It's pushed back to Thursday so our basketball beat writer can handle all your questions about Wednesday's media day. Submit questions any time for his 12:30 p.m. give-and-take.
Afternoon everyone. Beat writer Paul Klee joining you for another Illinois basketball chat. Plenty to discuss today. Polls and ballots and preseason honors are being requested, the Illini held their media day on Wednesday, looks like a large number of questions are in the system already. I'm going very quickly today in an attempt to reach as many questions as possible, going in order. Be here for about an hour before tending to some other basketball business. Fire away. Klee
If Xavier Rathan-Mayes commits and either Austin Colbert or Ben Moore does as well, what psychological impact will that have on the non-seniors on the team (if any)? Does it send a message that one of them will not be at Illinois for the 2013-2014 season? If so, how does a coach handle this situation? Is it seen as being any less difficult if the players hadn't been recruited by the current coaching staff?
What exactly is the definition of a PWO (preferred walk on)? Do they get any monetary support from the program? If there's an unfilled scholarship slot, can they get it?
Bear- To answer your question, there wouldn’t be a psychological effect. Players don’t analyze those things like fans do. They don’t have time. If there are 13 guys on a roster, 11 don't know who the coaches are recruiting, unless they've hosted them on visits. This is actually a very simple game, even if it has been remarkably complicated at Illinois for most of the past six seasons. To answer the other question, a preferred walk-on is guaranteed a roster spot. That was the case with Mike LaTulip and with Jeff Jordan. Yes, coaches can award them a scholarship down the road. Jordan got one at the midway point of the 2008-09 season. Sometimes that can be a positive if the guy has earned it. I've also seen it go the other way, where there develops a sense of entitlement, in terms of playing time, after he's received a scholarship. Klee
Is Marquette still recruiting Kendrick Nunn? Will Nunn be making anymore visits to other schools before signing day?
What is your opinion of John Groce insisting on apparently using 5 scholarships for this class (and 6 if you include Rayvonte Rice)? Seems the roster is getting rather full given the amount of talent in the 2014 and 2015 classes....Why use all 5 right now on lesser talented players when there is more talent and probably more of a chance for Groce to make an impression on the 2014 class?
If KBD goes down to the wire...can Illinois beat the power programs that might come after him? Why is the staff not interested in Larry Austin?
Thanks for taking my questions!
Joseph- In order…. Melvin Nunn told me the family is done with the recruiting process. The coaches feel like they need players; that’s why they’re giving (at least) five in ’13. Considering the results over the past three seasons, my opinion is that I agree. Next question, people close to that recruitment believe Illinois has ground to make up with Keita Bates-Diop. The Illini are a factor, but there is work to do. One of the key factors – where will he play right away? That’s something his circle is looking for. Purdue and Michigan are in a good place in that recruitment, as well. I don't like to claim any prospect is a must-get for Illinois, but he's a must-get, particularly after you’ve hired an assistant coach that previously coached in Bloomington-Normal. Final question, they want to see if Larry Austin Jr. is a lead guard. In college I think he needs the right system to be successful — an up-and-down, fullcourt pressure system that can take advantage of his motor and athleticism. Hope that covers it. Klee
We shall see if this is really John Groce's dream job. First sign? Are he and his staff renting, buying, or building in the great C-U area?
Anonymous- To be clear, in his Q&A with the N-G, John Groce didn’t say Illinois was his dream job. “It’s one of them,” he said. I don’t expect this is John Groce’s last job, if that’s what you mean. To answer your question, he bought a home and his family loves it. Klee
Chances that we win 20 games?
JMan- That’s possible but on the optimistic side. The under is more likely. Just talking regular season here. Helps that the nonconference schedule is solid but not overwhelming and the Big Ten tournament is back in Chicago, where Illinois historically has played well. Klee
IAccording to Scout.com, Illinois has offered 14 players scholarhips. How does the coach explain, "we are offering this, but.....". Do these offers come at different levels, like A,B, or C where the coach would accept an A right away, but a C commitment needs to wait for offers from A and B to be rejected? I am sure kids with big egos would be offended by being offered and then delayed while a coach waits for a better player to make a decision.
