illinois staff is enamored with him. He's their kind of personality. His signing would break down the Indiana barrier, too. I expect you will see Demetrius Jackson on the Illinois campus in early September. Hope that helps. Klee
I am excited to see what Sam Mclarin brings to the table. Do you know if he is a "back to the basket" guy or a "face-up" guy, or both? It appears we are only going to be as good as our front line. Your thoughts?
Big Dave- Not really a scorer. More of a rebounding and defense guy. That's what the coaches like about him - he embraces the role of a shot-blocker, rebounder, screen-setter. Need one of those because you don't have an established one. Coaches liked that McLaurin often defended the perimeter (out of necessity) in the guard-oriented Big South. Don't expect big scoring numbers from him. That will be the question with McLaurin - can he score to force the opponent to guard him. But he could get 6-8 points simply on garbage points. It's a good point you make about the frontcourt. I think, however, you're only going to be as good as Brandon Paul. Klee
It seems like the past few years, Illinois teams have been having trouble always getting beaten off the first step while we are on defense, even against teams that seem to have inferior talent and athleticism. Do you think that a less aggressive on ball defense that Groce plans to employ will result in fewer times that we are beaten off the dribble? I think this will help in our 3 point defense because in the past we have had to rotate to help the defender who was beat and our opponent was left with open 3 point shots.
Nick- You win, man. Great point. Quick, attacking point guards have given Illinois trouble for years. Since I've covered the program, really. Trey Burke ripped 'em. Lewis Jackson, in his final season against Illinois, gave them fits, and that was with a bad knee. The little guy from Cornell got in the lane. He might run the NBA, but he won't play in it. It's what I like about this defensive scheme - for this outfit of players. Groce tells me he won't extend the defense very often. He wants to pack it in, defend the three-point line (a big point of emphasis in team workouts this summer), force turnovers in the halfcourt. Ohio ranked third nationally in steals per game with this approach. You need someone to emerge as a Walt Offutt-type of defender. At Ohio, this staff would challenge Offutt (sometimes at halftime) and he would respond as a dogged defender, sometimes at the expense of his own offense. I hope that's Brandon Paul. Klee
Hi Klee, Thanks for the chats.I just read the updated Scout rankings this morning and see that Demetrius Jackson and Semi Ojeleye have moved into 5-star status. I think its great that the Illni coaching staff is in the thick of the recruiting race with these two players along with the 5-star Tyler Ennis. With that being said, here are my questions:1) If Illinois could get both Demetrius Jackson and Tyler Ennis would they take them both? Or just settle for one and move on?2) If Bruce Weber was still the coach for Illinois, would he would have had a shot of recruiting Demetrius Jackson, Semi Ojeleye and Tyler Ennis? Personally, I doubt it, but want to know your thoughts.3) Malcolm Hill checked in at #65 in the rankings. I feel this kid should be top 30 or top 40. What does this kid need to do to move up in the rankings?
Also, it does seem you are right about the perception of Illinois basketball is better once you get further away from Illinois. I mean if we could get these three 5-star players who are out of state, it would make a HUGE statement to the 5-star players in the state of Illinois past and present (Derrick Rose, Anthony Davis, Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander), that Illinois basketball does not revovle around you.
Thanks again for the chats!
Hodges- For the first question, you won't get both, so don't worry about it. Your best odds are with Jackson, and Illinois is in a good position there. I expect it will come down to Illinois, Notre Dame and Kansas. Like I said a while back, Michigan State won't be a factor there anymore. I expect Kansas will try to get him to Midnight Madness, and Illinois fans shouldn't want to see that happen. I expect he'll be on the UI campus in early September and the coaching staff has built a great relationship. As for Notre Dame, they've been steadfast in his recruitment, not missing a game in July, yet he hasn't committed there. As for the second question, the former staff wouldn't have been involved with Tyler Ennis and Semi Ojeleye, if that's what you're asking. But it also doesn't matter who you're involved with if you don't land them. As for the final question - move him to Chicago. Your ranking gets a boost if you have that area code. I don't like to build guys into something they're not, Illinois recruits are overhyped too often, but Malcolm Hill is a better college prospect than several players ranked above him. Klee
Paul, you know our recruits pretty well. Which one do you think would respond most favorably to a tweet from an Illini Coach that read. "I have been thinking about you alot since last weekend. A whole lot."??
Anonymous- I've been in this deal for a while, and I don't know of any prospects that would respond well to that sort of - how should I say this - overture. I suppose Tom Crean has a good example if he wants to put in a Twitter ban for his team, however. Speaking of Twitter bans, John Groce allows his players to use Twitter during the season, provided they tweet in a responsible way. Bless him for allowing that freedom. Using Twitter certainly hasn't hindered the Big Ten's most Twitter-friendly program, Ohio State. But there is a responsibility that comes with using Twitter on one of Groce's teams. Example: While on a bus to a road game, one of his former players challenged the opposing fans via Twitter. The player was told not to do it again - and he better back it up on the court. He did, Ohio won, and everything was cool. Klee
PaulWhere do you think we stand on Tyler Ennis?
