Is Indiana really going to be No. 1 in the first AP poll? What does Illinois have to do to crack the top 25? And has John Groce settled on a starting lineup? Ask Paul Klee, who is chatting at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. Submit questions any time.
Good afternoon everyone. Beat writer Paul Klee joining you for another Illinois/Big Ten/NBA basketball chat. Feel free to broaden the spectrum so we don't get bogged down with repetition. I'll go in order. I had a lengthy conversation with John Groce this week, and that will publish in Sunday's News-Gazette. So you can learn what makes the new coach tick as the Illini prepare to open practice on Oct. 12. He puts great emphasis on statistics, for one, and talked in detail about his approach to recruiting. But for now - fire away. Be here for about an hour. Klee
How long do the illini coaching staff usually stay at a football game with a recruit? The reason that I ask is that I am afraid that the unhappiness of our fanbase with the football team and coaching staff could hurt John Groce's recruiting when our fans are booing our team and leaving long before the game is over! What kind of impression does that give a kid of our University?
can't wait for the season to start
Wait- Thanks. Depends on the recruit/time/situation. On his official visit, Austin Colbert attended roughly the first half of Saturday’s football game. Kendrick Nunn was there for about a half before returning to John Groce’s office and committing to the Illini. Michael Finke, who was on an unofficial visit and has a genetic obligation to be an Illinois football fan, stayed for the duration of Saturday’s game. So they tailor it to fit the prospect. And that jibes with their detailed approach to recruiting visits — just like John Groce has a tempo to his practices, he prefers recruiting visits to be on the move, upbeat, comprehensive. People wonder how football affects basketball recruiting. I've found that good football and a good crowd can help, but I’ve found that bad football doesn't necessarily hurt. Myke Henry loved Michigan and was close to committing after attending a football game in Ann Arbor, for example. But I’ve rarely – ever? – had a kid tell me he’s not going somewhere to play basketball because the football team is bad. Klee
Will this coaching staff take a PG in 2013 just to have another PG, or will they hold on to the scholarship for 2014 in hopes of landing their ideal PG in that class?
Illinibrave- Coaches have told me, unequivocally, they want a point guard in 2013. More than anything, they want ballhandlers. Even if you get a PG, you might see them attempt to land another ballhandler. John Groce has seen the roster's weakness and it is ballhandling, particularly because his system puts a great emphasis on attacking the basket and creating scoring opportunities. That's where Illinois is weak. I looked it up this morning, and last season was only the third time since 1992-93 that Illinois had more turnovers (430) than assists (400). Visiting coaches regularly would shout from the bench for their players to extend their defensive pressure on the Illinois guards. Purdue was most vocal about it. Here's what John Groce told me yesterday: "After being here for six months, it might be in our best interest to take a couple ballhandlers to add to what we have already. So more than one. But it has to be the right fit.” Hope that helps to answer your question. Klee
Is Illinois still hot on the trail of XRM?
Naples- Yes, Illinois is still involved with Xavier Rathan-Mayes and will continue to recruit him until his decision date of Oct. 13. It will be televised. This UI staff has done a great job staying involved with him, getting an official visit and making it into his final three, and Florida State is the team to beat right now. Klee
After we lost out to ND for Demetrius Jackson, there was immediately an article on ESPN about the Simeon PG, Tate. Is Groce recruiting him and/or Dayshon Smith? Also, how did Colbert's visit go this weekend? I have not heard anything about the trip.
James- Yes, Groce's staff is recruiting Jaylon Tate and will have him on campus Thursday. They're recruiting both Tate and Smith. If it comes down to a pair of comparable talents, you are usually going to take the guy from the in-state powerhouse with an Illini-friendly coach and other prospects coming through the pipeline. Simeon coach Rob Smith has been a tremendous asset for the new Illinois staff. Good visit for Austin Colbert. Expect a decision later in October. Illinois had some ground to make up but is a player there. He would fit how they want to play and he's quite different than the other big guy in the '13 class, Maverick Morgan. Klee
I don't agree with seeming concensus that Illinois will not be competetive this year. Even with Leonard in the NBA now there is still talent on this team. Weber just lost the team in my opinion. John Groce will add determination that we have sorely missed. Do you agree with me that this team is underrated and could be a big surprise in the Big10?