Foxie- Thanks for writing in. Not sure I understand but I'll try. Coaches sometimes will extend an offer but not take a commitment right away, if they’re waiting to hear from another guy. That’s relatively common. Something like that happened with Joe Bertrand, who was the third guard to commit in the 2009 class. Bruce Weber informed Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson’s families he was interested in taking a third guard, the families signed off on the idea, and Illinois took Bertrand’s commitment. (That made his mother Lorita a happy lady.) If that’s what you mean. These are all part of the complexities of recruiting. Klee
With regards to Sterling Brown, is there no offer from Groce there because a SF doesn't fit his guard heavy system? I've been very impressed with Groce's recruiting thus far, but Brown still has Illinois high on his list and has yet to receive an offer from them. Seems kinda strange.
Chief- I hesitate to say he’s too similar to Malcolm Hill, because they’re different players, but they do project to a similar position in college. And in 2013-14 you've got Hill, Nunn, Bertrand, Rice, Langford, Henry on the wing. So your priorities are an athletic forward and ballhandlers. Sterling Brown’s on the wing, and somebody’s going to get a very good prospect. Klee
Am I correct that a team can only have 13 scholarships? If so, how can there be 2 scholarships left for the '13-14 year? I count 12 already filled (Bertrand, Rice, Djimde, Shaw, Henry, Abrams, Egwu, Langford, Morgan, Nunn, Hill, and Tate), so how can there be offers to both Rathan-Mayes and a big man? Would that mean they expect a current member of the team to leave? And do transfers sitting out (like Rice this year) count against the total?
Joe- Yes, 13 scholarships. A program can extend 100 offers if it wants. There's no limit to offers. If you take six in '13, then yes, you expect someone to leave. Right now they have five available slots, and John Groce anticipates filling all five in the November signing period. If you find two more prospects that fit, you'll take six. Klee
What role will Devin Langford have this year?
Dan- Took a while for the first question about the current team. Langford remains an unknown. He's athletic and inconsistent. They want to see a more consistent motor from him. There's a flashy play on one end, and a head-scratcher on the other. John Groce described Myke Henry on Wednesday and then asked if it was OK if he used the same description for Devin Langford, at least in terms of their consistency in workouts.
“The biggest challenge we have right now with Myke Henry is getting him to play consistently. He’s shown times during workouts or when we play (that) he’s wired to score. I think it’s the best thing he does. He can really score the basketball," Groce said. "We’re trying to get that same type of commitment on the defensive end. That’s what we’ve tried to do. Then being active on the glass. I thought the last couple workouts we’ve had, he was the best guy on the offensive glass, keeping balls alive and being active.
"But just being more consistent in his overall production and approach. Part of that is he was young. I told him that excuse is gone now. You’ve been in college for a year and we need you to be more consistent in your approach. And he’s not the only guy.”
Hope that helps. Langford's a tough guy to project. Right now he would be fighting for a few minutes here and there. Klee
so has Dave Telep already leaked where Xavier Rathan-Mayes will be going to college next year?
Sean- No, but I've known Dave Telep a long time, and he's a professional, takes his work very seriously. Illinois right now is on the outside looking in with Rathan-Mayes. FSU is the best bet, unless something changes between this morning and Saturday. Klee
Great coverage as always. Really enjoyed the Q&A with Coach Groce.
Is the Josh Langford in 2016 the younger brother of Devin? Both are from Huntsville. I've read that Josh Langford 2016 is going to be rated at or near the top of the 2016 class nationally. Any chance the staff is keeping their eye on him if he is Devin's Baby bro?
About Devin, any chance we could see him bulk up a little and play minutes at the stretch 4 spot this or next year? We have now and will have a lot of 6'0" to 6'5" guys on the roster. In pictures Devin looks like he's about 6'8" to 6'9"
I guess a lot of us are curious about Devin as we haven't seen anything from him but hear so much about him.
Shark- Thanks. Enjoyed it, too. I'm told that isn't Devin Langford's younger brother. But I'll ask him in person to be certain. To answer, I expect you will see some lineups with four perimeter guys, but it's more likely to happen in '13-14 when Ray Rice is eligible. Coaches have discussed the possibility in staff meetings, however. John Groce will be flexible. He isn't married to a rigid lineup/scheme. It's a great quality to have. And I don't think you want Devin Langford that much bigger. His strength is his athleticism, don't want to lose a step. For example, Nnanna Egwu was 245 pounds at this time last year. He's now at 235 and more comfortable at his current weight. Klee
Paul: do you think by now, Coach Groce knows whether the current team can play the way he wants to play-offensively and defensively? Are there enouth ballhandlers to play his style? Are there enough defenders to play his style of defense? If not, how much time (if in fact this team cannot play his style) will he allow before making changes in style?
