Groce: 'Both guys bring shooting to the table'


Groce: 'Both guys bring shooting to the table'

UPDATED: 11:11

CHAMPAIGN — The recruiting process to land a high school basketball standout is laborious for college coaches.

Phone calls. Visits to the recruit’s games. Practices. Open gyms. Facebook messages. On-campus visits by the recruit. Officially and unofficially.

Landing a transfer is usually quite the opposite.

The process usually lasts a few weeks compared with a few years.

But Illinois coach John Groce has put in the time before on his two newest players, guard Aaron Cosby from Seton Hall and forward Jon Ekey from Illinois State.

“A lot of these (transfer) situations, they find another place in a very short period of time,” Groce said Wednesday afternoon during a teleconference discussing the addition of Cosby and Ekey. “It happens very fast, and it can be challenging to develop relationships quickly in those situations. Aaron and Jon’s were a little atypical because of our previous established relationships.”

Groce and his staff at Ohio recruited both players.

Both came for official visits to the Athens, Ohio, campus before settling elsewhere.

Both, though, likely will finish their college careers playing for Groce at Illinois.

“Both guys bring shooting to the table,” Groce said. “That is something we wanted to address.”

Especially since Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tyler Griffey — who accounted for 73 percent of the 280 three-pointers Illinois made this past season — are out of eligibility. Ekey is a career 37 percent shooter from three-point range (112 of 307) in three seasons while Cosby stands at 39 percent (132 of 340) in two seasons.

Ekey is eligible immediately for the 2013-14 season because he is a fifth-year transfer. Cosby will sit out next season and will have two seasons of eligibility starting with the 2014-15 season. He’ll get to practice with Illinois next season, a la Rayvonte Rice during the 2012-13 season.

“Their basketball IQ is high,” Groce said. “They love the game. They’re the type of guys that will draw others to come to the gym with them.”

Even though Ekey and Cosby will not play together at Illinois, they count as the eighth and ninth new additions to Illinois since Groce assumed the job 13 months ago.

Groce said Ekey and Cosby fill similar roles to the spots held by Griffey and Richardson, respectively, on last season’s Illini.

That said, there are some differences.

Ekey, whose scoring dropped from 9.0 in the 2011-12 season under former Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich to 6.4 in Dan Muller’s first season in Normal this past winter, is 2 inches shorter than Griffey. He has shown a shot-blocking capability (110 in three seasons) that Griffey (38 blocks in four seasons) didn’t necessarily have.

Groce said Cosby compares favorably to Richardson, although Groce pointed out Cosby has handled the ball more at Seton Hall than Richardson did at Illinois.

“I think that with Jon, you look at his ... experience level, (and) what that adds to next year’s team is very valuable,” Groce said. “Aaron can play both the 2 and the 1 (guard spots). It becomes very valuable with his versatility to not only shoot and score but to defend those two positions as well. We feel like we hit two home runs.”

Groce and his staff still have one available scholarship.

He didn’t indicate Wednesday whether that would go toward another college transfer or a high school player from the Class of 2014.

“In a perfect world, we’d like to address if there’s a guard out there to help us and enhance our team,” Groce said. “Aaron does that, but Aaron’s sitting out a year. If there’s not, we would feel comfortable pushing it to 2014 if need be.”


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