Chief- Every coach I've spoken with says he's Syracuse's to lose. Klee
Hearing that we have a 2014 in-state recruit on campus today. Any idea who it is?Does Groce have players host recruits like Weber always did?
B- Sure, no problem. Bloomington-Normal's Keita Bates-Diop is scheduled to visit the Illinois campus today. I say 'scheduled' with these visits, because you never know until it happens. I always really liked him, particularly his potential. The 2014 prospect is gradually improving and still has a ways to go, but he's getting there. Helps that he has good coaching around him with Mike Mullins' Illinois Wolves program. How much of a priority is Bates-Diop to the Illinois staff? He's the only 2014 prospect that had an Illinois coach at every game during the July evaluation period. To answer your second question, yes, the Illinois staff incorporates current players on recruiting visits. Every staff I know does that. You get to know a prospect's personality and attempt to pair him with a like-minded current player. If a kid is academics-oriented, you pair him with a good student. If a kid has a friend on the team, you pair him with that guy. If he likes to party, you pair him with your best socialite. Common-sense stuff, basically. Klee
Klee, thanks for the chats they're awesome. I have two questions. 1. What former Illini would you compare Sam McLaurin to, so we can have an idea about what kind of game he has. 2. I saw we were playing Auburn at the United Center, and I looked at their roster to see if they had any good players, and theirs a guy named Josh Langford on their roster. Is he related to Devin Langford? Thanks!
Fighting- Good question. Tough one. I'll have to think about an Illinois comparison. He's not as big or strong as Dallas Lauderdale, but he's comfortable with the shot-blocker/rebounder duties. I guess that would be one, but it's not a good one. Let me think about it. Enjoy his personality, though. Sam McLaurin will be a media favorite. And that's Devin Langford's cousin. Scheduling Auburn at the UC gives Illinois a return game to Devin Langford's homestate. The return game also will be played at a semi-neutral site, Birmingham. Klee
Paul, how is team chemistry? Are their any issues with the rising sophomores and the seniors. I read that the sophs are living together this summer. Do you think Tracy Abrams was elected MVP based on a block vote or did his votes cross class lines?
I know this type of situation was a Bruce Weber concern several years ago.
NJ- Chemistry's almost always good in the summer. Everyone likes everyone, everyone's getting better, everyone's ready to win a championship. Ask me after Illinois goes on a losing streak, or one player begins to receive the headlines, or someone isn't playing as much as he wants to play. Those types of scenarios test team chemistry. Everyone likes everyone in the summer, but I liked what John Groce told me about chemistry:
"How together are we going to be? There’s a difference between liking each other and going to the movies together and being totally in sync and connected on the floor. That’s totally different."
As for the MVP vote, the team didn't think the upperclassmen provided the necessary leadership. That's pretty clear, isn't it? So a freshman was voted Team MVP. Tracy Abrams was the first true freshman to earn MVP honors at Illinois. Cory Bradford won it in 1999, but he was a redshirt freshman. Great thing about basketball, you get another chance to prove you can lead. Klee
Klee: Just wanted to say thanks. Thanks for telling it like it is. Theres no hidden guessing games (recruits, state of program, etc). If i wanted to guess i would play Trivial Pursuit. My question is actually USA. What is your opinion how "Team USA" is playing? Will we win gold. Thanks Klee
J- Thanks. I've enjoyed this U.S. squad. If anything, it's guilty of overpassing at times. The extra pass is nice but sometimes unnecessary. I do wonder, and I could be wrong, that these types of mega-rosters try to prove a point - that they can set their egos aside and be unselfish. So maybe that's where the overpassing comes from. I see Spain as a challenge - or as much of a challenge as there will be - in the medal round. That's a starting lineup with four NBA guys, including a pair of All-Stars in the frontcourt. Problem is, the U.S. has a full roster of NBA guys. I'm fascinated by Deron Williams right now. He seems to add a new element with each game, and sometimes each quarter. One quarter he's a scorer, the next he's a distributor, then he's a scorer again. Among college players, I like the kid from St. Mary's, Matthew Dellavedova, who is playing for Australia. You can watch him today against the U.S. Heck of a point guard.
But back to the question. Yes - Illinois will win gold. On that subject, here's something that John Groce took away from his time with USA Basketball. The Illinois coach told his Illini roster that it must improve how it "talks" on the court:
“Some guys don’t talk more because they don’t know what to say," Groce said. "And you watch a guy like LeBron James. He’s calling out down screens and help situations and telling guys he’s got the gap. He’s just talking. He can think and communicate the game in what I call ‘real time.’ I don’t know if that’s something he’s developed. He stood out with that.
"And the second thing I noticed was how connected they were, how together they were. You could tell Coach K and the staff have gotten them to buy into the idea this is something bigger than themselves. You can tell they understand it’s about the gold medal. And you’ve got a lot of egos.”
Hope that answers your question. Klee
Going to wrap this up. Great chat today - thanks to your questions. I won't be on with Steve Kelly's SportsTalk tonight. He's in Rantoul with the football team. I will be on the show from 5-6 p.m. Thursday. So call then if you have any more questions. Thanks. Klee