Roadie- Yes, he knows. He won't say it but I will. This roster isn't built to play the way he wants to play. Not enough ballhandlers. It has other strengths but that isn't one of them. You'll need to add a ballhandler or three before playing how Ohio played when the Bobcats were good. He's not going to have a short leash, however. Groce said he's cool with 12 turnovers per game. “I don’t want them so overly cautious that they’re afraid to attack because that’s not who we are," he said. On the defensive end, you'll see a tighter defense and more post traps. That's where the majority of their steals came from last season at Ohio. And you'll see more zone than Ohio (or Illinois, of course) played last season. He's going to adjust his approach to fit his personnel. "We don’t want to try to ram a square peg into a round hole,” Groce said. It's not that different than what Ohio State has done. There are a lot of things I love about Thad Matta's approach — mainly the freedom he allows his best players — but his flexibility is at the top of the list. He will overhaul his scheme from season-to-season to fit his personnel. Got a point-forward in Evan Turner, who needs the ball in his hands to be effective? Let him go. Not enough quickness to contain ballhandlers? Play more zone. He adjusts. Klee
I see this season going one of two ways:
1. The three inherited seniors, Richardson, Paul, and Griffey, fit well into Groce's system, Illinois has some early success, is competitive through the Big Ten season and those three players play starter's minutes the whole year.
2. Richardson, Paul, and Griffey (and thus the whole team) struggle early and Henry, Shaw, and Bertrand start to get the bulk of the playing time that used to go to Richardson, Paul, and Griffey. This playing time shift may lead to success this year, but more likely, it serves moreso to give those players experience for next year.
First, which scenario do you think is more likely? Second, do you believe playing time will play out as I have hypothesized in my second scenario should the Illini struggle early?
Tolono- Suppose that's simplifying it. Don't know that you can say all three seniors will struggle. I expect Brandon Paul, for one, to have a better season. Again, Groce is going to adjust. He said he wants to play nine guys... but if only seven are good enough, he'll play seven. On an unrelated note, what I like is how this staff values statistics. "He (Groce) was Ken Pomeroy before there was Ken Pomeroy," is how one staffer put it. And Groce was a Math major at Taylor University. Another example why I believe what you're going to see with this staff is entirely different than what Illinois basketball has seen in the past. Klee
Mr. Klee thanks for the chats and reports. I hope to read in the chat about the CURRENT Illinois team not recuiting. All of your chats are about recruiting. Who is the 'breakout player' for this team that didn't play last year? Thank you Bob
Bob- Thanks. I can only answer the questions I'm given, and the first half-dozen in line concerned recruiting. To answer, Nnanna Egwu is the best candidate, by your definition. He had an excellent offseason. As you know, I don't put a lot of weight in offseason workouts. But his progress was noteworthy, his confidence is back, and he is guaranteed minutes, so you're going to see plenty of him. And by virtue of his work in the offseason, coaches feel as though Egwu has "earned" the right to play through mistakes. They won't yank him after a bad shot. He still has bad days, such as Tuesday, when it's unclear if he recorded a rebound. But then he has good days, where he makes thoughtful, collected post moves and rebounds like they need. His motivation this offseason: “Just going through what we went through last year, that losing streak, it really bothers you," Egwu said. Hope that helps. Klee
Coach Groce and his staff have 5 scholarships available per your Q&A with him from Monday. They currently have commitments from 4 players (Hill, Nunn, Morgan, and Tate). I read somewhere that three recruits considering Illinois will be making there decesion soon (XRM, Colbert, and Moore who will be on campus this weekend). With the last scholarship, is it whoever commits first? If that's the case, if Moore commits on Friday night does that mean that we are out of the running for XRM and Colbert?
cant't wait for the season to start
Can't- To answer, if Ben Moore commits, you'd still take Xavier Rathan-Mayes. You'd take him under (almost) any circumstance. Again, you could take six in '13, but the most likely scenario is five. Klee
Klee, I heard you on radio yesterday about XRM. Are we ever going to get one of these elite recruits??? Second question is do you enjoy radio or writing better? The wife likes you on radio which made me think about it. Thanks bring some luck to Illini football in AA.