Dan- Possible. Considering last season and the loss of Meyers Leonard without a comparable replacement, it makes more sense for the experts to pick them low in the Big Ten, however. That's why you're seeing it. I've seen Illinois anywhere from eighth to 10th in the various preseason publications. That will be about the norm for projections. The NCAA tournament should be — and is, as stated in their players handbook/manual — a goal for this group. Here's what John Groce said about that goal: "I was told, “The key to advancing in the tournament is being in it.’" Hope that helps with your question. Right now, Illinois has a long way to go before it's an NCAA tournament team. Klee
It seems like Groce is building and recruiting the Illini to play small / fast / and shoot alot of threes. When I think about this kind of style, the first team that comes to my mind is Missouri over the last couple of years. Is this comparison wrong?
Further, it seems that Fans were always going crazy about the lack of a full court press during the past few years with Bruce. Will Groce go full out up tempo and embrace the style on both offense and defense?
Wade- Depends where they go with the power forward spot. If you don't get a guy in '13 that can help immediately in that position, you could see Joe Bertrand or Ray Rice seeing time there in '13-14. The coaches would be comfortable with that. Rice is a horse down low. Missouri? Only because you'd be playing four perimeter guys. The similarities stop there. That Missouri team had 3-4 capable ballhandlers. On a related note, two coaches felt that Missouri team had the ability to win the whole thing. And they were gone in the first round. So unpredictable. Because the Missouri-Norfolk State game was on the same day as Duke-Lehigh, it didn't get as much attention.
As for your second question, Ohio University did not use a lot of fullcourt pressure. There were times when John Groce would throw in a diamond press to mix it up. I envision Illinois using more zone next season than most people might expect. Klee
Love these chats. I have a question about that special olympics camp that the players/coaches had last sunday. Any idea what was going on there? What was the reception to the event? Is groce wating to do more philanythropy in the community? Is this just a PR stunt by the team? any and all insight you could give would be much appreciated!
Proud- Great cause. My friend Rich Williams works with a group called Special Spectators and Illinois has been gracious in helping out in the past. I assume that's the event you're talking about? Special Spectators attended a basketball game at the Assembly Hall a few years ago, and the players were outstanding with the guests. Robert from A Lion Eye wrote a nice piece on Sunday's event. Read about it here. In my time at Illinois, I've never seen an athlete turn down an opportunity like this to help someone that deserves it. Coaches remind them, but it usually doesn't take a reminder. Klee
Paul, do you think it's within the realm of realistic possibilities for BP3 to become Illinois' third 20 ppg scorer of the last 25 years? He averaged 17.7 in conference play last year. (I realize the counterargument would be that his average was hugely boosted by the 43-pointer against OSU, which is a weak argument because you can't pretend he didn't do that.) Anyway, he'll always be a streaky outside shooter and averaging 20 would require far more consistency than he's ever shown. But in an offense that ostensibly will let him attack the basket more than he ever has before, I wouldn't put it past him. Your thoughts?
Mike- It's an interesting thought. Don't expect it. But I suppose Brandon could have the opportunity. This offense allows great freedom. I would ask, though, if that would be the best development for Illinois. The coaches' focus with Brandon Paul is "to make those around him better," as John Groce put it. I don't expect that means upping his scoring average. For what it's worth, Illinois has had four players in the past 30-plus years average 20-plus points (Brian Cook, Andy Kauffman, Kendall Gill, Ken Norman). Klee
Thanks for taking time to answer fan questions, I have one simple question.
I know football and men's basketball are the dominate sports however it seems to me
nobody is talking about Illinois other new coach. How is recruiting going for Illinois women's
Joe- I don't know follow women's basketball recruiting. Marcus Jackson would know. Shoot him an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I do believe Matt Bollant and his staff might be the best new hire of the three. He'll win at Illinois. Klee
Hey Paul, thanks for chats! First off thanks for being so honest the other night on the Sports Page at the Esquire about Tim Beckman. Wish everybody could be honest and say whats on their minds. A couple of questions What would be a classified as a successful season for the Illini basketball team this year? And what can you tell us about Jaylon Tate? Thanks Paul
Joe- A successful season would be playing in the NCAA tournament. Illinois won't be projected to reach the tournament. The Illini are capable, but it will be tough. If you had one more ballhandler or could develop one more ballhandler, it wouldn't be as much of a challenge. Tracy Abrams actually is the solid type of combo guard for how they want to play — hard-nosed, defends, can hit a shot. You just need a point guard, particularly if the reigning Team MVP misses any sort of time due to injury. Jaylon Tate... more of a role player for the powerhouse Simeon teams, Rob Smith likes his steadiness, he's a PG, Illinois desperately needs a PG. It's a reach. But Illinois needs a PG, and maybe that helps you with other kids down the road. The Illini are in a very difficult spot with PGs, in part, because the state isn't producing them. As one coach (not from Illinois) told me, there's only one high-major PG between the 2012-2014 recruiting classes, and Billy Garrett Jr. is going to DePaul. In terms of personnel, the point-guard dilemma has been and continues to be the biggest issue facing Illinois basketball. Klee
It has been said that Groce teaches a defense that does not extend far beyond the 3 point line with the goal of shooting the passing lanes. How can we expect this to fit in with the current players? It seems to be that this could be very effective with long and quick athletes like Bertrand and Paul on the wings. Does this mean that we won't see the center picking up fouls 35 feet from the basket trying to double team a guard off a ball screen?
Chris- Yes, you won't see the Illini defenders extend their pressure as often. Once that pass is made, they will crowd the ballhandler. Ohio was very good at preventing dribble penetration, which is often what causes a defense to breakdown and has been a bugaboo for Illinois. It's important to note that Ohio forced most turnovers by trapping the post. The MAC had quality big men last season, and Ohio put great pressure on the post, trying to force the big guy into a traveling violation or a bad pass or whatever. That was also an Ohio roster with great length — from D.J. Cooper (6-foot-3 wingspan) to Walter Offutt to Jon Smith. They made a lot of deflections. I think there's a misconception that John Groce used chaotic, wild, fullcourt pressure to rank third nationally in steals. That wasn't the case the majority of the time. Hope that helps. Klee
Mr. Klee: How surprised that Wayne McLain is going to Kansas St with Weber? I was surprised at this. Thanks for the great reporting. you made 4-5 yrs of ILLINI basketball bearable
Bob- Not surprised, wrote that it would happen a few weeks ago. Bruce Weber and Wayne McClain grew a close bond through the years, especially during the latter half of their tenure, and Weber wanted McClain in Manhattan. I know both parties are looking forward to it. Klee
Thanks Klee for taking all of these questions. What is new with Sam McLaurin, haven't heard much about him, is he on campus Thanks!
Chris- Yes, he's on campus. He was at Ubben yesterday. Here's a story on McLaurin from a few weeks ago, if you want some more info. He's had two knee surgeries — one in high school, one in college — and told me he's playing without a knee brace now. That's a positive. He's been a starter for 91 games at the D-I level. The latest? He's been solid and will contend for starter's minutes, though I expect he will come off the bench to start the season. He's an older guy so that won't bother him. Because he does the little things and is solid, he would fit into the big-man rotation on most every other roster in the Big Ten. He does things that coaches appreciate - box out, set screens, rebound, block shots. Sam McLaurin's numbers won't wow you, but John Groce said yesterday he expects the fifth-year senior to be a significant part of their rotation. Hope that helps. Klee
Going to wrap this up for today, need to run. Excellent chat today — thanks to your varied questions. I attempt to reach as many as possible in 60-90 minutes during the offseason. I will be on Steve Kelly's SportsTalk from 5-6 p.m. tonight if you have anything else. Full page of John Groce questions and answers coming in Sunday's News-Gazette. And Marcus Jackson and I will be in Madison for football from Friday-Saturday. Looking forward to it. Thanks. Klee