Jimmy- Illinois was behind the 8 ball in '13. The staff did a fine job getting involved with some kids that were longshots. I enjoy both. Any time I get to talk/write/answer questions on college basketball, I'm cool with it. I don't enjoy people taking my words out of context to fit an agenda, but that's part of the territory. I'm usually ready for the next season by the end of May. Then again, an Illinois offseason really isn't an offseason. The best part of the job is working with the players. I'm blessed to have a great relationship with the players and keep in touch after they've left. For example, this morning Demetri McCamey checked in with an update from Houston Rockets camp. He said he might sign with their D-League squad once the Rockets roster is trimmed down. I enjoy those relationships. It's a great thing when these guys do well. Klee
Thanks for the continued superior reporting and Chats! As nearly as I can tell, there is currently an open (13th) scholarship slot open for the upcoming men's BB team; do you anticipate anything will be done to fill it (5th year grad, etc.)?
Sean- Yes, they likely will take at least five players in '13. They also will look at mid-year or post-season transfers, if he's a guy that can fill a need (an experienced lead guard). Klee
Paul, thanks for taking time to chat. I saw CBS had a list of the top 100 college players and listed Brandon as #77, does that seem right to you? Also, who is your choice for B1G impact freshman, Harris? McGary? Ferrell?
Jimmy- That's a tough list to project. As Tom Crean pointed out today, Cody Zeller wasn't listed among CBS' top 100 players prior to last season. This season he's their No. 1. That's probably about right for Brandon Paul, if there is a right. Efficiency is his goal. He's never shot above 40 percent in his three seasons. In Sunday's News-Gazette, I'm assigned to answer whether Brandon can lead the Big Ten in scoring. He will have the freedom to get those shots. But I don't expect that would be a good thing for Illinois. You remember his 43-point game against Ohio State. In the 14 games that followed, he averaged 15.7 points. Illinois went 2-12. In the 14 games that preceded the Ohio State game, he averaged 12.3 points. Illinois went 11-3. Yes, the level of competition was softer (Coppin State, Cornell, etc.). But it’s safe to say Illinois was playing better basketball before the Ohio State game than after it. John Groce isn’t scared to lean on a central scorer, however. His teams had one player average more than 15 points in seven of the past eight seasons. That should be a given for Paul, whose All-Big Ten candidacy will be determined by the Illini’s win-loss record more than how many points he scores. Sorry, went off on a tangent there. More about that coming Sunday. As for the impact freshman you listed, I would go with Gary Harris or another one that's not listed — Sam Dekker. In Madison last week, I was given rave reviews about Dekker's future at Wisconsin. Klee
Paul, thanks for the great information in these chats. Understandably there has been a lot of talk about the ballhandling on the team, however, I am more concerned about rebounding. Who do you see as the best rebounder on the team, does this need open playing time for Mike Shaw or do you see a smaller lineup and a dependency on Bertrand to pick up additional boards? Thanks!
Brian- To answer, Sam McLaurin's your most consistent rebounder. He's an older guy that accepts that role. You'll see him come off the bench, at least to start the season, but he's been your most complete big man over the past three weeks. He was also a two-time team captain at Coastal Carolina. Coaches are hopeful his veteran-ness helps in the leadership department, particularly since I believe the most important aspect of this team is how the classes mesh. You had a class division last season — not a malicious one, but there certainly was a divide. For all the sunshine thrown around on a media day, Tracy Abrams had the most promising comment when I asked him about that division last season. “Coach Groce brought that up. When he first got that here he obviously saw the separation that we had," Abrams said. "He said that needed to change. He said we need to connect, no matter what level you are." On a related note, Ray Rice is an excellent rebounder from the guard position. Klee
Going to wrap this up. Got to as many questions as possible in 90 minutes. Wish I could answer more, but we need to cut it off for now. I'll be in Ann Arbor with Marcus Jackson and Loren Tate this weekend. Feel free to send questions I can answer in the HQ Live Report. And here was the podcast from last night's SportsTalk at Ubben Basketball Complex — mostly about Illini basketball and recruiting. Chat with you later. Klee